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11 reasons to be happy this International Day of Happiness

Flickr- Nana B Agyei

Today is the International Day of Happiness, started by the UN to celebrate unity, promote poverty eradication, and the happiness of all peoples. If you watch mainstream news, it can sometimes seem like there’s little in the world to be happy about. Wars, terrorism, racial and religious tension...the world is getting worse, right? Well I don’t believe so, at least not if you take these things into consideration...

1. Malawi has banned child marriage!

This is monumental progress. More than half of all girls in Malawi are married whilst children, some as young as 9 years old. Child marriage perpetuates inequality for girls, trapping them in poverty, and often subjecting them to brutal abuse.

Last month, Malawi raised the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18, a huge step towards ending this practise! For every single girl who will benefit, I am celebrating!

2. This ‘Birmingham Spider-Man’ feeding the homeless

Post by Birmingham Spiderman.

The Spiderman says “I've learned that everyone is the same, we're all part of the human experience and I ... believe that we need to look at everyone as humans and help each other the same as we would a close friend.” That’s an everyday superhero right, this 20-year-old man from Birmingham, UK, is a bartender. But by night? He dons a spiderman suit, purchases a whole load of sandwiches, and takes to the streets to feed homeless people.

3. Mezon, the Syrian refugee who goes from tent to tent encouraging girls to stay in education

Image credit: Malala Fund. Malala visits Mezon (right) in her school.

She’s been nicknamed the ‘Malala’ of Syrian refugees, and it’s easy to see why. 16-year-old Mezon goes from tent to tent in the refugee camp she lives in, encouraging girls who are out of school to continue with their education.

Mezon says "some families do not want to send their girls to school, because they are afraid that if girls continue with their education, she will become more independent and will not follow her husband." But she is determined.

"We have the right to attend school and I feel I have a responsibility towards the community. With education, we can solve anything." What an incredible girl!

4. Millions - literally MILLIONS - of lives saved from malaria

Image credit: Malaria No More via Facebook

The statistics speak for themselves. Thanks to substantial expansion of malaria interventions (such as bed nets and medication), experts estimate that around 4.3 million deaths from malaria have been averted since 2000. 4.3 MILLION!

5. The generosity of this 3-year-old girl from Kenya

Image credit: Nakuru Children’s Project

Working with children in a small NGO in Kenya, I witness a lot of cute moments. However, this one may have topped them all.

A few months ago, I asked the little girl in red to come to our office so we could give her a dress. She was scared so I told her she could bring her best friend. When she got to our office she asked, with super big worried eyes, "are you going to give my friend something too?" When she realised we only had one dress she refused to take it, telling me firmly "give it to my friend. My mum bought me a smart dress the other day, but my friend doesn't have one". She's 3 years old and the two little girls skipped back to class hand in hand. My heart almost melted!

6. More girls in school worldwide

Image credit: PJones_India via waterdotorg on Flickr

Let’s rewind 25 years. If I - or you - had been born a girl in South Asia in 1990 we would have had a significantly lower chance of getting an education, simply because of our gender. For every 100 boys enrolled in primary school, only 74 girls were enrolled - a deeply unfair display of gender inequities.

Now, however, a little girl has an equal chance as a little boy. By 2012, enrolment rates were the same across both genders. And this doesn’t just apply in South Asia - all developing regions worldwide have either achieved or are about to achieve gender parity in primary education. Everybody wins!

7. Ethical shopping is becoming more popular!

Image credit: Christian Guthier

As author Anne Lapp? says “every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” A recent study showed that UK consumers are buying in a far more ethical way than 10 years ago, with 66% of shoppers considering the ethics of a product before they buy. Meanwhile, 50% of shoppers in the US do the same. Good news, no?

8. Connie and her beautiful HIV negative daughter, Lubona

Image and story credit: (RED)

There are no words to describe Connie’s strength. After her three children all passed away, Connie and her husband took the brave decision to take a HIV test. It emerged positive, but that didn’t stop Connie. After being put on free ARV medication that now keeps her healthy and alive, she decided to dedicate her life to giving strength to others who suffer from the virus.

Connie, working together with (RED), says “I will be called upon to give encouragement to sick people, and tell them that there’s still life. That they can still get back on their feet. Giving hope to the hopeless.”

Want to know my favourite part of the story? Connie’s daughter, Lubona, was born HIV negative, thanks to miraculous modern technology preventing transmission of the virus from mother to child. An AIDS free generation is possible!

9. The number of female MPs in the UK is set to hit an all time high!

Image credit: Catherine Bebbington via Flickr

With the UK General Election creeping closer and closer, this is certainly something to smile about (at least if you like gender equality). A recent study by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) predicted that the upcoming election could see 192 women elected on 7 May - up 44 from the current 148. This would raise female representation in the Commons from 23% to 29.5% - the highest it has ever been. Whilst we still have a long way to go, this is certainly progress.

10. Ami’s community are abandoning FGM

Image credit: Jessica Lea / DFID UK

Ami lives in a village in Burkina Faso. Traditionally, female genital mutilation (FGM) is considered an essential step in preparation for womanhood and marriage. But now, with the support of UK aid, Ami’s community is abandoning the practise. Unlike her mother, Ami will not be cut!

“I talked about it with friends, I was very frightened,” says Ami. “I’m very happy to know it won’t happen to me.”

11. Extreme poverty has been HALVED since 1990!

Image credit: ruffin_ready via Flickr

With 1.2 billion people still living in extreme poverty worldwide, this certainly isn’t the end of the road. However, this progress proves we can and will end this injustice. As Nelson Mandela said “like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that generation.”

Happy Day of Happiness, y’all!