Brian Mahoney, Pulitzer Center
For Eric Lannak, hampering the international drug trade is all a matter of economics: make other crops profitable for farmers, and they won't be forced into growing drug-producing crops like poppy or coca.
"Drug-crop farming is tied to poverty," Lannak said, "and the best policies would seek to raise these farmers by inducing them to grow other crops profitably."
Lannak's ideas come from his winning essay for the third round of the Pulitzer Center's Global Issues/ Citizens Voices Project on Helium.com. He is a winner in one of four categories with questions that ranged from assessing the US's international drug trade policy to suggesting ways to end stigma against HIV and AIDS in Jamaica.
Lannak, a customer service professional from Oreland, Pa., said he was inspired by friends and family who had been to Afghanistan and Bolivia.
He also wanted to write about the issues that affect him and others in the United States.
"With this essay in particular, I suggested alternate energy crops as a replacement for drug crops. Whether or not it would work, I don't know, but alternate energy is one of my interests so it played into it like everything else."
All the essay winners realized that most international issues have a local impact.
"You probably have a tiny bit of the Congo in your pocket, purse or on your desk," wrote winner Julia Bodeeb White who wrote about how resources such as coltan — a valuable mineral used in many electronics components — worsens conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo,
"This abundance of minerals that are lucrative in the world market is one of the reasons peace is elusive," she wrote.
White is a poet and freelance journalist from Spring Lake Heights, N.J. She said she learned a lot from her writing experience and was unsettled to learn that so many products in the US are dependent on commodities from regions often fraught with conflict.
"I didn't realize these minerals found in Congo are used in so many of modern technology's products," she told the Pulitzer Center. "Nobody ever wants to think of owning something whose very existence arose from conflict."
"Americans are blocked off from the rest of the world," he told the Pulitzer Center. He also said that few Americans realize the impact of the East African water crisis — his essay topic of choice — on their everyday lives.
"One day, according to the [Ethiopian] pastoral community, the rich nations of the earth will feel the same water resource pinch being felt in Eastern Africa," Potochny wrote in his essay. "In some parts of America, verbal sparring over water rights has already landed disagreements in the court system."
Potochny, whose professional career spans 24 years in the restaurant industry, found out about the contest through Helium community connections, including discussions with Rachel Hanlon, who won Pulitzer's first round essay contest on child soldiers.
He also saw the Pulitzer Center featured on the Helium home page.
Glynnis Hayward only started writing on Helium last month, though she is the author of two novels. A 30-year resident of Monte Sereno, CA, Glynnis grew up in South Africa.
She said she has lived in California now for many years and has seen a turnaround in efforts to stem the spread of the disease, where there is education about it and people are not making moral judgments. She said that AIDS prevention seems at time like a "losing battle" in South Africa, the Caribbean and many other countries, in part because of stigma.
"We have made great strides in treating the HIV/AIDS epidemic," she wrote. "As important as finding a cure, however, is the need to eliminate the stigma attached to the disease and the discrimination against those that have it. These are the things that keep it under cover, untreated and unchecked. We are fighting this disease on two fronts; prejudice, ignorance and superstition worldwide are as dangerous as the virus itself."
To learn more about the contest, or to submit an essay for our new round, visit our Helium page.