Inspiring Stories To Give You Hope After A Less Than Inspiring Year


We thought sharing NPR‘s favorite, most inspiring stories of 2016, would be a nice Christmas present.  Inspiring you to remain hopeful after the (insert catastrophic phrase of your own here) year we just shared together.  These stories certainly helped shape our New Year’s Resolution.  Not gym membership, seeing the doctor more often, or adding more travel commitments (although, we’ll do those things).  But also our determination to raise our voices a little louder…get involved just a little bit more.

So let’s all have ourselves a wonderful holiday season…and get some rest!  We’ve got work to do in 2017.

Merry Christmas and a Happy (Happier) New Year to all of those committed to Just DO Something…Anything! to make a difference.


Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Forster Amponsah; a Malick Sidbe photo taken in Mali; a global garden of radio; Chewa the TB-sniffing rat; another Sidbe photo; Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui of China; the New Mexico cave where a superhero bacterium lived; poverty fighter Sir Fazle Hasan Abed; calligrapher Sughra Hussainy; activist Loyce Maturu.

Jason Beaubien/NPR, Courtesy of Malick Sidibe and Jack Shainman Gallery, Katherine Streeter for NPR, Maarten Boersema/APOPO, Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images, Courtesy of Max Wisshak, Courtesy of BRAC, Ben de la Cruz and Toya Sarno Jordan/NPR 

There was no shortage of sad news in 2016.

And because we’re a blog that covers global health and development, we covered a lot of those sobering stories: the toll of diseases like Zika, the bombing of hospitals in conflict zones, the suffering caused by poverty and by discrimination against women.

But we published a lot of hopeful stories as well. We asked our team at Goats and Soda to pick some of the stories from this year that inspired them the most. We hope you’re inspired too.

Of Periods And Bugs

My favorite inspiring story from this year was about the Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui who made headlines for telling the world she was on her period. I love that woman — breaking boundaries and taboos effortlessly.

My favorite story that I wrote was the hero bug story. We forget that to fight antibiotic resistance we need the help of the bacteria. —Michaeleen Doucleff

A Rat With A Nose For TB

My favorite piece on Goats and Soda in 2016 was “Chewa The Lab Rat Has A Great Job, Good Retirement Benefits.” African giant-pouched rats like Chewa are trained to detect TB — and they’re faster and cheaper than lab machines. You can tell from the photos that the lab technicians really love their helper rats. —Malaka Gharib

Unstoppable Women

I love watching the video of Sughra Hussainy creating calligraphy. When she was a kid in Afghanistan, girls couldn’t go to school. That didn’t stand in her way. Today she’s a gifted artist with big dreams: “I just want to work hard at this. And of course, become world famous.”

A favorite story I wrote was an interview with Loyce Maturu, a 24-year-old from Zimbabwe who was an orphan, HIV positive and abused by a relative. And she had TB. And tried to kill herself at a low point. As the headline says, “She almost gave up — but didn’t.” —Marc Silver

Dazzling Doctor

Dr. Forster Amponsah has star power. You can see it as he walks the halls of the Koforidua Regional Hospital in Ghana. Interns’ and patients’ eyes track his movement. Amponsah through sheer force of will and against incredible challenges has built up a surgical department in his public hospital. The surgeries he’s performing would be considered routine in a U.S. hospital but some days in Ghana they appear as small miracles. —Jason Beaubien

Irresistible Radio

Our story about Radio Garden, a website that lets you listen to stations around the world, was my favorite story. Just point your cursor at one of the thousands of green dots on a map of the globe. Listen to talk radio in Uganda, jazz in Morocco and punk rock in Hawaii. It’s a fun way to feel a connection to distant cultures. —Ben de la Cruz

A Photographer And A Poverty Fighter

This one is poignant given the extremism and political violence plaguing Mali, but I felt so uplifted reading Ofeibea Quist-Arcton’s tribute to the late Malian portrait photographer Malick Sidibe. His black and white images from the 1960s and ’70s captured dancing couples, pensive matriarchs and youngsters showing off their grooviest outfits — a reminder of a hopeful time when Mali was newly independent and, as Quist-Arcton put it, “relishing its freedom and having fun.”

One of my favorite interviews was with “the most influential poverty fighter you’ve never heard of” — Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder and head of BRAC, the anti-poverty group. BRAC helped pioneer a program that gives extremely poor families an asset like a cow or a goat. It’s an approach that has likely improved the lives of millions. —Nurith Aizenman

Feeding The Body, Mind and Spirit To Central Florida Homeless


Every Sunday, sandwiched between a cluster of churches and office buildings in downtown Orlando – in the stillness of the predawn hours, a volunteer mecca is buzzing with activity.  

Inside the kitchen of First Presbyterian of Orlando, the small army of bees are busy.  Half a dozen cooks are flipping pancakes, slicing potatoes and mixing oatmeal.  In the back, pots and pans are being scrubbed, while buckets of coffee are being brewed at breakneck speed.  Just outside the kitchen, in the Gathering Hall, tables are rolling towards their spot.  When they hit their mark, legs are popped into position and blue folded chairs are flipped open and shoved into place.  In rapid fire succession, the process is repeated.  “Pop! Pop! Pop!”  The banging and clanging of the choreography fills the room.  The clock is running.  

Behind them, amidst a mountain of cables and audio boards, three people organize songs and videos, prepping a program for an audience about to arrive.    

Time check:  5:43am.     

Outside the building the audience is gathering.  The crowd now forms a line, twisting its way underneath a wooden canopy and stretching over a hundred feet.  In the darkness it could be a queue for any concert, sporting event, or night club.  But this group isn’t here for a show.  And there’s no admission price.  Their tired eyes glance at me and I look at back at their weary faces. It’s my introduction to this group – nearly 300 of Central Florida’s homeless.  They’re here for a meal served with hope.   

Just behind the doors of the Gathering Hall, Michael Starnes, a long time volunteer organizes a prayer circle.  “This is a ‘high dignity’ environment,” he says.  It’s no accident the breakfast they’re preparing this morning isn’t being distributed at them.  Instead, it’s being served to them.  Served at tables intentionally set for eight, with styrofoam cups and utensils carefully wrapped in paper napkins.  Dignity, indeed!  

“Last night we all slept in a bed,” Michael continued.  “And today, we’ll go back to a home with a roof over our heads.  But those we serve today have none of that.”  It is a stark reminder of what I take for granted each day.  And a ‘call to notice’ what I’d be witnessing when the doors open. 

“Ok.  Everyone ready?” Michael asks those behind him.  “Yes!”, they reply in unison.  “Let’s go!”   

It’s now 6:30am.

As the doors swing open, people ranging from two to eighty-two are quickly seated.  But the rush and energy is focused.  Those who’ve been here before know the routine: some empty cups are already raised in the air, signaling the desire for hot coffee.  Volunteers enter the room with full pitchers, while a Chris Tomlin music video blasts, How Great is Our God on the big screen.  Everything is orderly and respectful.

Behind me is a growing sea of backpacks, bags, and personal belongings all neatly stacked in a straight line against the back wall.  I watch each homeless person come in, drop off their bundle, and find a place to sit.  Everything they own in life is in those bags.  And I find it surprising they’re willing to leave it unattended.  But that’s the kind of place this seems to be.      

The people I’m looking at are tired.  Not just tired of being homeless, but tired of being treated as if they’re invisible and don’t matter.  But here they’re valued.  They’re recognized for their worth.  They’re treated as guests.  

But it’s not just those who live on the streets who have stories to tell.  All the volunteers I’ve met have stories of their own.  There’s Ernie, a tall, slim man who once played football for the Philadelphia Eagles, now volunteering his time as a driver.  He helped dozens of people get here this morning.  And Allen from Kenya, who once was homeless himself, is also here to work.  His neatly pressed blue buttoned-down shirt, black slacks and polished shoes with tassels, are symbolic of how far he’s come since he was on the other side of the receiving line.  And a youth group from Johnson City, Tennessee, decided to spend the week in Orlando to help out wherever they saw a need.  This morning they were needed here to help with the capacity crowd.  

Despite the number of volunteers, the homeless still outnumber them almost 10 to 1.  


Joe Mills, this morning’s keynote speaker, takes the stage with a message.  “Trust…step forward,” he says.  “Step forward and just DO something!  Every little bit counts…”  While the room may have been listening, I heard his message directly.  Use what I have for the benefit of others, whether big or small.  Instead of talking about doing things – go do it!  We’re all called to serve no matter where we find ourselves in life.  Each of us has the ability to respond.  “Just DO Something,” he kept saying.  The irony not lost on me.  


Breakfast is over and the homeless are heading back onto the streets.  Inside, the volunteers are clearing tables, realigning chairs, and setting the room up for the Sunday services to come.    

For those homeless I met, this breakfast may be the only meal they’ll have today.  This is especially heartbreaking for those too young to understand why.   

Driving away I saw a man with a rolled up mat.  Finding a patch of tall grass beneath the shade of an adjacent building, he unfurled his mat and stretched out.  Using his backpack for a pillow, he was in a spot he’d, most likely, been in before.  While this group of volunteers couldn’t solve all their problems or alleviate all their suffering, they chose to step forward. They chose to DO something…anything!  And that was surely something!  




Free Heart Screenings Are Saving Lives

Each year thousands of healthy kids suffer sudden cardiac arrest and death due to heart conditions that have gone undetected. Many have no prior history of heart disease and are stricken without warning. The real tragedy is that many of these deaths could have been prevented with a quick, affordable, safe, non-invasive and painless test known as an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).

To help prevent disabilities and death from sudden cardiac arrest, Saving Young Hearts provides free heart screenings that can detect risk factors and conditions associated with sudden cardiac arrest. The heart screenings include a heart health questionnaire, blood pressure reading, heart sound check, electrocardiogram and in some cases, a limited echocardiogram. The results are reviewed by board certified cardiologists.

Social Discussion spent the day with the Saving Young Hearts volunteers at one of their free heart screenings at Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida.

Interested in future heart screening events? Please visit the Saving Young Hearts website:

Shepherd’s Hope – Call To Hope

Social Discussion was proud to be a part of ‘Call To Hope’ last week – Shepherd’s Hope Fundraising Breakfast in Orlando, Florida, which raised over $170,000. Check out the video we put together for their event. And please read this article from Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel.

On Health Care, Some Yap While Others Act
April 20, 2013|Scott Maxwell

Last week, I watched two groups of people hold passionate discussions about health care.

During one, doctors, pastors and patients swapped stories of inspiration and altruism, urging everyone to help as many people as possible.

During the other, politicians tried to persuade one another to help fewer. A plan was afoot to help 1 million people. But most of the politicians wanted to scale the help back — by as much as 90 percent.

At one, attendees talked about a moral obligation to help their fellow man and serve a higher power.

At the other, leaders demonstrated their desire to seek higher office.

The first event was a fundraiser for Shepherd’s Hope — a faith-based model of providing health care to Central Floridians that has become a national role model.

The other was the legislative session in Tallahassee, where politicians are scrambling for excuses to turn away billions of dollars in federal money to provide health care for the poor.

Both groups of people often quote Scripture.

Only one of them lives the Gospel.

Shepherd’s Hope is one of Central Florida’s homegrown triumphs.

Sixteen years ago, the Rev. Bill Barnes of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church felt called to help the sick and needy around him — in a big way.

Through the years, Barnes’ vision blossomed into a network of four clinics, staffed by more than 2,000 volunteers. Doctors, nurses, office workers, assistants and more.

They now serve more than 20,000 patients a year. And the success stories will bring tears to your eyes. A former executive, hit hard by the recession, lost her job and house, then learned she had cancer. A woman who experienced rapid weight gain — only to have doctors at Shepherd’s Hope discover she had a 32-pound ovarian tumor.

They are stories of lives saved.

And when a roomful of health-care execs, business leaders, philanthropists and concerned citizens heard those stories in the ballroom at Church Street Station last Thursday morning, they responded with more than $170,000 in donations.

Now, the cavalier may simply say: Good, that’s the way it should be. Private donations should serve that need.

Such a convenient sentiment.

The reality is that, no matter how hard Shepherd’s Hope works, the line of patients at the clinics far exceeds the number that can be served on any given evening. They are often single moms who pulled their kids out of school early, hoping to see a doctor who might tell them why their little one can’t hear or breathe properly.

That is why compassionate societies provide safety nets. It is also why this country has twice voted for a president who vowed to address that problem.

Yet leaders in Florida are fighting that initiative tooth and nail.

Florida House leaders are trying to reject federal money — more than $50 billion meant to help cover 1 million people.

Instead, they want to spend state money and cover as few as 100,000 people.

Yes, they want to spend more of Florida taxpayers’ dollars to help fewer people.

That’s not just morally objectionable. It’s fiscally irresponsible.

Even Gov. Rick Scott — a vocal critic of “Obamacare” — agrees. With the money available, Scott said: “I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care.”

Unfortunately, no such attack of conscience has struck Florida House members — who pay $8 a month in individual premiums for one of the most generous health-care plans in America.

In fact, House Speaker Will Weatherford declared himself “excited” about the plan to help 90 percent fewer Floridians.

It was an odd emotion for man whose family received $100,000 in public health-care benefits back when Weatherford was young and his brother was battling terminal brain cancer.

Weatherford actually mentioned his family’s help in a speech — before he realized that the money came, in part, from the same Medicaid source he is now fighting to keep from other Floridians. Weatherford’s father had to help correct the record.

This is also, by the way, a jobs issue. When you’re talking about $50 billion, you are talking about money spent in the health-care industry — where jobs pay well.

What’s more, Moody’s Investor Service recently reported that states refusing to expand Medicaid could threaten the bond ratings and financial stability of some hospitals.

Yet, many House Republicans — not their Senate peers, mind you — seem to care little about the actual finances of the matter. And certainly not about the lives at stake. All they want to do is rant about “Obamacare.”

I’ll take my sermons from the folks at Shepherd’s Hope, thank you very much.

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