Recycling Air Pollution to Make Art

Startup’s system captures particle matter from diesel exhaust and turns it into inks and paints.

Rob Matheson | MIT News Office

On a break from his studies in the MIT Media Lab, Anirudh Sharma SM ’14 traveled home to Mumbai, India. While there, he noticed that throughout the day his T-shirts were gradually accumulating something that resembled dirt.

“I realized this was air pollution, or sooty particulate matter, made of black particles released from exhaust of vehicles,” Sharma says. “This is a major health issue.”

Soot comprises tiny black particles, about 2.5 micrometers or smaller, made of carbon produced by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. Breathing in the particles can lead to lung damage, cancers, and other conditions.

A 2015 conference paper presented at a meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science estimated that in 2013 more than 5.5 million people worldwide died prematurely from air pollution. In India alone, air pollution has been linked to anywhere from 1.1 million to 1.4 million premature deaths over the past few years, according to various studies.

Back at MIT, Sharma set out to help solve this dire air-pollution issue. After years of research and development, Sharma’s startup Graviky Labs has developed technology that attaches to exhaust systems of diesel generator chimneys to capture particulate matter. Scientists at Graviky then treat the soot to turn it into ink, called Air-Ink, for artists around the world.

So far, the startup, which is commercially piloting its KAALINK devices for use on diesel generators across India, has captured 1.6 billion micrograms of particulate matter, which equates to cleaning roughly 1.6 trillion liters of outdoor air. More than 200 gallons of Air-Ink have been harvested for a growing community of more than 1,000 artists, from Bangalore to Boston, Hong Kong, and London.

“Less pollution, more art. That’s what we’re going for,” Sharma says.

Recycling Soot

KAALINK is a cylindrical device that retrofits to the exhaust systems of vehicles or diesel generators and relies on static electricity, a phenomenon in which energized materials attract particles. Inside the device are cartridges filled with a high-energy plasma. An applied voltage triggers the plasma to attract soot particles flying by, ridding the air of roughly 85 to 95 percent of particles without affecting the exhaust system.

A KAALINK device can stay on an exhaust system for about 15 to 20 days. Users then empty the disposable cartridges into special Graviky Labs collection units, where they are sent straight to the startup’s lab for treatment. This system — co-invented by Nitesh Kadyan and Nikhil Kaushik — removes heavy metals and toxins to create usable Air-Ink.

Similar soot-capturing processes exist, Sharma says, but they capture the soot by dissolving it in liquids, which makes the treatment process complex and expensive. Graviky, on the other hand, captures the particulate matter in its basic dry form. “Other processes convert air pollution into water pollution, and essentially generate more waste,” Sharma says. “We minimize the process and create a recycling stream from particulate matter waste that would have otherwise gone into our lungs.”

Currently, KAALINK isn’t a consumer product. Graviky primarily sells the filter to companies and organizations in India for capturing soot from the diesel generators that help power hospitals, malls, schools, apartment complexes, and other buildings. Companies have also sought to retrofit diesel generators with KAALINK to make them carbon neutral. Graviky later buys back the captured particulate matter from the owners of these engines to incentivize pollution capture.

Spreading the Message

Posted all over Graviky Lab’s Facebook page today are photos of art made from the Air-Ink and paint, including portraits, street murals, body art, sketches, and clothing prints. In London, an Air-Ink mural was featured for several weeks in Piccadilly Circus, and the city’s Museum of Writing has a permanent exhibit on Air-Ink.

One Boston artist using Air-Ink is Sneha Shrestha, a native of Nepal who paints mantras in her native language, meshing Sanskrit and graffiti styles. She has been using Air-Ink for “handstyles” (a unique graffiti artist signature) and has received requests from galleries worldwide to create art using this ink.

Using Air-Ink, a product made and shipped out from Bangalore, also holds personal significance for the artist from Kathmandu. “I am taking waste collected from a place close to my hometown and I am creating something beautiful out of it,” says Shrestha, who is also founder and senior advisor of the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal. “My work is inspired by the culture and native language of my hometown and Air-Ink added another layer of connection to where I am from.”

Air-Ink, she adds, could be a valuable tool in raising awareness about air pollution globally. “Air-Ink makes the concept of pollution more tangible for a wider audience,” she says. “When you can see what polluted air looks like in a tangible form, it definitely raises curiosity and start conversations about pollution.”

A successfully funded Kickstarter campaign over the summer sold out on various Air-Ink markers and decorated T-shirts, postcards, motorcycle helmets, and shoes. According to Graviky, each ounce of Air-Ink — about enough to make one marker — offsets 45 minutes of air pollution generated by a vehicle.

But the aim wasn’t always to create art. “I started with the general question, ‘What are the things you can do with carbon that’s collected?’” Sharma says of his early days designing the technology in the Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group with Pattie Maes, a professor of media technology and academic head of the Program in Media Arts and Sciences.

The initial prototype for the device, developed in 2012, was actually a printer that sucked in carbon and filled an ink cartridge, and would be used strictly for paper printing. But the printer wasn’t scalable, so Sharma refined the bulky device into an exhaust retrofit that could go “beyond the lab and have real-world impact,” he says.

In 2013, Sharma launched Graviky headquarters, ready to release the product in heavily polluted India. “It’s pretty dire here,” Sharma says. “Primary schools have been shut down because of air pollution. It’s a catastrophe. I wanted to create technologies that are new and can have a large social impact, and that brought me back here.”

At first, there was still no specific application for the ink. Then, about a year ago, the startup decided to find new ways to further spread its mission. It chose to do so through art. “Art helps us raise awareness about where the ink and paint comes from. Artists are spreading the word that this is a very special ink that makes a difference,” Sharma says.

In March, Tiger Beer reached out to Graviky to create a large campaign against air pollution. For the project, Graviky gave 150 liters of Air-Ink — or, roughly 2,500 hours of air pollution, according to Graviky — to artists in Hong Kong, known for its high air pollution, to create murals. This effort won the startup several awards, including a Gold at Cannes Lions for outdoor impact innovation.

Now, as the community of artists using Air-Ink grows, Sharma hopes Graviky’s message gets heard worldwide. “Air pollution knows no borders,” he says. “It’s in India, Boston, and places all over the world. Our ink sends a message that pollution is one of the resources in our world that’s the hardest to capture and use. But it can be done.”

Reprinted with permission of MIT News

In Jakarta, Solving Problems with New Tech Tools and People Power

Foreword from Listen To The World

Is digital technology the solution to our problems? Big cities around the world have been overwhelmed with new, ever increasing problems, especially in developing countries. The problems are varied: unbearable traffic congestions, air pollution, corruption, poor societal integration, lack of trust, and identity crisis. For that, we need solutions.

With today’s technological advancement, it is only right if those cities turn to technology to solve their problems. One of the cities is Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia.

 Jakarta makes use of the digital technology to answer various problems. It has created e-budgeting, e-musrenbang, e-ID, and so on. The question remains, however, if this advanced technology is really the way out of it.

The data of e-budgeting and e-musrenbang (digital platform of budgeting and development planning) are stored online to ensure transparency, making it available for all to see. Beside making budgeting and planning efficient, this technology is also believed to be able to prevent corruption. It’s a good solution, but is it enough?

On the other hand, Singapore remains the only Asian countries that made the list of top ten ‘corruption-free’ countries in the world without the use of e-budgeting system.

Perhaps e-budgeting could eliminate the chance for corruption, but it is still questionable whether it would change the corrupt mentality. The e-ID Card project in Jakarta is the proof.

Another digital application created by Jakarta City Administration is Qlue, a platform through which people of Jakarta can submit their complaints for any disruptions such as broken roads, garbage problems, etc. – online. It’s a good solution, but is it enough?

Is this application enough to make society more independent in solving their own problems and work hand in hand to look after their own neighbourhood and city? Who knows?

From what we have discussed, we can see that digital technology can only answer a small part of our problems, whereas the real problem lies in our mental state. Can a digital application change our mental state is a question remains to be answered.

Read the article below and let’s try to answer the questions.


In Jakarta, Solving Problems with New Tech Tools and People Power

by Patralekha Chatterjee, Citiscope

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Jakarta often appears in photographs as a teeming metropolis awash with honking motor bikes, buses and cars snarled in traffic. Then there are the deadly floods that frequently befall this megacity of more than 10 million people.

But defying the clichés that surround it, the capital city of Indonesia also is beginning to earn its spurs in urban innovations. What is generating a lot of interest across the country and beyond is web-based planning mechanisms that involve residents in local government’s decision-making process. Citizens are becoming engaged in identifying the city’s most pressing problems and proposing solutions.

Some of Jakarta’s tech tools may sound familiar in other cities. For example, thousands of residents are using Qlue, a smartphone app that lets users snap a picture of uncollected garbage or a broken street lamp, and report it to local authorities. Like “311” services in the United States or Seoul’s “smart complaint” app, Qlue gives citizens an immediate way to tell authorities what needs fixing.

But other solutions are more particular to Jakarta, and seek to engage residents in deeper, long-term questions about the future of their city. One strategy mixes face-to-face meetings at the local level where residents can propose new ideas to city officials, and uses a web-based platform to track whether authorities are delivering on them. Any city resident with a valid city identification card known as a Jakarta ID can propose an idea through the system.

I recently had a chance to see some of these tools and talk to urban planners, community leaders and ordinary citizens about them as part of an international study tour. The city’s participatory planning strategy was one of 15 programmes acknowledged last year by the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation. A delegation of Asian city leaders and experts visited to learn lessons from Jakarta Smart City, a government agency that partners with the private sector and NGOs on these approaches.

What we saw was a megacity that hasn’t solved all of its myriad woes, but is well on its way to a new bottom-up formula to work at it. Citizen engagement is now seen here as crucial to improving services, improving transparency in government and holding local leaders accountable.

The public’s priorities

The word you hear all the time when you listen to city planners here is musrenbang. It’s the local word for community meetings that happen at the level of Jakarta’s 44 districts and 2,726 sub-districts. These forums have become a primary path for citizens to express concerns and demand better services for their neighbourhoods.

For communities who historically have had little say in local decision-making, merely having a forum for residents to make suggestions directly to local officials represents something of a breakthrough. However, their recommendations often get lost in the city bureaucracy afterward. Residents would have little way of knowing if the city was working on their idea or rejecting it.

So city leaders added a digital component to the process, known as e-musrenbang. Proposals decided upon at the local-level meetings are submitted to city government through the web-based application. It’s the repository of aspirations residents have for their communities — in 2016, Jakarta city government received more than 46,000 proposals from the public.

The platform is also a tracking mechanism, so that the public can easily check on the progress of their suggestions. If the proposal is rejected, local officials must give a reason why. According to Tuty Kusumawati, head of Jakarta’s Regional Development Planning Board, 76 percent of the proposals from the community are accepted, validated and funded for implementation.

This bottom-up process works alongside the more traditional top-down planning and budgeting systems driven by local government agencies, says Andhika Ajie, a planner and analyst with the Province of Jakarta Special Capital Region. “The head of the sub-district should know the real needs of the people,” he says. “The proposals are verified by the sub-district and then the district authorities. The idea is to combine technocratic planning by municipalities with citizens’ ideas.”

According to Ajie, having the Qlue app as a separate platform for handling day-to-day complaints has helped improve the dialogue between residents and planners.

“Previously, citizens used to submit proposals which combined complaints needing immediate redress with long-term demands,” he says. “Now we have separated it. Qlue deals with complaints and the proposals are fed into e-muserenbang. If there is garbage lying around somewhere, all that a Jakartan has to do is to click a photo and report it. Within 24 hours, it will be removed.”

Tracking progress

In Cipete Utara, a middle-class neighbourhood in South Jakarta, residents and community leaders generally offered a positive assessment of the changes.

“The most interesting part of e-musrenbang is that now we can actually track online the status of our community proposals,” says Yostiana Bella Ulfa, 25, who has lived in Cipete Utara all her life. “If any suggestion is refused, we are also told the reasons. If it has been accepted, we can track various stages of implementation.”

She says she was “thrilled” recently when a proposal from the neighbourhood committee to fix a number of streets pocked with potholes was acted upon quickly. “In Jakarta, we use motorcycles a lot, especially in narrow lanes,” Ulfa says. “Commuting becomes a big problem if the lanes are badly in need of repair.”

Yostiana’s father, Iyus Ruslan Said, a 50-year old businessman, heads the local neighbourhood committee. He says e-musrenbang has been helpful in communicating and tracking the progress on the community’s main demands, which relate to repairs of roads, sewers and other infrastructure. “These physical bottlenecks are on top of the mind of most people,” he says.

However, older residents and many community leaders are still trying to adapt to technology, he says. Much more needs to be done to spread awareness of the e-musrenbang process. “The sudden change has been a cultural shock,” according to Said, “because there is a big difference between the process earlier and now.”

Mohammed Yohan, head of the Cipete Utara Sub-District, agrees that it has been a change. But in his view, it’s largely a change for the better.

“Earlier, it was more difficult to track status of proposals to the city government,” he recalls. “We have seen angry community members throwing chairs, frustrated at not knowing the status of some proposals made for benefit of the community. Now any citizen with a Jakarta ID card can track proposals in real time. It is the culture of open data.”

Spreading awareness

Participatory urban planning in Jakarta is not just about technology. It’s also about finding new ways to tap resources and energy in the community.

In Cipete Utara, the sub-district office sits alongside a preschool. Recently, PT. Agung Sedayu, a real estate development company, turned the area next door into a park for children and an activity centre offering classes from dancing to drawing. There’s a small library, three toilets, a lactation room, basketball court and small amphitheatre. The project was part of the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts. It is maintained by the company and the local community.

Inside the complex is something called a “waste bank”. Residents drop off old newspapers, plastic bottles and other trash, and 120 women volunteers who work here turn the waste into toys and craft items.

“Every three months, I hold meetings with mothers who drop by and other volunteers,” says Sri Hastuti Sugiyono, the waste bank’s director. “We discuss what sort of products we should make out of the trash — and which would sell.”

Citizens are the ones who proposed these new facilities, says Yohan. Because the ideas rose up through a participatory process involving not just residents but the private sector and local NGOs, the company and the community found a way to pitch in and make it happen.

Teguh Kurniawan, an associate professor at the University of Indonesia, says the most interesting part of Jakarta’s approach is the direct participation of citizens. “The challenge now,” he says, “is in spreading awareness about the benefits of these innovative measures, spreading the message among the public at large and ensuring that community leaders adapt to technology.”

Kurniawan adds that it’s important to recognize that access to technology and internet connectivity is not uniform across the city — especially in poorer neighbourhoods, there will be teething problems. In addition, since e-musrenbang requires a Jakarta ID to submit proposals, a large number of transient residents aren’t able to use it.

At the same time, Kurniawan notes that Jakarta’s population is mostly literate and that these innovations have great potential to positively impact the daily lives of most city residents.

For tech-savvy younger residents, Qlue is an especially big hit. The app, launched in 2014, came about through a partnership between the municipal government and a local software company.

With Qlue, more and more Jakartans are reporting problems that occur in their neighbourhood in real time by clicking a photo, geo-tagging the location, offering a brief status report. People without smartphones can use SMS.

Yohan points to a street lamp nearby as an example of an improvement suggested through all of Jakarta’s new feedback tools. Using Qlue, lots of residents complained of dark alleys that made them feel unsafe. Using e-musrenbang, they asked for more street lamps — the city has installed more than 600 street lamps in Cipete Utara through that process.

“It was proposed, accepted and implemented,” Yohan says. “In all, there were 119 proposals from residents of this sub-district. All but one were accepted.”

(Travel costs associated with reporting for this story were paid for by the Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation.)

The Sex Workers Who are Stopping HIV

by Jules Montague

Sex workers in Mozambique are providing health support to those at the margins of society. They face political and financial challenges, but against the odds they are helping thousands. Jules Montague reports.

It’s late when we reach Inhamízua on the outskirts of the city.

Stalls sell crackling chicken feet and sizzling plantain. Scores of men and women are gathered by a makeshift bar topped with corrugated steel. Spirits are high. The sound of laughter rises above the rumble of trucks trundling by.

Light from the gas station across the road illuminates the scene. Some of the women sit on white plastic chairs, nursing infants. It’s a nativity scene of sorts, set under coconut trees and soundtracked by Marrabenta-style dance music surging from a battered loudspeaker.

Luisa* and I walk behind the bar, through dried mud and over shards of glass and used condoms. We’re at the huts now. It’s 80 meticais for five minutes – about a pound. A bottle of beer in this town, to put things in context, costs 55.

In Beira, like everywhere else, sex sells – and there’s a good chance that HIV will be part of the transaction. Truckers drive here along the trade corridor that stretches from Zimbabwe’s eastern border. The end of their journey is a Mozambican port city where life expectancy is less than 50 and HIV rates are among the highest in the world. When they leave, that legacy often follows them.

One in ten adults in Mozambique is HIV positive, making the country’s HIV prevalence the eighth highest globally. But while the government has made progress on controlling the epidemic in recent years, reaching the marginalised along the Beira corridor has remained difficult.

How do you reach a population that is perpetually mobile? A population fearful of police intimidation, or of being found out by friends and family? In their eyes, they have little to gain from meeting you and everything to lose. To reach them, you need an innovative approach.

On we go, Luisa and I and the others, to place after place late into the night. Hotspots they call them, each one the same – makeshift bars with white plastic chairs, pumping music, overturned trucks, stacks of old tyres, broken beer bottles, and every time those huts out back.

© Billy Clark

Luisa is a peer educator – part of a team that dispenses medical advice to the local community – but will return to these streets as a sex worker when money is low.

And her story is the story of this project.

For here in Beira, I’ve discovered a group helping people to help themselves – even as Mozambique threatens to fall back into the political chaos of its past. Amid the discord, this project is countering the seeming inevitability of contracting HIV along the transport corridor by enabling sex workers to become peer educators for a couple of nights each week, sometimes more. Joined by counsellors and outreach workers, they provide safe-sex guidance, offer advice on family planning, and deliver on-the-spot HIV testing. They distribute condoms and lubricants. And, crucially, they connect some 3,800 sex workers and 4,500 long-distance truck drivers to health clinics they might otherwise never visit.

This is the Corridor Project, established by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in January 2014. And despite its perilous situation, it’s reaching the unreachable.


The story of Mozambique’s HIV epidemic is embedded in its history of bloodshed.

After a decade of armed struggle, Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in June 1975. Hundreds of thousands of Portuguese fled, including many who worked in healthcare. By Independence Day, just 80 doctors remained in the whole of the country.

The Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) came to power, but inherited a fractured country with a fragile infrastructure and few skilled workers. Within two years a brutal civil war had broken out, with FRELIMO violently confronted by the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO), an armed and much-feared rebel movement. Over the next 15 years, up to a million died and 10 per cent of the country’s population became war refugees.

Yet as HIV ravaged neighbouring countries, Mozambique was shielded by limited population movement into the country.

A peace agreement was eventually reached in 1992, and with international help the government began to focus on improving the country’s main transport corridors to restore economic growth. Ripe for development was the Beira corridor, spanning the 300 km from the Indian Ocean to Zimbabwe’s eastern border. Previously marred by dilapidated infrastructure, staff shortages and bandit attacks, transport links from Beira’s rehabilitated port soon stretched to surrounding countries.

Mozambique was open for business.

But development came at a cost. When populations become more mobile, so do sexually transmitted infections like HIV. Long-distance drivers, for example, are more likely to engage in transactional sex, with a string of partners. They frequently make overnight stops, arriving with money to spend in the midst of poorer communities.

Within 15 years of its first, solitary case, one million people in Mozambique were living with HIV

And so after the civil war, truck drivers often carried HIV from stop to stop along the Beira corridor until they reached their families at home. Sex workers followed the money. And HIV followed them all.

Meanwhile, refugees returned from neighbouring countries – another factor believed to have contributed to a rise in HIV rates. Mozambique’s first case was reported in 1986. By the end of 1992, there had been 662 confirmed cases. By 1998 that number had risen to 10,863.

These spiralling rates partly represented improved diagnostics, but the figures went far beyond this. Within 15 years of that first, solitary case, one million people in Mozambique were living with HIV.

Yet solid political and economic reforms had led Mozambique to become one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, with GDP growth of 7 per cent per annum. The government prioritised HIV prevention and treatment, and international donors stepped forward. The number of people on HIV treatment grew 37-fold between 2004 and 2013.

By mid-2016, about 900,000 people living with HIV were receiving antiretroviral treatment, three times as many as in 2012. Expanded treatment coverage for pregnant women living with HIV resulted in a 73 per cent decline in new infections among children in just three years. New HIV infections among adults dropped by 40 per cent from 2004 to 2014.

Mozambique had become a shining example of how to battle an HIV epidemic. Yet there was a missing piece in the puzzle.

Its HIV success story did not extend to the Beira corridor – it didn’t even come close.


Our group receives a warm welcome at our next stop – Pinta Boca’s Premium Bar. Many of the peer educators are familiar faces here.

Luisa carries a notebook and collects the telephone numbers of sex workers who want to be called during the week with advice on how and where to get antiretroviral drugs. Quanto custa? They’re free, Luisa replies. To one woman standing by a pool table, its legs embedded deep in the mud and cues nowhere to be seen, Luisa says yes, she can get refills at the clinic if she has run out. And TB treatment, too? Sure, Luisa says. She’ll call her tomorrow with advice.

The pages of Luisa’s notebook are filling up fast.

A man drinking a bottle of Impala beer approaches one of the women sitting on a white plastic chair by the roadside. She passes her baby gently to a fellow worker and walks towards the huts with the truck driver. A rapidinha, they call it – a quickie.

The Corridor Project is not about one organisation. It’s really about 300

Jaime – a counsellor from MSF – has joined us tonight. He knows this crowd well, too. As he bounces one of the infants on his knee, a camionista, a long-distance truck driver, steps forward. “Can I have the test?” he asks. Jaime walks him towards the van and the man gets an HIV test there and then. A preliminary result follows 15 minutes later. If his test is later confirmed as positive, he will join the 1.5 million others in Mozambique living with HIV at the last count.

We end up back in the van – now 144 red condoms lighter, each 53 millimetres wide and made of natural latex rubber. Luisa and others like her are just the right people to be here: better suited than well-meaning outsiders who, without relatable experiences, might never be able to connect with those at risk in such a profoundly personal way.

Luisa, 29 years old and a mother of five, tells me that her ex left her soon after she was gang-raped. The attack gave her HIV. For her, it was too late. But not for these women, she believes.

By the end of this week, her notebook will be full.

© Billy Clark

It’s fair to say there was an endless amount of bargaining to get the MSF Corridor Project off the ground – and no better woman to contend with this than its Brazilian coordinator, Daniela Cerqueira Batista.

A psychologist by background, Daniela is effortlessly glamorous in a Goan beach sort of way. There are kisses on either cheek and arms flung around those she meets. Her messages have more emojis than mine have characters. Her energy is resolutely undiminished by this oppressive heat, despite managing a team of 90 here in Beira.

When she saw how expensive books were at a local sale here, she set about trying to establish a library. When she couldn’t find a Pride flag, she picked up a multicoloured umbrella back in Brazil. And so on Rua Dom Francisco Gorjão, the umbrella now forms an improvised Pride symbol stuck above the front door of MSF’s Beira headquarters.

Meeting after meeting it took to set up the Corridor Project – with local NGOs, transport sector representatives, law enforcement agencies, Ministry of Health officials, truckers’ unions, border community representatives and customs personnel. Add to that input from donors and funding institutions, including the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the Global Fund and many others.

The Corridor Project is not about one organisation. It’s really about 300. In a country of 43 languages.

But these alliances ultimately proved fruitful, explains Daniela, establishing firm links with port companies who hold staff education sessions, community theatre groups who put on productions with safe-sex themes, and organisations who run workshops on domestic abuse. And the project would be incomplete without its linkage to care – the health centres at Ponta Gêa and Munhava.

Some lessons you just won’t find in textbooks. In the early days, those working as part of the project wore MSF T-shirts but were shunned – sex workers and truck drivers associated the charity solely with HIV care and didn’t approach the peer educators in case others thought they were HIV positive. Staff at the health centres soon learned to dispense antiretroviral drugs in boxes that had fake labels – that way, patients could go home with a box that looked like it was just full of painkillers.

They want to change their own lives and help their sisters on the streets

Mobile clinics have now been established along the corridor, with adapted opening times; sex workers and truck drivers work unconventional hours. MSF counsellors and peer educators make door-to-door visits and stop by 200 hotspots along the corridor. And their staff support care at government health centres so that stigma and discrimination do not drive these marginalised populations away. The Corridor Project now stretches across Mozambique and has been extended to Malawi and Zimbabwe.

More recently, MSF has introduced health passports for all patients diagnosed with HIV who are on treatment. Containing test results and medication regimens, they allow for continuity of care along the corridor. MSF are working to have these multilingual passports recognised in Zimbabwe and Malawi – if they are successful, patients could receive uninterrupted HIV treatment across borders.

And then there are the peer educators. At those makeshift bars, it’s Luisa and the others who engender a sense of genuine trust, connection, camaraderie and solidarity. They’ve been there; sometimes they still are. And back at Rua Dom Francisco Gorjão, they’re involved in all aspects of the project – design, implementation, decision making and oversight, at the community level and nationally. Luisa has a chance, if she wants it, to progress through the organisation; several peer educators have become counsellors. Others have been supported to set up their own businesses.

© Billy Clark

Luisa receives remuneration for her peer educator role. I ask Sebastiana Cumbe, supervisor of psychological support, how this factors into sex workers signing up to this project. “Yes, there is a salary,” she tells me. “But it’s not just that. They want to change their own lives and help their sisters on the streets.”

Not many projects provide that linkage to care, a bridge between community and clinic. A 2016 study assessed healthcare programmes for sub-Saharan African truck drivers in 30 countries. Of 22 programmes, only three covered testing and care for conditions other than HIV, such as TB and malaria. Few tested for other STIs. Just above half have been evaluated to date. And where data has been gathered, it primarily focuses on the number of sites established, staff trained, resources used or clients reached. It’s one thing to give out condoms, but another thing for people to use them. Few projects have reported on impact indicators such as changes in infection rates.

In 2016, 71 per cent of the HIV-negative sex workers in the Corridor Project were retested at least once, with 94 per cent still HIV negative when retested. It’s these sorts of metrics that should help scale up and sustain the programme.

If, that is, the project can weather the political challenges faced by Mozambique, both now and in the future.


“You’re sick,” Luisa’s partner had said to her. He had just found out that she had been raped. Then, he left her.

She had already been a sex worker for some time when it happened. Her first child had been born when Luisa was 14; her second, four years later. So she became the family breadwinner when her partner couldn’t get a job.

She remembers her first day on the streets. Overcome by shame when she saw a neighbour, she ran home before a single transaction. But two days later, with no food for her children, she returned.

She always ensured her clients wore condoms, even though they would pay more if they didn’t have to. The ones who refused, she refused them too. She remained HIV negative.

I would have been more ashamed if I had to beg my friends for money. This was a conscious decision

“Half the money now,” the client had said that night. “Half the money after we have sex.” He wanted her to travel away from the huts. In the car, he phoned his friends.

“He took out a gun and told me, ‘Get out,’ and I did. He told me to take my clothes off and I did. His friends arrived. They had sex with me, five people. But they didn’t use a condom. Afterwards, he left me there. I had no strength left, and then I took my clothes, I hitched a ride and went to the hospital.”

Luisa’s internal and external injuries were so severe that she was unable to work for another six months.

She was tested again, not too long after. She was HIV positive.

Worldwide, sex workers are 12 times as likely as the general population to be HIV positive. Across 16 sub-Saharan African countries surveyed in 2012, the prevalence of HIV among sex workers was 37 per cent.

“When I was sick,” Luisa tells me, “my children ended up not going to school because I couldn’t afford paying for the school truck, because I didn’t have money left. MSF always came to take me to the hospital, to do everything. I didn’t have anything left to eat because I couldn’t go on the streets. They gave me a letter and I went to collect food, even when I said I had HIV. And I started to take some medicine. Slowly, I recovered.”

Luisa has five children now, aged between two and fourteen.

She became an MSF peer educator two years ago. As she walks through that dried mud and over those shards of glass, I see something in her. Energy. Empathy. A need to be there for others the way others were there for her.

She works less frequently on the streets than she did before. But she does not regret her choices. “I would have been more ashamed if I had to beg my friends for money. This was a conscious decision. When my heart tells me to do something, I do it.”

© Billy Clark

Back at Rua Dom Francisco Gorjão, I meet 22-year-old Antonio*. He explains how the Corridor Project reaches out to other at-risk populations, not just those connected to sex work. Similar strategies are used for each group, despite their differences.

Antonio knew as a child in Maputo that he was different from his friends. Or at least he was made to feel different. As he played with dolls and cookery sets, his stepmother told him to play with cars, to make friends with boys instead of girls. In his teens he was sent to live in Beira with his cousins. “Here I felt comfortable,” he says. “I was able to paint my nails, freely wear make-up and dresses.” He was sometimes bullied at school. But Beira became his home.

His journey with his own family has been more difficult. He visited his sister’s house recently with a gay female friend. Afterwards, his sister said if she were to discover her daughters were gay, she would murder them with her own hands.

Antonio works as a peer educator for men who have sex with men (MSM). Globally, gay men and other MSM are 19 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population. A recent Beira study found a third of MSM over the age of 25 are living with HIV.

Another recent study suggested a third of MSM in Beira had never been tested for HIV. Fourteen per cent of those said that this was because they simply did not know where to go.

These interventions are a necessary first step. The larger question is what can we do to remove stigma and other barriers

With such high HIV rates in Beira’s MSM, the cornerstone of MSF’s work here is to scale up preventative strategies. This is where PrEP comes in – pre-exposure prophylaxis. By taking a certain combination of drugs in one daily tablet, people can reduce their risk of contracting HIV by more than 90 per cent. (It does not protect against other STIs, and missing doses decreases its effectiveness.)

José Carlos Beirão manages the PrEP Operational Research Project, established within the Corridor Project in 2016, and the only one of its kind in Mozambique. So far 214 participants, MSM as well as female sex workers, have been recruited, with a target of 250. Beirão hopes that by the end of the project, he’ll be able to understand the demand for PrEP and the feasibility and acceptability of implementing a wide-scale PrEP programme.

I ask Ken Ho, an HIV specialist and prominent PrEP researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, whether he thinks the corridor approach might be applicable to settings far outside Beira.

“We know that young black MSM are disproportionally impacted by HIV,” he explains. “These are the same people who may have limited access to healthcare because of lack of insurance, distrust of medical institutions, or fear of stigmatisation.” And so he sees the corridor approach as being relevant in the USA, at least initially in establishing a link with difficult-to-reach populations.

But he sounds a note of caution: “The risk is that these targeted interventions function more like Band-Aids and allow – perhaps even encourage – the underlying problems to persist. So I think they are a necessary first step. The larger question is what can we do to remove stigma and other barriers that are responsible for the disparities in the first place.”

Antonio’s confidence has grown since his schooldays, he tells me.

For him, it’s about visibility. When he arrived in Beira, nobody looked like him. Now he sees others who do. Boys growing up today, he believes, will have a chance to think differently because of this: I see it, I can be it.


I am outside Beira’s airport, right where José Manuel was shot dead in April 2016. He was a RENAMO member of the National Council for Defence and Security. Formerly the civil war rebels, RENAMO are now the opposition party. Human Rights Watch noted reports that it had taken the police ten hours to arrive on the scene.

Armed conflict resumed in Mozambique in 2015, after two decades of peace. The results of the 2014 general election, won by FRELIMO, were bitterly contested by RENAMO. There were summary executions of villagers, abductions and sexual violence, political assassinations, raids on health clinics, attacks on civilian buses, and even reports of mass graves.

Mozambique was in danger of plunging back into the chaos of its past. Faced with violence from both sides, over 11,000 Mozambicans fled to Malawi and Zimbabwe. By the end of 2016, a truce had been agreed, and most of the refugees had returned, but many families remain internally displaced.

In 2016 economic growth halved, with a downturn in commodity prices. And then there was an astonishing and ultimately devastating admission from the government: it had guaranteed $1.5 billion in secret, unconstitutional loans. Fourteen donor countries and multilateral institutions – including the UK, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank – promptly suspended direct support to the state budget. The foreign debt burden has risen to $9.9bn – up 20 per cent a year over the last five years.

By the beginning of 2017, cholera outbreaks had become so common that they were barely making the national news. The cost of bread and other staples was rising. The currency was falling. Nurses were not being paid. The ceasefire is still holding, but uneasily so.

Ordinary people in Mozambique are paying a high price. It is possible the Corridor Project will, too.

The average Mozambican’s daily struggle remains to lift themselves out of poverty

Health infrastructure is already in a perilous state. There are only three doctors per 100,000 people, one of the worst ratios in the world. Already more than half the population must walk an hour or more to their nearest health facility. Just over half of health facilities lack electricity and 41 per cent have no running water.

Mozambique expert Alex Vines has been head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House, an international affairs think-tank in London, since 2002. How will recent political and economic developments affect healthcare in Mozambique, I ask him, and in turn the Corridor Project?

Vines points out that the ceasefire is at least indefinite, and that better rains over recent months have provided some economic respite. “But the debt burden – because of the undisclosed loans scandal of 2016 and suspension of direct budget support by international donors – has seriously impacted the government’s finances, and this has a knock-on impact on healthcare and HIV programmes,” he explains.

Mozambique receives more than 95 per cent of its HIV programme funding through international donors. The Corridor Project depends heavily on this funding, and it could suffer profoundly. Vines is hopeful, though: “I believe the international donors will resume their direct support of the government but will require greater accountability. Trust is central to this.”

What happens next to the support of healthcare, and in turn to the Corridor Project, he believes, will partly depend on the outcome of an ongoing independent audit into those murky secret loans.

But a question remains, Vines says, about some leading donors. Donald Trump has proposed a cut in US global health funding, which will affect projects in Mozambique related to family planning. Who will fill those gaps remains unclear. Mozambique’s longstanding status as a donor darling is now far from secure.

The withdrawal of funding for the Corridor Project is something Caroline Rose, MSF’s head of mission in Mozambique, is only too aware of, even at ground level. “In the field we are receiving more and more requests from health facilities in trouble: ‘Could you fix our ambulance?’ ‘Could you transport our drugs from our clinic to the districts?’ ‘Could you pay for fuel?’” She is negotiating with international donors to the project, encouraging them to implement interim funding strategies until more long-term solutions are ironed out.

Vines envisages that the country will have a difficult few years before large-scale exporting of gas reserves starts, in the mid-2020s. Mozambique is now entering another election cycle that will doubtless be contentious, and which will likely span the next two years. “Meanwhile, the average Mozambican’s daily struggle remains to lift themselves out of poverty.”

And so women like Luisa will continue to walk towards those huts each night. They will take further risks to feed their families. As Mozambique’s uncertain future unfolds, ventures like the Corridor Project will be needed more than ever.

© Billy Clark

Luisa is healthy and optimistic for her future, for the future of her children. The corridor is where she has found, at different times, a livelihood, unspeakable trauma, a feeling of community and now a sense of purpose. In some ways it has defined her life, even as it has endangered it.

In 2014, the Corridor Project was established to reach the unreachable. Night by night, hotspot by hotspot, from one gas station to the next. It’s early days, but already it has connected with thousands of sex workers and truck drivers. Preliminary figures suggest this is giving a significant boost to HIV prevention and treatment. And the project refuses to fade even in the face of precarious funding streams and a deeply fractious political climate.

The night is over for us. In a few hours, the sun will rise. Traders will set up their stalls at Mercado do Goto to hawk fruit and vegetables. Fishermen will repair their nets by Macúti beach lighthouse, their wooden boats pulled high up onto the sand. Luisa will walk her children to school.

Daniela will fling open the doors of her office under the Pride umbrella.

The Corridor Project will live to see another day.


* Some names have been changed.

This article first appeared on Mosaic and is republished here under a Creative Commons licence.

Indigenous people need control over digital tech

by Inga Vesper

Indigenous people need more support to become tech-savvy and deal with the threats digital technology can pose to their culture, a conference has heard.

Digital technologies such as smartphones and drones can bring problems as well as advantages to indigenous communities, an expert panel said at the World Conservation Congress on 5 September. Without in-depth knowledge of the scope of such technology, indigenous people may allow themselves to be misrepresented and their knowledge to get exploited, they said.

One issue is the struggle to keep sacred sites a secret in a world where posting photos and publishing blogs can reveal their locations. Often, well-meaning researchers compound the problem when they digitise photos of cultural sites or traditional knowledge for scientific purposes, says Mikaela Jade, the founder of Indigital Storytelling, an Australian company using digital technologies to preserve aboriginal culture.

“Companies supplying indigenous people with services should have a cultural protocol to clarify who are the custodians of their data,” she told SciDev.Net. “We need to know, can we take our data back and can we destroy it if it is causing a problem to have it in the public space?”

These issues are compounded by the fact that many indigenous communities still lack access to the digital world, the event heard. Having better access can encourage them to become more assertive in protecting their culture, suggests M’Lys Flynn, a digital mapper working with indigenous people in Australia.

The panel, which took place on 5 September in Honolulu, Hawaii, acknowledged that digital technology can enable indigenous communities to claim rights over land and better preserve traditions. Having access to GPS mapping, social media platforms and other communication tools is also crucial, to make their voices more prominent in global discussions, the panellists agreed.

The best way forward, says Roberto Borreo, a consultant at the International Indian Treaty Council, is for communities and digital companies to work together. The Taino people in the United States, for example, helped a start-up game company to develop Arrival: Village Kasike, a mobile-phone strategy game set in pre-Columbian Central America.

Taino representatives were involved throughout the development process, ensuring the game represents their culture correctly and gives a balanced view of their lives.

“Some game developers just appropriate Indian culture, they use our stories and symbols without any benefits to the communities,” Borreo says. “They represent us as violent or primitive, and we do not need to encourage any more racism or violence against indigenous communities.”

With better knowledge of digital technologies, indigenous people will also be in a position to choose which technologies they want to let into their lives, Jade says.

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

How religion motivates people to give and serve

David King, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Saturday, August 19 is World Humanitarian Day – a time to remember the tremendous humanitarian need around the world.

The stark reality is that the world is facing the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945: Mass starvations are threatening millions of people in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, while an unmatched refugee crisis continues in Syria.

World Humanitarian Day is also a time to remember the sacrifice of those who risk their lives to serve. What often gets ignored, however, is the role that faith plays in people’s desire to give and serve. This is where I focus my research.

Philanthropy and religion

Let’s first look at available data to understand how much giving is tied to one’s faith.

According to Giving USA, the leading annual report of philanthropy in America, religious contributions (narrowly defined as giving to houses of worship, denominations, missionary societies and religious media) made up 32 percent of all giving in America in 2016.

Another study found that 73 percent of all American giving went to a house of worship or a religiously identified organization.

Many of these organizations make up the world’s largest NGOs. For example, three of the top 10 biggest charities by total revenue last year (Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and National Christian Foundation) are explicitly religious. Religious agencies make up 13 of the top 50 charities in the U.S.

It is true that factors such as wealth, income, education and marital status are all predictors of giving. But religious belief and practice are one of the best predictors.

Overall, religious Americans volunteer more, give more, and give more often not only to religious but secular causes as well. Among Americans who give to any cause, 55 percent claim religious values as an important motivator for giving.

What religions tell us

These values of giving are deeply rooted in the texts, traditions and practices of many faiths. Take, for example, the messages within the three Abrahamic faiths.

In Judaism, the Hebrew Scriptures refer to “tzedakah,” literally meaning justice. Tzedakah is considered a commandment and a moral obligation that all Jews should follow. The commitment to justice places a priority on their giving to help the poor. Beyond giving just time and money, rabbis even spoke of “gemilut chasadim,” literally meaning loving-kindness, or focusing on right relationship with one another as the prerogative of religious giving.

Even more broadly, an ancient Jewish phrase, “tikkun olam,” meaning to repair or heal the world, has been adopted by many religious and secular causes. Barack Obama, when he was president, would often refer to the phrase. So did past President Bill Clinton and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. President George W. Bush hinted at a vision of tikkun olam in his second inaugural address.

Similarly, the Christian tradition has considered giving a key religious practice. Many Christians still look to the Hebrew Bible and the tithe (giving one-tenth of an individual’s income) as God’s commandment.

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke of giving not only a tithe but challenged followers to give far beyond it. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions. Pursuing those values, a long monastic tradition has seen men and women taking vows of poverty to give themselves to the work of their faith. Today, while the tithe might not be practiced by a majority of Christians, most understand the practice of giving as a central part of their faith.

For Muslims, giving is one of the five pillars of Islam. “Zakat” (meaning to grow in purity) is an annual payment of 2.5 percent of one’s assets, considered by many as the minimum obligation of their religious giving. A majority of Muslims worldwide make their annual zakat payments as a central faith practice.

Above and beyond the required zakat, many Muslims make additional gifts (referred to broadly as “sadaqa”). Interestingly, the word shares the same root as the Jewish “tzedakah,” meaning justice. Muslim giving also focuses primarily on the poor.

Of course, charitable giving is not just for the rich. For those with no money to give, the Prophet Muhammad considered even the simple act of smiling to be charity, a gift to another.

Building a community

An aid worker in Addis Ababa. Bread for the World, CC BY-NC-ND


Religious traditions are clear that the value of giving does not simply rest with those receiving the gift. Givers themselves benefit. As sociologist Christian Smith makes clear, there is a paradox to generosity – in giving we receive and in grasping we lose.

At the same time, the goal of religious giving is not just about what it brings to individuals. Rather, it is more a focus on human interaction and a vision of community.

Perhaps most famously, the 12th-century Rabbi Maimonides outlined eight levels of giving – the lowest being giving grudgingly and the highest to sustain, but also to empower a person to no longer need charity.

Maimonides made clear it is not so much the amount of giving but how one gives that is important in establishing a relationship between the giver and the recipient. Giving should avoid humiliation, superiority and dependence.

With the majority of global citizens belonging to a religious tradition, it should be no surprise that religion often becomes the greatest asset in humanitarian work. Whether fighting AIDS, malaria or poverty, the development community has realized that the success of local programs so often turns on the support of the local faith community. The engagement of the local imam or priest is essential.

Just a few years ago, the humanitarian industry was convinced of the truth of this view when they found that a majority of the health care workers left on the ground in the midst of the Ebola crises were missionaries. Faith was the chief motivator for those both funding and serving in some of the most difficult parts of the world.

The positive side to faith

It is true that too often, faith also appears to serve as the motivation for exclusion, bigotry and hate: Brutal terrorism by the Islamic State, attacks on religious minorities in Myanmar, the defacing of mosques, synagogues and churches across the United States and even the recent clashes in Charlottesville, illustrate how religions can also be used to promote violence.

When it comes to humanitarian aid, there are certainly criticisms of religious aid agencies whose work does not follow minimum humanitarian standards – for example, the prohibition against discriminating or proselytizing before giving aid.

But returning to the centrality of religious giving, evil in the name of religion does not have the last word.

A priest and a nun work together to send aid supplies. Direct Relief, CC BY-NC-ND


Take the case of the United Nations staffer Michael Sharp, who gave his life working for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo this past March. Sharp had worked earlier with the Mennonite Central Committee, a humanitarian organization set up for alternative military service by the Mennonites, a historic peace church. Sharp’s faith guided his call to peacemaking.

There are many such examples around the world where people of faith were moved to shared solidarity. It was their faith work that inspired Jordanian Muslim youth to protect local Coptic Christians at this year’s Easter services after repeated attacks on the Christian minority by Islamic terrorists. It was the same with Muslims in the Philippines this past June who hid fellow Christians in their homes to protect them from Islamic State fighters.

The ConversationIn working through the mandate of our various religious traditions towards the healing of the world, we often come to understand that we have more in common than we had initially realized. And perhaps, we might want to remember this, as we commemorate World Humanitarian Day.

David King, Assistant Professor of Philanthropic Studies, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.