It Wasn’t All Bad: 16 Good News Stories From 2016
Clockwise from top left: South African HIV vaccine trials; Pope Francis; Viola Desmond; announcing the Colombian Peace Deal; display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture; the Chicago Cubs win the World Series
2016 wasn’t fun. We get it. We lost a number of beloved celebrities as one particularly orange celeb won the White House. Meanwhile, everything from war zone refugees to Brexit to police shootings dominated the grim day-to-day news cycle.
Believe it or not, though, this year yielded a solid stream of good news stories, some of which got glossed over in the “if it bleeds, it leads” media landscape. We’re talking everything from medical breakthroughs to the building of spiritual bridges to the crushing of curses that range from local to international to intergalactic in scope. So, as we prepare to ring in 2017, our new year’s gift to you is the very rare experience of having 2016 news bring a smile to your face.
Up until last August, John McMillan, 69, didn’t garner enough business at his Lethbridge, Alta.-based restaurant, Whitbie’s Fish & Chips, to generate his own paycheque. Sometimes, though, it only takes one customer to make a difference. For McMillan, that customer was a hungover and hungry local named Colin Ross, who found his way into the restaurant for the first time, ate and then posted a photo of the place on Facebook extolling the delicious food and kind proprietor. He asked his friends to share the info about this rarely frequented restaurant and next thing he knew the post went viral. Now business is booming and McMillan has customers literally lined up out the door. It’s a wonderful reward for his hard work and proof that there are fantastic uses for social media beyond sharing pet photos and spreading fake news.
A True Toy Story
Think of him like Santa Claus, except he hauls his sack of toys on his back without the help of reindeer and, instead of sliding down chimneys to deliver presents with care, he’s dodging bombs and sniper bullets in a war-torn land. Last September we learned about 44-year-old Rami Adham, a Syrian-born Finnish man who, in the past five years, has snuck into refugee camps in Syria at least 28 times to deliver toys to kids and orphans affected by the war. The kids call him the “Toy Smuggler” and not only have he and his family gone to great lengths to bring smiles to the faces of children devastated by the conflict, but he’s started a charity that sponsors Syrian children and helps build schools in the camps so that they can get an education. It’s an amazing story of one man’s will to spread happiness in the darkest of places.
Pope Francis Builds Faith Bridges While Railing Against Trump’s Wall
It’s no secret that Pope Franics, dubbed the “rock star pope” by some, is perhaps the most progressive pontiff in anyone’s memory. In recent years Pope Francis declared the atheists could go to Heaven and gave the thumbs up to gay parishioners and priests, earning him praise from the faithful and non-religious alike. In this, his 80th year, the pope continued on his mission to unite, rather than alienate, in the name of his faith.
One of the pope’s main focuses this year was the refugee and migrant crises out of Syria and other war-torn areas. “The sickness or, you can say the sin, that Jesus condemns most is hypocrisy,” Pope Francis told a group of pilgrims in October. “You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian … It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help. If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”
Peace Comes to Colombia
A landmark Colombian peace accord that hit bumps in the road but never faltered from its goal and which ultimately won its architect, President Juan Manuel Santos, the Nobel Peace Prize, came to fruition, halting more than five decades of fighting between government forces and their allies and FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
It didn’t come easy, as earlier in the year, when a deal was all but done and celebrations already held, an ensuing popular vote vetoed it by a slim margin and threatened to upend the entire process. It was around that time that Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize, at first an embarrassing gaffe but ultimately legitimatized by the peace deal reaching final approval later in the year. Political infighting remains but, for the Colombian people caught in the crossfire of the decades-long battle, the deal is a welcome reprieve and proof that peace, even in the most volatile of clashes, is possible.
The U.N. Makes a Landmark Decision in the Fight for LGBTI Rights
The United Nations Human Rights Council took a major step forward in the fight for the rights of LGBTI people by appointing the first independent investigator to explore and expose abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.
Vitit Muntarbhorn, 64, an award-winning veteran U.N. human rights lawyer and crusader whose work with the organization has, in past years, tackled everything from child trafficking and pornography to human rights abuses in nations from North Korea to Thailand, takes up the inaugural LGBTI investigator post. The news of the new U.N. role earned praise from LGBTI groups and human rights groups alike, with John Fisher, a director at the international group Human Rights Watch, declaring, “This critical mandate will bring much-needed attention to human rights violations against LGBT people in all regions of the world.”
India Gets Serious About Solar Power with World’s Largest Solar Plant
The first person to take part in the South African HIV vaccination trial, 23-year-old Nkosiyazi Mncube, in November, 2016 (via Getty Images)
Happy Health Part One: Large Scale HIV Vaccine Trial Begins
Researchers in South Africa began a large-scale trial of an HIV vaccine in November with hopes of scoring a major breakthrough and possible shield against the deadly virus. Unlike testing a cure for a disease, in which scientists would treat the afflicted and see if the cure works, a vaccine study relies on healthy volunteers to willingly put themselves in the line of fire with only an experimental suit of armor between them and their deadly foe. The fact that healthy people in a nation ravaged by HIV and AIDS are willing to put themselves at risk of developing HIV in the service of a study that could give birth to a life-changing vaccine makes this story even more incredible.
The last such trial of a similar vaccine took place in 2009, with a 30 per cent success rate. The results for this vaccine won’t be available for four years, but optimistic experts told the BBC that they hope this vaccine proves, “‘the final nail in the coffin’ for HIV.”
Happy Health Part Two: We’re Winning the Fight Against Cancer
When former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with brain and liver cancer that had spread due to advanced melanoma at age 90 in 2015, the news seemed grim. However, treatment with new immunotherapy drugs in tandem with radiation completely wiped out the nonagenarian’s cancer, resulting in a clean bill of health only months later. The trend continued in 2016 with new data showing the increasing positive effects of new immunotherapy drugs in treating various types of cancers.
Louis Weiner, the director of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, told The Washington Post in April that, “We are in the midst of a sea change in how we are treating cancer. We’re really seeing the fruits of many years of research into what drives cancer and how it interacts with the immune system to defeat it and survive.”
Happy Health Part Three: New Ebola Vaccine May Prove 100% Effective
Curses Are Made to be Broken
If the second half of 2016 taught us anything, it was that no odds are too long and no curse too strong to keep any person, or team, from reaching the pinnacle of their success. In June, the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world when they came back from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors in four games straight to take the NBA championship, not only bringing the city of Cleveland its first major sports championship in more than half a century, but also bringing the return of the team’s biggest star, LeBron James, full circle, allowing him to win a title for the team he once left for the sunny shores of South Beach.
A few months later, in early November, a Cleveland-based team once again vied for a major sports championship, this time the elusive World Series trophy, which they’d ever won. However they came up against a team of destiny, the lovable loser Chicago Cubs who, thanks to a long ago disgruntled billy goat owner, faced down the barrel of a 108-year-old curse that had supposedly kept them from winning baseball’s biggest prize. In the end, the Cubs shattered the curse, earning cheers from baseball fans across North America (well, maybe not in Cleveland). The elation that spread across America lasted about six days until another underdog came from behind to snag a major prize, though there’s something about the slogan “Make America Great Again” that just doesn’t convey the sense of joy that we’ll always remember when we heard the phrase “Cubs win!”
A Transgender Story at Age 70 Proves It’s Never Too Late to Be True to Oneself
In a beautiful tale of love and acceptance, Bill Rohr, 70, and Linda, his wife of 44 years, proved that it’s never too late in life to be true to oneself. The Rohr’s story, featured in The Washington Post, is one of young American sweethearts who married and raised a loving family. The patriarch, however, harboured a secret he’d carried with him since childhood – he’d always believed he was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Finally, during retirement years often occupied with relaxation, travel and time spent with loved ones, Rohr confessed his secret to his wife and family and, with their blessings and support, underwent gender re-assignment surgery in 2016 to become Kate Rohr. The couple’s rock-solid foundation of love and acceptance prove an inspiration to anyone of any age, showing it’s never too late to pursue the happiness you’ve yearned for, even if you’ve waited your entire life for it.
That Hole in the Ozone Layer is Shrinking!
We’ve all heard the warnings over the past three decades about the hole in the ozone layer and how CFC (chlorofluorocarbon) gasses used on Earth were the cause. Over time, despite the protests of chemical companies we stopped using aerosol spray cans and other items that resulted in the CFC gasses that tore the ozone layer a new one. And guess what – shockingly, the chemical companies were wrong and all that cutting back on harmful gasses is paying off! New research published in 2016 by a team of scientists from MIT, the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the University of Leeds showed that the ozone hole over Antarctica is shrinking. MIT’s Susan Solomon, the lead researcher on the study, said that the ozone hole, which opens every year, “is opening later, it is smaller, and its depth is depleted. All of the measurements are independent, and when they all point to this [healing], it is hard to imagine any other explanation … It gives us hope that we shouldn’t be afraid to tackle large environmental problems.”
Albert Einstein’s “I Told You So” Moment