The Mexican Town That Threw Out Criminals, Politicians and Police

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Five years ago, the people of Cherán, a small town in Mexico’s Michoacan state, made international headlines for taking up up arms against the powerful drug gangs threatening their livelihood, driving off local politicians and police in the process. Today, the self-governed settlement is a beacon of hope for many other Mexican communities.

The inspiring story of new Cherán began in 2011. For three years, the locals had watched helplessly how loggers supported by drug cartels like the Familia Michoacana ravaged their ancient forests, carrying away the big tree trunks and burning the rest, to prepare the land for avocado plantations. They had asked the Government for help with the situation, but received none, and the corrupt local politicians and police simply chose to look the other way. Left with no other options, and with the loggers nearing one of the town’s water springs, the people of Cherán decided it was up to them to fight for the forest and their livelihood.

“We were worried,” Margarita Elvira Romero, one of the conspirators of the historic uprising, recently told the BBC. “If you cut the trees, there’s less water. Our husbands have cattle – where would they drink if the spring was gone?” She and a few other women first went into the forest to try and reason with the loggers, but they were verbally abused and chased away by the armed men. So they came up with a plan to stop the trucks when they passed through Cherán, and hopefully receive the support of the whole community.

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“Santa of Syria” Smuggles Toys into War-Torn Aleppo to Bring Children Joy

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For the past five years, 44-year-old Finish-Syrian Rami Adham has dedicated his life to helping the children of Aleppo cope with the horrors of war by smuggling toys into the besieged city.

Rami Adhman was born in Aleppo, but moved to Finland with his family in 1989. When the Syrian civil war started, in 2012, he decided he had to help the children of his native city in any way he could. In the beginning, he never planned on taking toys, thinking that food, medicine, and drinking water were the things that mattered most. However, on one occasion of crossing the border, his daughter told him she wanted to donate her toys to the kids of Aleppo. He took the girl up on her offer, and upon seeing the joy on the Syrian children’s faces when he took the toys out of his backpack, he decided to make them a priority on his subsequent runs.

Adham soon became known as the “toy smuggler” and the “Santa of Syria”. He has so far made the journey from Helsinki to Aleppo 28 times, and doesn’t plan on stopping until the war ends. Until two years ago, he crossed into Syria through the border with Turkey, but after it closed down, he started crossing into the war-torn country illegally, carrying an 80kg bag of toys on his back all the way to Aleppo. It’s a dangerous trip that he has to make by foot, because it’s dangerous to drive through rebel-held and government-held districts. But those aren’t the only forces he has to avoid, as he claims that his humanitarian efforts have also made him a wanted man by ISIS and Shia militias in Syria.

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“Miracle Puppies” Somehow Survive 25 Days Sealed in Shipping Container Without Food or Water

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Vets in Chennai, India, were recently stunned to discover two “miracle puppies” that had survived a 25-day, 3,000-kilometer journey from China to India, sealed in a shipping container without food or water.

When workers at the Salcomp electronics factory in Sriperumbudur opened a sealed container on Friday, they found an unexpected surprise – a couple of frightened puppies hiding behind the spare parts that they had ordered from China. Seeing that the animals were in bad shape -dehydrated famished and sick – and realizing that the container had been sealed in China on September 5th, security at Nokia telecom park quickly contacted a local animal shelter.

The puppies ended up at The Blue Cross of India animal shelter, where it was determined that they were about three months old. They both had fever and required serious medical attention. However, everyone agreed that the mere fact that they were still alive after their long journey was a miracle. Upon searching the container the puppies arrived in, workers and animal activists found no trace of food or water, which makes their survival a medical impossibility, especially at such a young age.

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The Walmart Diet – Man Loses Hundreds of Pounds by Walking to Walmart for Food

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A formerly-obese man from Arizona managed to shed 300 pounds of excess weight in three years after he challenged himself to walk to the nearest Wallmart every day to collect his food.

31-year-old Pasquale “Pat” Brocco used to weigh a whopping 605 pounds, but after his doctor warned him that his high blood pressure and high cholesterol were putting his life in serious danger, the Avondale man decided it was time to do something about his weight. He went home from his doctor’s appointment and took a photo of himself in the mirror. “My stomach was down to my thighs. My chest was hanging down here,” he told ABC News. “I was disgusted”.

Pat knew he needed to start exercising, but the gym was not an option. “I mean, at 600 pounds, I couldn’t even go to the gym,” he said. “I didn’t fit on the machines.” So instead, he decided that every time he was hungry, he would walk 1 mile to his closest Walmart to buy his food, then back home to eat the meal.

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The Amazing Story of a Blind Professional Photographer and Rock Climber

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Justin Salas was only 14 when he lost his sight almost completely and was declared legally blind. Now 22, the ambitious young man is a living example that nothing is impossible – even though he can’t see, Justin is a professional photographer and skilled rock climber.

Justin’s blindness wasn’t the result of an unfortunate accident or a sudden occurrence where he woke up one morning to find that he couldn’t see anymore. His eyesight had always been poor and he started wearing glasses when he was 5-years-old. But it wasn’t until his freshman year of high-school that his vision started deteriorating at a rapid pace. His glasses no longer helped and tests revealed that his optic nerves were dying, although the cause was a mystery for all the doctors he’d seen.

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The Inspiring Story of a Man Who Became a Top Bicycle Repairman after Losing Nine Fingers and Both Legs

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23 years ago, Yue Jin lost both his legs and nine of his fingers in a freak accident. He thought his life was over, but somehow found the strength to start over and today he is one of the most sought-after bicycle repairmen in Jilin City, northern China.

In 1993, while he was cutting firewood in the mountains of Jilin province, Yue Jin accidentally fell into a deep valley and almost died. His injuries were so severe that doctors had to amputate both his legs and all but one of his ten fingers. For a man who made his living with his hands, it was almost a death sentence. And it was even more devastating considering Yue had also lost his wife just three days after childbirth, leaving him to take care of their daughter. After the accident, he couldn’t see any other way to do that than go out and beg for a few coins and some food, so he left his daughter in the care of some neighbors and ventured out on to the streets.

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Meet the Middle-Aged Cholitas Conquering the Highest Mountains in South America

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Most mountaineers wouldn’t venture out on an expedition without the proper gear and attire, but a group of Bolivian women have shocked the world by climbing some of South America’s highest mountains – all while wearing their traditional attire of colorful, layered skirts. Dressed in ‘cholita paceñas’ outfits complete with Andean ‘aguayo’ shawls and knitted cardigans, they look like typical grannies albeit on a serious mission.

These women, belonging to the indigenous Aymara people of the Andes, would normally stay at home while their husbands worked as mountain guides in the worst of conditions. They would cook at base camps or work as porters, never actually scaling the treacherous peaks themselves. But all that changed a couple of years ago, when Lydia Huayllas, wife of a mountain guide, wanted to know what it felt like to scale the steep, glacial slopes of the 19,974-foot Huayna Potosi mountain.

“What do you do up there, how does it feel?” she asked her husband, Eulalio Gonzalez. In response, he told her to find out for herself. So she did just that.

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For the Past 7 Years, 100% of Seniors at This School Have Been Admitted to College

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Urban Prep Academy, an all-male charter high school in Chicago, has set the bar really high for learning institutions in the US. Despite getting most of its students from the Windy City’s lowest income neighborhoods, it has managed to achieve and maintain a 100 percent graduation rate for nearly a decade. But even more impressive is the fact that every senior in the past seven years has gone on to attended college on a scholarship.

Most recently, the entire class of 2016 celebrated ‘College Signing Day’, with each student announcing the college or university he has chosen to attend. The class has collectively received over 1,500 college admissions, with over $15 million in scholarships and grants. “It’s a great day,” said senior Rudolph Long, speaking to CBS Chicago. “I feel great. We all made it. We all come from good environments so to see us all going to college is nice.”

The all-African-American, all-male charter high school’s unprecedented success has been attributed to its unique mission – to elevate the students’ self esteem while focusing on test scores as well. While most successful schools have stringent admission criteria, Urban Prep makes no distinction between applicants. Any Chicago resident is welcome to apply. A lottery selects 450 students out of approximately 1,500 applications each year, to attend Urban Prep’s three campuses in Englewood, West, and Bronzeville.

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Meet the Incredible Jake Olson – A Completely Blind College Football Player

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After years of cheering for his favorite college football team, University of Southern California student Jake Olson has achieved the impossible dream – despite being completely blind, he is now a part of the team, playing as long snapper for the USC Trojans, approaching the game based on feel rather than sight.

Born with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina, Jake lost his left eye when he was only eight months old. “When the doctors found my cancer, it was completely taking over my left eye,” he said. “The greatest fear is the cancer spreading through the optic nerve to the brain.” So the eye had to be removed entirely, followed by several rounds of chemotherapy and laser treatment to prevent the cancer from spreading to the right eye. Sadly, it kept coming back.  At age 12, Jake received news that he would have to lose his right eye as well. “Realizing what I was going to be confronting… a life without sight, it was difficult. I didn’t feel completely hopeless, but there was this sense of ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna do anything anymore.’”

Being a lifelong Trojan fan, one of Jake’s last wishes before he lost his eye was to watch them play at Notre Dame and also to witness a practice session the night before the surgery. “There were nights of crying and stressful times when I couldn’t get the thought of going blind out of my psyche,” he said, speaking to the LA Times. “But every time I was up at USC or talking to one of the players or just being around, it was just pure fun. And truthfully, peace.”

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The Amazing Story of a Gambler-Turned-Conservationist Who Spent $90 Million Saving Nature

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Former gambler and businessman M.C. Davis placed the biggest bet of his life about 20 years ago when he decided to spend a considerable chunk of his fortune on nature. Over the past two decades, he spent $90 million purchasing thousands of acres of land all over Florida. And the risk paid off – he managed to revive forests and swamps across the state, saving several wildlife species in the process. Although he tried to do his conservation work without attracting too much attention, the positive effects of Davis’ efforts could not go unnoticed forever. Last year, he was featured in Smithsonian Magazine and on the National Public Radio website, and his story went viral.

Having grown up in a cramped trailer on a dirt road in the Florida Panhandle, Davis set out to make a fortune at a very young age, becoming a self-proclaimed gambler and hustler. He made hundreds of millions of dollars, but it took a simple traffic jam to bring about the epiphanic moment that would change the course of his life forever. “It’s drizzling rain, and I was just sort of frantic with exasperation,” he told NPR. “Stuck in traffic, and I looked up, and I saw on the marquee of the high school, ‘Black Bear Presentation’. Intrigued, he decided to pull over and attend the event.

At the time, Davis didn’t even know that Florida had black bears, but the lecture made by two women of the Defenders of Wildlife piqued his interest – the very next day he donated enough money to keep the Defenders campaign alive for two years. He also began to read more books written by environmentalists, and kept in touch with Laurice MacDonald, one of the Defenders that had oipened his eyes. “He had the steepest learning curve,” MacDonald later said. “We would begin with little debates. They were a little testy but fascinating.”  

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The Inspirational Story of a 545-Pound Man Running 5K Races Like There’s No Tomorrow

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Meet Derek Mitchell, an inspiring 35-year-old race runner who weighs a whopping 545 pounds. Despite his heavy frame, he’s spent the past year walking and running a total of 21 5k races and two 10k events. He even made it halfway through a muddy, 10-mile obstacle course!

Mitchell, a Kansas City native, was diagnosed with a noncancerous tumor on his pituitary gland five years ago, a condition that slows down his metabolism and is the primary cause for his obesity. Although he was put on medication to shrink the tumor, Mitchell felt that “at one point, I was using that condition as a crutch, telling myself, ‘I’ll wait for the pills to start working before I start working out or change my eating habits.’”

But he realised that wasn’t a very good plan in November 2014, when his body weight reached an all-time high of 625 pounds. “That’s when I knew I needed to make a change, and decided to start with a new year’s resolution.” So in the beginning of 2015, he cut soda from his diet, switched to more nutritious food options, and tried switching to a healthier lifestyle.

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Man in a Wheelchair Travels 2,800 Km in Epic Journey Across China

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While most people view wheelchairs as a symbol of disability and confinement, this young man from China is proving the opposite – over the past couple of years he has been using his wheelchair to fulfill his lifelong dream of backpacking across the country.

29-year-old Quan Peng began his epic journey from Beijing on August 31, 2014, spending a whopping 566 days on the road before reaching Fuzhou city last Thursday. So far he’s traveled a total of 2,800 km spanning the length and breadth of the nation, but his trip is far from over. He still plans to cover another 1,700 km to Sanya, in China’s southernmost province of Hainan, before calling it a day.

“This is the fifth province and 22nd city I’ve passed through during my trip,” Quan told local media after reaching Fuzhou. “My fate deprived me of my freedom. I have to get it back by any means necessary. Along with wanting to see the world with my own eyes, I also am making this trip so that people will see the importance of having barrier-free facilities.” In each of the cities he has visited, Quan made it a point to document the type of facilities available for disabled people like himself. Sadly, he reports that in most places such conveniences are non-existent.

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How India’s “Menstruation Man” Changed the Lives of Millions of Women

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Meet Arunachalam Muruganantham, an award-winning social entrepreneur from Coimbatore, India, better known as the nation’s ‘Menstruation Man’. Deeply disturbed by the unhygienic menstruation practices among women in rural India, Muruganantham took it upon himself to find a solution to the problem. After several years of hard work, he invented a machine that women can use to produce their own sanitary napkins, at less than a third of the cost of commercial ones.

Born in 1962 to handloom weavers in Coimbatore, Muruganantham was forced to drop out of school at age 14 to provide for his family after his father’s death. For years he lived in poverty, working a number of jobs – machine tool operator, farm laborer, welder, and sales agent – just to make ends meet. But things were about to change soon after his marriage to a woman named Shanthi, in 1998. He discovered that his wife used filthy rags during her menstrual cycle because they couldn’t afford to buy sanitary pads, and this troubled him greatly.

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The Epic Tale of a Refugee Cat from Iraq That Got Lost in Greece and Reunited with His Family in Norway

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In a miraculous turn of events, a refugee cat that got separated from his family while fleeing Iraq has not only survived the treacherous sea voyage to Lesbos, but has also been reunited with his owners, now living in Norway.

Kindness towards animals is not new to the people of Lesbos – we’d previously written about a café in the Greek island that opens its doors to stray dogs at night. So when volunteers found the poor, frightened cat all alone in November last year, they took him in, naming him Dias and deciding to care for him until his real owners could be found.

A few volunteers recalled that there had been a refugee family that was separated from their pet cat on reaching Lesbos a week earlier, so they began their hunt by putting up posters at reception centers all over the island. They also set up a Facebook page called ‘Reunite Dias’ to help spread the word. In the meantime, Dias was left in the care of volunteers Amy Shrodes and Ashley Anderson, who had been working with refugees on the island.

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Hiware Bazar – India’s Miracle Village

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The residents of Hiware Bazar, a remote village in the Ahmednagar district of the state of Maharashtra, India have managed to turn their fortune around in the span of just a few years – they’ve gone from being a drought-stricken populace in the mid-1990s to the richest village in the nation today. Their story is a truly inspiring one.

Hiware Bazar currently boasts of having the highest GDP among all the villages in India. Its 1,250-strong population enjoys an average income of INR 30,000 ($450) per month, also highest in the nation, up from a paltry INR 830 in 1995. 60 of the 235 families in the village are millionaires. Every year, their fields yield bountiful crops of millets, onions, and potatoes that make it hard to imagine that only a few years ago they were barren stretches of land that no one cared about.

Yet, up until the mid 90’s, Hiware Bazar was indeed a poverty-stricken village reeling in the aftermath of a severe drought in 1972. “The peace was shattered,” recalls Raosaheb Rauji Panwar, an 82-year-old villager. “People became irritable and restless as the struggle to stay alive became severe. Petty reasons were enough to trigger-off bitter quarrels, as there was so much despair and frustration. Villagers started consuming liquor and it added to our ruin.”

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