Hope Floats on a Wiki

A chance encounter led us to Rosemary Cairns, Peace Builder from Uzice, Serbia, and her wiki featuring positive stories from around the world. A skype chat with the enthusiastic grandmother of 2 on the back story behind ‘HopeBuilding’.

Have you heard of the women in Uganda who make inexpensive sanitary pads from papyrus? Or the Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi, which helped people living in informal settlements install their own lane sewers, latrines and water pipes? Or seaweed greenhouses that help plants grow out of sea water? For your regular dose of “hope” tidbits from around the world, head to HopeBuilding.pbworks.com.

HopeBuilding PbWorks is a blog dedicated to documenting positive impact stories. The idea came to Rosemary Cairns, an Irish-Canadian facilitator who travels the world facilitating peacebuilding processes, while she was studying Human Security and Peacebuilding at Royal Roads University, Canada, in 2004.

“Much of the reading in the programme was focused on the problems that caused conflict around the world. I discovered the discussions about “failed states” that had been going on among academics and policy makers. In all my reading and research, I also kept finding all kinds of stories of what people could do, and were doing, in practical ways, to make life better in their communities. I found that people in North America don’t often hear these stories of achievement, but want to” says Ms. Cairns talking about what inspired her to start Hopebuiling.

A thought she pursued during a research project based in Somaliland Brcko District which “involved asking people how they had built peace and rebuilt governance through their own efforts.” She discovered ‘Wiki’ technology and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

Ms. Cairns describes Hopebuilding as a wiki “created to share stories of achievement by ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things. You will meet people here who saw a problem as an opportunity to create something new or something better. You will meet people who built peace for themselves, even while the rest of their country was in chaos, and people who sustained their communities even in the middle of conflict. You will find many stories of how people around the world are sharing with each other – stories that don’t often make headlines”.

Ms. Cairns argues that positive impact stories are important saying they inspire people and give people ideas. “I think stories of local community capacity and peer to peer sharing are important, in an era when so much international development is focused on expert knowledge. And increasingly, I see many international development organizations themselves focusing on stories of local achievements aided by their work.”

None of this can be easily discounted as arm chair philosophy given Ms. Cairns puts her money where her mouth is quite literally; not only is the project completely self-funded, she also spends hours researching these stories. “I read widely and I subscribe to many newsletters, and when I see something that intrigues me, I follow it up and try and learn more about it. IRIN News, the humanitarian news agency, and SciDev.Net often have great stories and allow republication with credit. There are an increasing number of publications that seek out ‘good news’ stories and publish them, in places like South Africa, India and so on, including ProPoor.org. There also are many stories from organisations that give prizes, such as the UK’s Ashden Prize. Sometimes my friends tell me about stories. When I prepare a story myself, I send it to the person or organisation involved, asking to check it. I see a lot of stories in high profile publications that would be great on Hopebuilding but can’t be republished because of the fees. However, these stories often lead me to the websites of projects or organisations which I can write about” she says commenting on her method.

On the Hopebuilding wiki you’ll come across stories that are truly inspirational. Ask Ms. Cairns her favourites and she gushes forth enthusiastically. “The story of how a researcher helped farmers in Africa learn how to use chilli peppers to prevent elephants attacking their gardens is a favourite. Having grown up in a family that made Tabasco sauce for a living, he knew that pepper extracts deter bears in the American West and that elephants’ sense of smell is 100 to 150 times better than humans. As he was working in Africa with communities where elephants were being killed because they destroyed gardens, he began to explore the possibilities of using locally grown peppers in low tech ways to repel elephants. He also found another way for farmers to generate income through making chilli sauces and now markets Elephant Pepper sauces in South Africa and online”.

Ms. Cairns’ work doesn’t end with publishing a story. “Periodically I get messages from people asking for help or advice. In the past few months, I heard from a lady in South Africa who wanted to help her sister get into a hairdressing course in South Africa that she had read about on Hopebuilding. I heard from someone in Ethiopia who wanted to introduce motorbike ambulances in their area, and connected him up with the people in the UK who make the ambulances. Last week I heard from a teacher in New York whose third grade class wanted to contribute $300 towards planting trees in Chad (they read about Chad’s plans to build a green wall across the Sahara)”, she recounts. Her enthusiasm is contagious, even the most cynical find themselves nodding soon in approval.

A full-time facilitator and researcher, Ms. Cairns is currently authoring a book tentatively tilted New Conversations in International Development. Ask her why doesn’t she get a glass of wine and relax in front of television in her free time, she laughs a booming hearty laugh and informs you that she is a grandmother of two and like any other parent or grandparent wants the next generation to inherit a better and more peaceful world. And she’s going to do what she can to ensure it.

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