Staff picks: Our favourite stories from 2016


In 2016 we’ve published hundreds of articles on topics ranging from Saudi booze hacks, the blue-eyed boy of Pakistan, a travelling bike cinema in Senegal, to the Hungarian mayor hunting migrants or the mass grave found in Mozambique. Our Paris team looked back at our favourite stories of the year. Here's our video verdict:

Derek Thomson, senior producer: The clowns fighting the far right in Finland

My favourite story of 2016 was about a group of clowns in Finland who have taken a stand against some racist thugs who call themselves "The Soldiers of Odin". These guys go out at night on patrol wearing combat boots and black jackets, and then tell people they are protecting them from "dangerous migrants". Now what the clowns do is they tag along, they make a lot of noise, they make fun of them, and try to kill them with love and kindness. What they do is they use humour to make them look ridiculous. They understand that this is a deeply serious issue; we spoke to them about it. But what I like about them is they understand that sometimes humour is the best weapon against injustice.

>> Read the story: Meet the goofy clowns defending migrants in Finland

Catherine Bennett, English-speaking journalist: Debunking stories about migrants and 'Muslim armies'

I chose this debunking story about a fake Muslim army invading Europe’s borders because it is just one of hundreds of fake stories that are being used to stir up xenophobia and hatred. Something tells me that we’re going to start seeing even more of these in the fallout from 2016, and it’s so important for us all to be able to separate fact from fiction.

>> Read the story: "Watch out for fake video of 'Muslim army' at Europe's borders"

Ershad Alijani, Persian-speaking journalist: The Afghan hero bringing books to children under Taliban rule

My favourite story in 2016 is about Saber Hosseini, an Afghan teacher. In Afghanistan children have little access to literature, even in big cities, let alone remote villages that are heard to reach with 4x4s. Saber is trying to change that by riding his bicycle, loaded with boxes of children's books, to isolated villages,despite threats by the Taliban. 

>> Read the story: "The cyclist bringing books to isolated Afghan children"

Brenna Daldorph, English-speaking journalist: The beauty pageants for people with albinism in Kenya

One of my personal favourites is a story that I wrote in October about a beauty pageant organised in Kenya for young people with albinism. People who suffer from this lack of pigment face intense discrimination, and many are actually murdered. Mentors worked with a group of young people with albinism to help them build confidence. On the day of the actual pageant, the audience was packed and included celebrities and high-ranking politicians. It was amazing to talk to the participants afterwards and to hear what it meant for them. Most of them had been told they were ugly their entire lives, so to stand in front of a cheering crowd that supported them and believed they were beautiful was life-changing for many of them.

>> Read the story: "Kenya battles albino stigma with national beauty pageant"

Djamel Belayachi, Arabic-speaking journalist: The pianist protesting surrounded by rubbish in Tunisia

I loved the initiative of a Tunisian musician called Lotfy Garby. In October, he decided to play his piano outside - surrounded by rubbish. He wanted to draw the attention of the authorities to the overflow of rubbish and waste in his town, Bizerte. And it worked! The day after the video went online, the town hall cleaned up the rubbish and put out rubbish bins.


>> Read the story (in French): Tunisie : à Bizerte, un pianiste proteste en jouant dans les ordures

Maëva Poulet, French-speaking journalist: Prisoners in a Venezuelan prison do what they please

In January, on Margarita Island off the coast of Venezuela, armed prisoners climbed up on to the roof of their prison and shot in the air. It was their way of paying tribute to their gang leader who had recently been killed in a settling of scores with another gang. I found the topic really interesting because we were able to understand a bit more about the influence of gangs and just how widespread corruption really is in Venezuela, currently in the grip of a bad economic and political crisis.

>> Read the story: "Video: How armed inmates sow terror in Venezuela's prisons"

Alexandre Capron, French-speaking journalist: The solar backpack - the initiative of the year

For me, the story of this year was the solar backpack created by Evariste Akoumian in Ivory Coast. Simply because it's a small, local idea that has helped hundreds of children in Ivory Coast who don't have access to electricity. We hope that the project is going to go far, and we're really happy to have helped Evariste find funding partners thanks to our article on The Observers.

>> Read the story: "Solar backpacks help kids do homework in the Ivory Coast"

Corentin Bainier, French-speaking journalist: The last calls from people living in Aleppo

This year at The Observers, we covered Aleppo a lot. There was one story we did that particularly moved me, the day before the city was recaptured by the Syrian regime's army: the activists who had been reporting from within the besieged city for months started to post videos on Twitter that were their "last messages". They asked for help from the international community once more, not knowing whether they would still be alive tomorrow. Amongst the calls and messages coming out of the city, Abdulkafi Alhamdo's call was particularly striking.

>> Read the story: "The last 'call' from Aleppo"


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