A Forest Frozen in Time – Namibia

The Namib Desert is a stunning place to visit. With endless giant sand dunes, rusted red by the iron content of the area, you find yourself mesmerised by the way they curve and lean with the wind, growing higher and higher by the day as each tiny particle of sand is deposited on the top.

Amidst the towering red dunes of the Namib-Naklauft National Park lies the haunting and spectacular Deadvlei. Deadvlei means dead marsh (from the English dead and the Afrikaans vlei). Where there was once a sticky marsh, now lies a dry white clay pan, surrounded by some of the highest sand dunes in the world.

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It is believed that the clay pan formed more than a thousand years ago, when the Tsauchab river flooded after heavy rainfall and created shallow pools of water. In these marshes the camel thorn trees grew. But after around 200 years, the climate changed. Drought struck the area. The sand dunes soon blocked off the Tsaucheb river and any water from the once luscious marsh.

With no water, the trees were unable to survive. But they did not disappear. In the harsh climate the trees dried out instead of decomposing, and the desert sun scorched them into blackened bones, never to vanish from the earth.

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As the giant sand dunes grow taller and taller over the years, they need a bigger footprint. It is believed that in years to come, the trees of the Deadvlei will be swallowed up by the dunes.

But for now all that remains are 900 year old tree skeletons trapped in a white clay marsh, set against red rusted dunes and a brilliant blue sky.

A forest frozen in time.

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Stargazer {Space Geek Post}

“I like the stars. It’s the illusion of permanence, I think. I mean, they’re always flaring up and caving in and going out. But from here, I can pretend…I can pretend that things last. I can pretend that lives last longer than moments. Gods come, and gods go. Mortals flicker and flash and fade. Worlds don’t last; and stars and galaxies are transient, fleeting things that twinkle like fireflies and vanish into cold and dust. But I can pretend…”
Neil Gaiman, The Sandman, Vol. 7: Brief Lives

Allow me to embrace my inner space geek for a while…

There is nothing more beautiful in my life right now than swinging on my hammock on my front porch and looking up at the night sky. Here, just south of the Equator, in Tanzania, the stars and planets are crystal clear and I find myself lost in the stars for many an hour.

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The sharpest view of the Orion Nebula © NASA/ESA/M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team

Throughout time, the sky has piqued our curiosity. Eclipses, thecycle of the seasons, the rising and setting of the Moon, Sun, and planets, the motion of the stars — all have fascinated human beings since our earliest ancestors first looked up. Monuments constructed across our home planet, from Stonehenge to Machu Picchu, bear witness to our ancient and endless fascination with the stars.

We have to wonder where this constant fascination with the skies comes from. Even if the stars are way out there, distant and unreachable, we still feel and seek a deep connection with them. In the modern scientific attempt to study the skies, we identify the same longing for meaning that drove our ancestors to look up and worship the gods. Our amazing telescopes, such as the Very Large Telescope and the ALMA facility operated by the European Southern Observatory in Chile, or the cluster of amazing telescopes atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii, are testimonies to our modern urge to continue to decipher the heavens. We know the answers are there, waiting.

Something I love is how the circle closes when we realize that we ourselves are made of star stuff. The atoms that make up our bodies and everything around us came from stars that died over five billion years ago. To know this, to know that we can trace our material origins to our universe is to bridge our existence to the cosmos. We have discovered that we are beings made of stars that can ponder our origins and destiny. And the circle continues…

This worldview that modern science brought about is nothing short of wonderful; and in doing so, it continues and gives meaning to our ancestors’ urges to understand and decipher the skies. They were looking up to find their origin – we looked up and found it.

Link: Visions of the Universe proves just how awe-inspiringly beautiful outer space is…

Why Girl’s Education Matters…

When a girl has self-belief and is supported by her family and community; when she’s empowered with skills, ideas and knowledge; when she has access to services, role models and other girls: when she is visible and vocal – she can demand to stay in school, to get healthcare, and to get married and have children when she chooses.

This week I was faced with a piece of information that made me despair. The statement of a country leader that they would not allow teenage mothers to return to school to continue their education after the birth of their child.

Pregnancy during adolescence has been associated with school drop out among girls in developing countries for many years. In Tanzania, girls are often expelled from school when they are found to be pregnant. According to a 2013 report by the Centre for Reproductive Rights, over 55,000 adolescent girls were either forced to drop out or were expelled from schools because of pregnancy between 2003 and 2011. Although their research “revealed no national-level law, regulation, or policy explicitly requiring the expulsion of pregnant students”, they found a widespread belief among teachers, school administrators and education officials that this practice is required by law. Expulsion from school has a big impact on the lives of these girls. It decreases their likelihood of earning a good income. They are also often faced with stigmatization by their peers, parents and wider communities.

5e387a99383d23ec778be3d93eaf740aWhen girls are healthy and their rights are fulfilled, they can go to school, learn and gain the skills and resources they need to be healthy, productive and empowered adults – disrupting the cycle of poverty. In the last two decades, we have seen enormous advances in girls’ educational attainment at the primary level. However, girls in most regions, particularly the poorest and most marginalized, continue to fall behind at the secondary level.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights issues, especially gender-based violence and adolescent girls’ vulnerability to child, early and forced marriage, unintended pregnancy, and HIV and other sexually transmitted infections impede girls’ educational aspirations.

Here are some of the facts…

  • A significant proportion of girls become pregnant during the time that they should be in school: About 19% of girls in the developing world become pregnant before age 18, and about 3% become pregnant before age 15.
  • This is not just a Tanzanian issue. About one-third of girls in the developing world are married. In South Asia, nearly 50% of girls are married before age 18, and in Sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 40% are.
  • Not coincidentally, these are also regions where the gender gap is greatest between boys and girls at the secondary level.
  • Girls with no education are three times more likely to marry before age 18 than those with secondary or higher education.
  • Girls with only primary education are twice as likely to marry early as those with secondary or higher education.
  • Girls and boys often lack access to information and services that would improve their sexual and reproductive health and educational status. In Sub-Saharan Africa and South Central and Southeast Asia, more than 60% of adolescents who wish to avoid pregnancy do not have access to modern contraception.
  • Violence undermines access to school as well as learning. A recent nationwide study in Tanzania reported that three of every 10 Tanzanian females age 12 to 24 had been victims of sexual violence. Of these, almost 25% reported an incident while traveling to or from school, and 15% reported an incident at school or on school grounds.

investing-girls-quoteBy not allowing teenage mother’s to return to school after the birth of their child, a country is doing more harm to their economic prospects than good. Girls completing secondary  school in Kenya would add  US$27 billion to the economy over their lifetimes. If Ethiopian girls completed secondary school, the total contribution over their lifetimes is US$6.8 billion. If young Nigerian women had the same employment rates as young men, the country would add US$13.9 billion annually.

GIRL EFFECT: UNLEASH HER POTENTIAL
To start, give girls voice and listen. They’ll tell you what they need: all the skills, assets, and opportunities listed below.
1. Get girls through secondary school so they can participate fully in their communities and economies.
2. Provide designated girl spaces so every girl gets a running start to build networks, master skills, and share her voice.
3. Invest in the best solution to prevent HIV/AIDS and reduce maternal mortality: girls.
4. Incentivise communities to eradicate child marriage.
5. Give girls land rights to accelerate agricultural productivity and achieve food security.
6. Invest early so girls save money, build economic assets, and move from burdens to breadwinners.

 

“Women’s empowerment helps raise economic productivity and reduce infant mortality. It contributes to improved health and nutrition. It increases the chances of education for the next generation.”
― Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide