🗞 7 Things… we learned this year

Christmas is a time of year to look back a little. Our first year at WoW! has been great fun.

We hope you’ve enjoyed it too – and that maybe you’ve learned a thing or two from the amazing people we’ve heard from over the past few months…

Stephanie dreamed of walking to the South Pole. On Christmas Day, her dream came true. There were no presents. But she said just being there was the nicest gift she ever had.

A gale was howling. It was so cold that her nose would freeze if she took off her mask. She was exhausted after walking all day in the snow for weeks. And she was still only half-way across the Antarctic continent. But she made it to the other side, to find penguins again, where they live on the frozen coast.

Stephanie, a French lawyer, was the first woman to cross Antarctica with no power but her own legs.

It was dangerous and extraordinarily hard. She could only do it after training for years.

She used to run all day in massive fridges at Paris meat market or run along beaches for hours pulling heavy tractor tyres. Not many people could do it. But that’s partly because they almost certainly don’t want to!

What Stephanie’s story told us in WoW! is that when you have a dream that you really, really want – and you work at it – then you can make it come true.

Read Stephanie’s story

Jose Adolfo was just 7 when he got upset that some of his friends kept having to miss school. Often it was because they had no money to pay for lunch. Or because they had to go and work to get some money for their families. He thought that was unfair.

He thought about it for a while. And he decided that what his classmates needed was a bank. You can get money from a bank when you need it. The problem, though, was that first you need to put money into it – to save money. And these kids had very little.

Jose Adolfo realised that in the city where he lived in Peru there were businesses who paid for wastepaper, like old school exercise books or newspapers and cardboard boxes. So, with help from his dad, he set up a bank at school where children put in not money but waste paper.

For every kilogram of paper, they get money in their account that they can take out when they need lunch or their families need it.

Jose Adolfo was the star of a film this year about kids making a difference. He says: “You may not know it yet, but we children are saving the world”.

Jose Adolfo is now 14. But if you think he’s young, you should meet Arthur from France.

Arthur was just 4 when he had the idea to help people who had to sleep in the street. He starting doing paintings and selling them. He uses the money to buy food and clothes and takes them to people living rough in his home town.

If you want to help, Arthur’s next art exhibition is next week, just after Christmas!

Read Jose Adolfo’s story

Whales got good news this year.

Iceland has banned the hunting of whales. It is a small country but it has a long history of whaling – killing these giant sea mammals for their meat. And it was one of the last countries in the world that still hunted whales.

Patrick, an American campaigner, said he learned that he couldn’t persuade the Icelanders to stop hunting if he just shouted at them. 

That just made the whole country pull together and defend the hunters because they didn’t like foreigners telling them what to do.

Instead, Patrick said, you have to listen to people and see what they want.

Once he heard that lots of Icelanders were just worried about making their country poorer if they stopped whaling, he and his team were able to work with those Icelanders to find a better way.

Icelanders have discovered that they can make much more money from tourists who come to the country to watch whales playing in the Atlantic Ocean than it can from selling their meat. 

Patrick hopes Japan, the last big country hunting whales, may copy Iceland.

Read Patrick’s story

We know we have problems with our environment. But WoW! has learned of loads of new inventions in 2019 that can reduce pollution, in the sea, on land and in the air.

One of our favourites happened just before Christmas. Airliners burn huge amounts of oil that contributes carbon to global warming gases.

But the first ever electric plane big enough to carry passengers just took to the sky in Canada.

“This signifies the start of the electric aviation age,” said Roei, whose Australian company designed the electric engine powerful enough to get a plane off the ground.

Watch the world’s first electric-powered commercial plane take flight – and listen to how quiet it is as it skims over Canada.

We all like to be alone at times. That’s just human. But it’s also very human to want to feel part of a community.

As more people do their shopping online or in giant superstores, many town centres have become emptier, sadder, lonelier places.

Where once people used to gather, bump into friends or have a chat with neighbours, now many shops and cafes have shut.

WoW! learned about one town in France where local people have fought back. Since the town’s leaders started a big effort to improve transport, plant trees and make the centre nicer, hundreds of shops, cafes and other places have opened.

That delights many local people.

“A bustling town centre represents life,” said Geneviève, who is 89 and loves coming into town once a week to shop and have her hair done.

Enjoying being out in nice public spaces was also a theme in Brazil. We heard from David, a chef who trains poor youngsters to cook and gives them practice by inviting homeless people to eat in a posh restaurant.

“What I’ve learned,” said David, “Is that when we are all connected, we can feel love and respect.”

Read the story of Mulhouse

Ash is a young Welsh adventurer. He was in the news this summer after he become the first person known to have walked the whole length of the Yangtze, the longest river in China and the third longest in the whole world.

It took him a year.

Ash had some tips for getting out of trouble with bears (check out our story below…). But most of all we liked what he had to say about making your dreams come true. It’s about thinking big AND thinking small. 

Ash has a big plan, like spending a whole year walking across China. And really keeps that in mind all the time.

But he also knows that to make a big dream come true, you have to take lots and lots of little steps – 8 million of them to walk the Yangtze.

But when you’re so tired that your big goal seems out of sight, Ash says, just focus on the little goals.

Just take your next step…

Read Ash’s story

That might surprise you because so much of what you see and hear of the world in the news is so horrible. The media and journalists often spend much more time telling people about things that go wrong.

Bad stuff is often quick and dramatic and catches our attention. Good things often happen slower. But it’s important to know that good things are happening. That’s why Catherine and Alastair have created WoW! this year and want it to grow.

Some of the most positive news we heard this year was about how better medicine, especially in poor countries, is saving millions of children’s lives. And numbers, too, can be beautiful as we can see in these two “infographics” below.

The first is from a website called beautifulnews. It shows how all illnesses that kill children, including measles and malaria, are in retreat – saving 26 million kids’ lives just in the past decade, or 10 years.

The second infographic is exclusive to WoW! and was made by Oscar, who is 11 and goes to school in Berlin.

It shows how the population of Africa is booming, especially compared to its rich northern neighbour Europe, thanks to better health for Africans.

Thanks to Oscar for such a clear way of showing the numbers!

26 million lives saved in 10 years. The width of the arrows shows how many children have been saved and the height shows how big a fall there is in these illnesses.
How better health is boosting the population of Africa. Here Oscar compares that growth with Europe, where the number of people is barely changing.
Oscar Shaxson


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