Rwanda remembers 1994 genocide that killed 800,000

Tik Root | USA Today | Photo: Stephanie Aglietti, AFP/Getty Images

KIGALI, Rwanda — Rwanda marked the anniversary of the genocide of 1994 on Tuesday by emphasizing commemorations around the country instead of a mass gathering in the capital.

"We are not (limited) by the routine," said Julienne Uwacu, the minister of Sport and Culture, which helps organize the commemoration. "We decided to shift from the stadium and to go down at the grass-roots level."


This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting 

Is maple syrup the new athletic superfuel?

Tik Root | The Guardian | Photo: Amanda Swinhart

inter is finally lifting across the US north-east. For Vermont, that means an end to a bitterly deep freeze – and the annual start to maple sugaring season.

At Slopeside Syrup, in Richmond, the trees are tapped and the anticipation is palpable. The company began making syrup a few years ago, but this will be its first full season with a new product: UnTapped.

Sold in energy-gel packets with a quick-open top, UnTapped is labeled an “athletic fuel”. According to its nutrition panel though, it contains only one ingredient: “100% Pure Vermont Maple Syrup (That’s it.)”.

Athletics is the latest, and perhaps boldest, frontier for a notoriously sticky substance that has – from hard candy to chicken-wing glaze – slowly attempted to break out of its breakfast table niche.


A Vermont-Made Energy Gel With One Ingredient: Maple Syrup

Tik Root | Vermont Public Radio | Photo: Amanda Swinhart

Compressors running. Hammers flying. Maple sugaring season is ramping up on the Cochran’s land in Richmond. The family started producing syrup in 2010, and it’s quickly becoming tradition. But now, with a twist.

It’s an energy gel called UnTapped. Like other energy gels, it comes in palm-sized packets with an easy rip-top. Unlike other sports supplements, though, it has only one ingredient: pure maple syrup.


Mariachi Man: Prince Hubertus and the Mexican ski team he helped create

Tik Root | Sports Illustrated | Photo: Alexander Klein /AFP/Getty Images

Perched on the slopes of Vail Resort’s Golden Peak, Prince Hubertus von Hohenlohe felt nauseous. Bent over, leaning on his poles, the Colorado altitude and early February sun were taking their toll on the 55-year-old godfather of Mexican ski racing. His style, though, remained fully intact.

Decked out in a white and red mariachi-themed speed suit—complete with printed on bow tie—von Hohenlohe was technically there to compete at the 2015 Alpine World Ski Championships. Having come to the biannual mini-Olympics of ski racing fifteen times before and never having finished within five seconds of the winner, von Hohenlohe had no illusion of taking home a medal. He is, however, a perennial contender for the unofficial spirit award.


Can the U.S. Ski Team finish on top?

Tik Root, Associate Producer | PBS Newshour

The U.S. Ski Team is hoping for big medal wins and greater recognition at the Alpine World Ski Championships this week. A more rigorous training schedule and equipment improvements have made these American skiers more competitive. The NewsHour’s Mary Jo Brooks reports from Vail. 

Also see archive of my work as a Newshour Desk Assistant. 

Q&A: Environmental Firebrand Bill McKibben: People, Not Exxon, Own the Sky

Tik Root | National Geographic

Last week in New York, climate change took center stage. More than a hundred heads of state gathered to discuss the issue at a United Nations summit—and demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan in what has been dubbed "the largest climate march in history."

The next step for climate negotiators is a meeting in Lima, Peru, later this year, followed by another in Paris in December 2015. There, it is hoped, diplomats will at last conclude the international agreement that has eluded them for so long.

But what's next for the popular movement?

To find out, National Geographic talked with journalist turned environmental activist Bill McKibben. Author of countless magazine articles (including ones here,here, and here for National Geographic) and numerous books (including Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, released this past summer), McKibben is also the founder, a grassroots climate group that helped organize last week's march.


Polio vaccine effort in Syria reaches 1.4 million children as volunteers brave violence

Tik Root | The Washington Post | Photo: Hosam Katan/Reuters

Despite grave danger, a campaign to combat the spread of polio in rebel-held Syria has been surprisingly successful, with volunteers inoculating about 1.4 million children since the beginning of the year.

The reemergence of polio in Syria in October alarmed health organizations, which feared that factors such as tainted water, dysfunctional sanitation systems and a mobile population could contribute to a broader, region-wide epidemic.

In response, a coalition of nonprofit organizations quickly recruited and deployed thousands of volunteers in the country’s embattled north, where they won the cooperation of rebel fighters and braved shelling and airstrikes to administer the vaccine to children under age 5. Four volunteers have been killed in the process, but there has not been a confirmed case of polio in Syria in nearly five months.


Why Spain's unemployed millennials are rushing to join the navy

Tik Root | GlobalPost | Video: Juan Herrero, Tik Root

FERROL, Spain — By the time Borja Bernardez got home it was nearly three in the afternoon, and he was hungry. But there was no time for lunch. He had applied to join the Spanish navy and exam results were about to be posted online. Borja made a beeline for his computer.

Borja, now 27, dropped out of high school during his last year to pursue welding. After learning the trade, he quickly found work at Navantia, one of the largest shipbuilding companies in world and a major employer in his hometown of Ferrol, a port city on the northwest cost of Spain. It paid well. As an apprentice he was making up to 2,000 euros a month. 

“I was building ships for the navy and was earning more than the people in the navy,” he said. “It was great.”


Generation TBD: What it means to be a 'NiNi' in Spain (VIDEO)

Tik Root (video by Juan Herrero) | GlobalPost

FERROL, Spain — Alberto Vazquez is a member of Spain’s so-called “lost” generation. Sitting at his house in the northwest Spanish city of Ferrol, the 24-year-old meanderingly talks about starting an eco-tourism business, becoming a DJ in Madrid, or maybe even joining the police force.

After a while he concludes, “I don’t know where my life is going.”

In a country where the youth unemployment rate hovers around a staggering 50 percent, the word ‘lost’ can refer to young people no longer contributing to the Spanish economy, those who have left Spain to work in other countries, or, as in Alberto´s case, those who are directionless.


VICE on HBO: The Enemy of My Enemy

Tik Root, Local Producer | Vice on HBO

Yemen, the fractured state in the Arabian peninsula, is at the top of the worry list for President Obama's national security team, and the rise of Al Qaeda there is only half the reason why. The Yemeni government, an American ally, has lost so much control over the years that many U.S. officials consider Yemen a failed state, declaring it the "next Afghanistan." The real trouble is a current threat posed by the little-known Houthi rebel movement in the north of the country - a grassroots army, allegedly funded by Iran, that has never granted access to any other Western film crew before.  Ben Anderson went deep into Houthi-controlled territory to learn about the group that's fighting, and beating, Al Qaeda in the east, Saudi Arabia in the north, and Yemen's central government in the south.


Millennials learn to answer the dreaded question: 'So... what do you do?'

Tik Root | GlobalPost

MIDDLEBURY, Vermont — Everyone gets the question eventually. The asker may employ a slightly different tone, inflection or wording but will inevitably get to the point: “So... what do you do?”

For America’s young people – almost 6 million of whom are neither studying nor employed – the answer is often far from simple.

“It's a question that is expecting a really pithy answer of 'occupation — insert here,’” said Ava Kerr, a 2012 graduate of Middlebury College who is now living in New Orleans and has found enough part-time work — at both an afterschool program and a children’s museum — to barely make ends meet. “It's like Mad Libs. But the real explanation is much longer.”

Across the world, 12.6 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 areunemployed; nearly triple the rate for those over 24. This is forcing youth everywhere to wrestle with the day-to-day challenges of being out of work. One of these difficulties, though less apparent than paying bills or getting food on the table, is handling the common questions about what they do and, implicitly, where they fit in society.


Al-Qaida Destroyed Our Family

Tik Root | Slate and Roads & Kingdoms | Khaled Abdullah Ali Al Mahdi/Reuters

SANA’A, Yemen—On the morning of Aug. 30, 2013, in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, Khaled al-Dhahab’s phone rang. The villager on the other end relayed the news Khaled had long dreaded: His brother, Qaid, was dead.

Hours earlier, Qaid al-Dhahab had been returning from a wedding celebration to his home near the rural city of Rada’a, roughly 160 miles southeast of Sana’a, when a torrent of missiles flew from the sky, turning the car in which he rode into a smoldering heap. Qaid, who by most accounts was a rising leader in al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)—considered the most active and dangerous branch of the global terrorist network—had been a target in a suspected U.S. drone strike.

Khaled was not vengeful—he said Qaid had “chosen his path.” He was, however, upset—distressed that his once-proud family keeps finding itself mixed up in al-Qaida and the West’s so-called war on terror.


Islamic charity officials gave millions to al-Qaeda, U.S. says

Joby Warrick and Tik Root | The Washington Post

When Qatar’s royal family was looking for advice on charitable giving, it turned to a well-regarded professor named Abd al-Rahman al-Nu’aymi. The 59-year-old educator had a stellar résumé that included extensive fundraising experience and years of work with international human rights groups.

But one apparent accomplishment was omitted from the list: According to U.S. officials, Nu’aymi also was working secretly as a financier for al-Qaeda, funneling millions of dollars to the terrorist group’s affiliates in Syria and Iraq even as he led campaigns in Europe for greater freedoms for Muslims.

Nu’aymi was one of two men identified by Treasury Department officials last week as major financial backers of al-Qaeda and its regional chapters across the Middle East. Although U.S. officials routinely announce steps to disrupt terrorist financing networks, the individuals named in the latest case are far from ordinary. Both men have served as advisers to government-backed foundations in Qatar and have held high-profile positions with international human rights groups. The second man, a Yemeni, is heavily involved in his country’s U.S.-backed political transition. 


Deported Yemeni migrant workers: Down and out

Tik Root | The Economist

HAGGARD and penniless, thousands of Yemenis are being dumped at the dusty and chaotic al-Tuwal border crossing with Saudi Arabia. As they pour out of dangerously overcrowded buses, aid workers hand them bread and juice. For many, this is the only support they receive. Freshly expelled from Saudi Arabia, the mass of deportees is now Yemen’s problem.


Militants stage complex attack on Yemen’s Defense Ministry, killing at least 52

Tik Root | The Washington Post

SANAA, Yemen — Militants carried out a multi-stage attack on Yemen’s Defense Ministry early Thursday and clashed with government forces in the fortified compound throughout the day, leaving at least 52 people dead and scores injured, the government said.

The assault was the most ambitious in the capital, Sanaa, since May 2012, when al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a local offshoot of the global terrorist network, targeted a military parade with a suicide bombing that killed more than 90 soldiers. Although many observers here said they suspected AQAP was behind the latest violence, it remained unclear late Thursday exactly who was responsible or why the assault occurred.

Yemen’s Supreme Security Committee said in a statement that at least 167 people were injured in Thursday’s attack, which began just after 9 a.m. when a car bomb exploded outside the Defense Ministry’s western gate, shattering windows in nearby building and shaking panes across the city.

Yemen’s New Ways of Protesting Drone Strikes: Graffiti and Poetry

Tik Root | TIME

An American drone hovers along a main thoroughfare in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. Not a real drone, but rather a 7 foot-long rendition of an unmanned aircraft spray-painted near the top of a whitewashed city wall. Below it, a stenciled-on child is writing: “Why did you kill my family?” in blood-red English and Arabic script.

Painted by Yemeni artist Murad Subay, the Banksy-esque mural sits beside three others also admonishing the United States’ use of drones in Yemen to track and kill terrorism suspects. This drone art is part of Subay’s latest campaign, “12 Hours”, which aims to raise awareness about twelve problems facing Yemen, including weapons proliferation, sectarianism, kidnapping and poverty. Drones are the fifth and arguably most striking “hour” yet completed.

“Graffiti in Yemen, or street art, is a new device to communicate with the people,” says Subay, 26, who after taking up street art two years ago in the wake of Yemen’s Arab Spring revolution has almost single-handedly sparked the growing Yemeni graffiti movement. “In one second, you can send a message.”


TED talks' unlikely success in Yemen

Tik Root | Aljazeera

Sanaa, Yemen - The poorest country in the Arab world, Yemen - riven by security concerns, political uncertainty and a mounting humanitarian crisis - at first glance seems an unlikely host for TED talks: slickly produced conferences first held in the US where speakers present "ideas worth spreading".

But that's exactly what happened last week. Riding a wave of success from Yemen's inaugural TEDx conference in December, the second gathering was triple the size of the first.

"This year we decided to make it bigger," said Samed Ahmed, a pharmacist by day and TEDx co-organiser the rest of the time. "It will be shown all over the world that Yemeni people can do something big."

TEDx events are independently organised offshoots of the twice-a-year TED conference. The format - speakers have roughly 15 minutes to convey an idea that does not have an explicitly political or religious agenda - is the same around the world. But there is no doubt that this was a distinctly Yemeni affair.


For Yemen’s Few Remaining Jews, Time Has Run Out

Tik Root and Tom Finn | TIME

Celebratory gunshots rang out. Young men sprinted down the narrow streets of the capital, whooping with excitement. It was Feb. 25, 2012, and Ali Abdullah Saleh, who ruled Yemen for 33 years, had resigned — another autocrat toppled by the Arab Spring.

As other Yemenis excited by the prospect of a new future filled Change Square, Suleiman Habib sat on the steps of his sparse home on the outskirts of the capital. Watching fireworks burst over the city, he contemplated whether his people’s more-than-two-millennia-long history in the country was about to end forever.

A gaunt silversmith in his mid-60s and one of the last members of an ancient community of Jews living in Yemen, Habib was fearful of a future without the autocrat he saw as a guardian. Almost two years after the nation’s rebellion against Saleh, he feels no enthusiasm for his country’s democratic awakening.

“Saleh was a despot. He ran Yemen like a fiefdom, he neglected people and stole natural resources, but as a Jew my family and I were protected by him. Who will do that now that he is gone?” says Habib.


Coming In From the Cold

Tik Root | Foreign Policy

SANAA, Yemen — As a seemingly endless line of cars snaked its way into the northern Yemeni city of Saada, the atmosphere was festive. The people had come to attend the funeral of Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, the man whose name became synonymous with one of the country's major political and religious movements. Yet while the Houthis and their supporters were no doubt mourning their leader's death, the event, which drew hundreds of thousands of attendees earlier this year, was also a celebration of sorts.

Such a gathering would have been unthinkable only a few years ago when the whole of Saada governorate was under a wartime blockade. But after nearly a decade of fighting with the central government, the Houthi movement has enjoyed a rapid post-Arab Spring increase in both support and legitimacy.

"They are sitting at the table negotiating with all the others, including those that fought these wars against them," said Jamal Benomar, the U.N. special advisor on Yemen, on a recent trip to Saada. This new dynamic is a welcome change from the recent past, when Yemeni officials routinely derided the Houthis as Iranian-backed "terrorists" (a claim the group vehemently denies). But the former rebels' slingshot-like entrance into mainstream politics is also raising serious concerns about what comes next.