Monday Starter: Sr. Dorothy Stang’s legacy lives on in newly discovered owl

A wooden cross marks the spot in June 2012 where U.S. Sr. Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, was killed Feb. 12, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. (CNS/Reuters/Lunae Parracho)

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur have announced that a newly discovered screech owl in the Amazon rainforest has been named after the martyred Sr. Dorothy Stang.

Stang, a longtime champion of farmers’ land rights in rural Brazil, was assassinated in 2005 in the northern Brazilian state of Pará in the Amazon Basin. A native of the United States, Stang became a naturalized citizen of Brazil. Her death led to the creation of a reserve of more than 1 million hectares devoted to sustainable use of rainforest land by the local population, whose rights she championed.

Earlier this year, researchers from Brazil, Finland and the United States discovered, or “described,” two new species of screech owl in Brazil, and one of those species, the Xingu screech owl, received a scientific name in honor of Stang. The name, Megascops stangiae, honors Stang’s work “on behalf of poor farmers and the environment in the Brazilian Amazon region,” the congregation’s Ohio Province said in a statement.

The common name, Xingu screech owl, is a reference to an area where the new species is found, the statement said. That area is located between the Tapajós and Xingu rivers, the area where Stang worked and was killed.

Congregational leader Sr. Teresita Weind said biologist Therese Catanach, a member of the research team, contacted the congregation about naming the owl for Stang, as the team was moved by Stang’s life story.

“Sister Dorothy’s murder left a big impression on me, especially when I started research in tropical forests,” Catanach said.

Two other researchers, Brazilian biologists Sidnei Dantas and Alex Alexio, discussed what to name the owl. Dantas had visited Stang’s gravesite, and Alexio suggested one of the owls be named after Stang as “a way to raise awareness about the Amazon, being the ‘lungs of the planet,’ and home of tropical medicinal plants, birds, animals, and human lives,” the congregation said.

Good Shepherd ministry wins anti-slavery award

A ministry of the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd in the Democratic Republic of the Congo recently won the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s Stop Slavery Award. The award is one of several awards by the foundation that recognize companies and grassroots organizations that have “an impact in the fight to end modern slavery and human trafficking.”

Bon Pasteur Kolwezi received the award in a ceremony in February. In accepting the honors, Sr. Jane Wainoi Kabui, the program’s director, noted the role of the organization’s staff, fellow congregational members and the Good Shepherd International Foundation and their “unremitting support to our communities and shared commitment to fight modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”

The ministry has its roots in an initiative that began in 2012, when the congregation’s Province of Eastern Central Africa established a community development program “to combat child labor, human rights violations, and modern slavery in the copper and cobalt mining region around the city of Kolwezi in the DRC,” the congregation said in an announcement of the award.

The ministry now works in eight communities where cobalt mining is dominant.

“It has helped more than 3,000 children quit the mines and attend school, 500 families to secure alternative and sustainable livelihoods, 300 girls and women to gain new skills and make a decent living away from the mines, and educated more than 20,000 people on how to campaign for better working conditions,” the congregation said.

The project inaugurated a new Bon Pasteur Center in Kolwezi in 2019 in an initiative that includes 14 classrooms to instruct roughly 1,000 children whose families live in the nearby mining communities. The demand for that schooling has been so great, Kabui said, that “the biggest challenge has been that the center can only accommodate a given number of children, and so sometimes we have to turn children away.”

Advocacy is also part of the ministry’s work, and Kabui said in the congregational announcement that she hopes more people will “become conscious of the dehumanizing conditions the artisanal miners have to go through.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is the charitable arm of the global news and information company Thomson Reuters. The foundation’s focus includes promoting media freedom, human rights, and more inclusive economies.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/news/blog/monday-starter-sr-dorothy-stangs-legacy-lives-newly-discovered-owl

Malala Yousafzai says educate girls to fight climate change

ARCHIVE PICTURE: Pakistani Noble Peace Price winner Malala Yousafzai talks to the media Action Images, London, Britain – May 29, 2019 Reuters/Matthew Childs

LONDON, – Keeping girls in school and taking young climate leaders seriously are keys to tackling climate change, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai said on Friday.

Speaking to a virtual panel, Malala, 23, said educating girls and young women, particularly in developing countries, would give them a chance to pursue green jobs and be part of solving the climate crisis in their communities.

“Girls’ education, gender equality and climate change are not separate issues. Girl’s education and gender equality can be used as solutions against climate change,” Malala told an online event by British think-tank Chatham House.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, some 130 million girls worldwide were already out of school, according to the United Nations cultural agency UNESCO, which said more than 11 million may not return to classes after the pandemic.

“When we educate girls … they can become farmers, conservationists, solar technicians, they can fill other green jobs as well. Problem-solving skills can allow them to help their communities to adapt to climate change.”

From sexual violence in displacement camps to extra farm work, women and girls shoulder a bigger burden from worsening extreme weather and other climate pressures pushing people to move for survival, global aid group CARE International says.

Scientists expect forced displacement to be one of the most common and damaging effects on vulnerable people if global warming is not limited to an internationally agreed aim of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Climate disasters have also been linked with early marriage, school drop-outs and teen pregnancies, says U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Malala also called on world leaders to pay attention to youth climate activists, citing movements like “Mock COP” in November when young people launched a two-week event designed to mirror the format of the delayed U.N. climate talks.

“Listen to young people who are leading the climate movement. Young people are reminding our leaders that climate education and climate justice should be their priority.”

Earlier this week, Malala expanded her partnership with Apple Inc to produce dramas, children’s series, animation and documentaries that will air on the tech giant’s streaming service.

Apple produced a documentary about Malala in 2015 and teamed up with her Malala Fund in 2018 to promote secondary education to girls across the globe.

In 2009 at age 12, Malala blogged under a pen name for the BBC about living under the rule of the Pakistani Taliban. In 2012 she survived being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for campaigning against its attempts to deny women education.

In 2014, she became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17. In 2018 she launched Assembly, a digital publication for girls and young women available on Apple News. She graduated from Oxford University in June.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210312163639-wlxo8/

Plastic particles pass from mothers into foetuses, rat study shows

Close-up of fingertip with microplastics
Microplastic pollution has reached every part of the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans. Photograph: a-ts/Alamy Stock Photo

Tiny plastic particles in the lungs of pregnant rats pass rapidly into the hearts, brains and other organs of their foetuses, research shows. It is the first study in a live mammal to show that the placenta does not block such particles.

The experiments also showed that the rat foetuses exposed to the particles put on significantly less weight towards the end of gestation. The research follows the revelation in December of small plastic particles in human placentas, which scientists described as “a matter of great concern”. Earlier laboratory research on human placentas donated by mothers after birth has also shown polystyrene beads can cross the placental barrier.

Microplastic pollution has reached every part of the planet, from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and people are already known to consume the tiny particles via food and water, and to breathe them in.

The health impact of tiny plastic particles in the body is as yet unknown. But scientists say there is an urgent need to assess the issue, particularly for developing foetuses and babies, as plastics can carry chemicals that could cause long-term damage.

Prof Phoebe Stapleton, at Rutgers University, who led the rat research, said: “We found the plastic nanoparticles everywhere we looked – in the maternal tissues, in the placenta and in the foetal tissues. We found them in the foetal heart, brain, lungs, liver and kidney.”

Dunzhu Li, at Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in Ireland and not part of the study team, said: “This study is very important because it proves the potential to transfer [plastic particles] in mammal pregnancy – maybe it is happening from the very beginning of human life as well. The particles were found almost everywhere in the foetus and can also pass through the blood-brain barrier – it is very shocking.”

Prof John Boland, also at TCD, said: “It is however important not to over-interpret these results. The nanoparticles used are near spherical in shape, whereas real microplastics are irregular flake-like objects. Shape matters, as it dictates how particles interact with their environment.” In October, Li, Boland and colleagues showed that babies fed formula milk in plastic bottles are swallowing millions of particles a day.

The rat study was published in the journal Particle and Fibre Toxicology and involved placing nanoparticles in the trachea of the animals. Stapleton said the number of particles used was estimated to be the equivalent of 60% of the number a human mother would be exposed to in a day, although Li’s opinion was that this estimate was too high.

The 20 nanometre beads used were made of polystyrene, which is one of the top five plastics found in the environment, said Stapleton. They were marked with a fluorescent chemical to enable them to be identified. A separate experiment showed that the nanoparticles crossed the placenta about 90 minutes after the mothers were exposed.

Twenty four hours after exposure, the weight of the foetuses was an average of 7% lower than in control animals, and placental weights were 8% lower. Weight loss was also seen in other experiments using titanium dioxide particles. The rats were exposed to the plastic nanoparticles on day 19 of gestation, two days ahead of the usual time for birth and when the foetus is gaining the most weight.

“Our working theory is that something in the maternal vasculature changes, so you get a reduction in blood flow, which in turn leads to a reduction in nutrient and oxygen delivery,” said Stapleton.

She said more research was needed: “This study answers some questions and opens up other questions. We now know the particles are able to cross into the foetal compartment, but we don’t know if they’re lodged there or if the body just walls them off, so there’s no additional toxicity.”

Stapleton said the nanoparticles used in her research were a million times smaller than the microplastics found in human placentas, and therefore currently much more challenging to identify in human studies. “But we know nanoparticles have greater toxicity than the microparticles of the same chemical, as smaller particles get deeper into the lungs.”

The next step for the researchers is to place the rats in an “inhalation chamber”, where the particles can be breathed in, rather than being placed in the trachea. This also allows the assessment of chronic exposure, in which lower doses are given over longer periods, rather than one large dose.

Previous research in rats has shown that silver and carbon nanoparticles pass from mother to foetus and harm health. In humans, gold nanoparticles breathed in were then found in the blood and urine of volunteers and were still present after three months.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/mar/18/plastic-particles-pass-from-mothers-into-foetuses-rat-study-shows