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VOLUME II OCTOBER 2003

Youth in Action Profiles of Youth Leading Change Around the World


About YouthActionNet A dynamic website created by and for young people, YouthActionNet spotlights the vital role that youth play in leading positive change throughout the world. Launched in 2001 by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia, YouthActionNet serves as a virtual gathering place for young people looking to connect with each other—and with ideas for how to make a difference in their communities. YouthActionNet forms a vital part of the IYF/Nokia Make a Connection program. For further information, visit www.youthactionnet.org.

About IYF Currently operating in nearly 60 countries and territories, the International Youth Foundation (IYF) was established in 1990 to bring worldwide resources and attention to the many effective local efforts that are transforming young lives across the globe. IYF works with hundreds of companies, foundations, and civil society organizations to strengthen and "scale up" existing programs that are making a positive and lasting difference in young lives. Since its founding, IYF and its in-country partners have helped more than 30 million young people gain access to the life skills, education, job training, and opportunities critical to their success. Visit us at: www.iyfnet.org.

About the Author Sheila Kinkade is a writer and communications consultant working to "help nonprofit organizations tell their stories." With a passion for storytelling and the documentary tradition, she communicates the essence of nonprofit organizations’ work through capturing the voices of those they serve. Deeply committed to furthering multi-cultural education, Sheila is the author of two nonfiction children’s books. She holds a Masters degree from the Columbia School of Journalism and has spent much of the last decade working for the International Youth Foundation, documenting programs for young people internationally and working to raise awareness of their needs.

©2003. International Youth Foundation. All rights reserved. Parts of this report may be quoted as long as the author and IYF are duly recognized. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes without prior permission from the International Youth Foundation.


This publication is dedicated to young people around the world who take a stand on issues they care about and engage others as part of the solution. Your energy, talent, and idealism make our world a better place. — YouthActionNet


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Table of Contents FOREWORD

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ISRAEL Rula Khoury

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Nurturing self-expression through drama

ARGENTINA Federico Matías Rossi

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Empowering young people to make a difference Andrés Beibe

KENYA Dorothy Atieno

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Making a difference in the lives of Nairobi’s street children

Encouraging active civic participation among youth

MALAWI

AUSTRALIA Frances Bunji Elcoate

Kingdom Kwapata

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Seeking to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Malawi

Equipping at-risk youth with marketable skills

NETHERLANDS

ETHIOPIA Meseret Yirga

Ilona Seure

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Forging bonds between homeless youth and their mainstream peers

Using dance and drama to promote individual transformation

NIGERIA

INDONESIA Afia R. Fitriati Sharing the joys of reading and learning with children in need

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Benjamin Azubogu Speaking out on behalf of child victims of armed conflict

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Table of Contents PAPUA NEW GUINEA Patrick Kaupun

UNITED KINGDOM 13

Zuhra Bahman

Promoting community self-reliance

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Increasing awareness of the plight of children in Afghanistan

PHILIPPINES

UNITED STATES Pocholo Gonzales

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Olando Cormier

Giving youth a voice on issues affecting them

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Ensuring equal access to housing

Harjant Gill

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Casting a spotlight on issues affecting gay and lesbian youth

ROMANIA Dalila Ionescu

15 Billy Hallowell

Reaching out to refugee youth in Romania

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Using the power of the web to promote peace

RUSSIA URUGUAY Marina Ivkovich

16 Fabrizio Scrollini

Leading judicial reform efforts

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Equipping rural youth with much needed educational materials

TOGO

APPENDIX Carole Akuavi E. Midjola Training youth to serve as peer educators in the fight against HIV/AIDS

17 About the YouthActionNet Awards

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“I consider myself a person with ideals and the will to realize them. My work is not about getting people to follow me, but helping them move by themselves.” — Federico Matías Rossi, Argentina

“I’m not really a leader, but a guide.” — Ilona Seure, the Netherlands

“Good leadership is important, but the most important thing is to ensure the continuity of your efforts. Great goals cannot be achieved by one person or one leader. It takes much more than that.” — Fabrizio Scrollini, Uruguay

“The most important leadership quality is the empowerment of others.” — Frances Bunji Elcoate, Australia

“A youth leader is a young person making a change in their community... showing that youth can really reach beyond the stereotype and be influential, responsible, and amazing.” — Billy Hallowell, United States


Foreword “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” – Chinese proverb

Profiled in this publication are twenty outstanding young people who have chosen to light a candle in their communities, rather than resign themselves to problems that many feel powerless to change. Captured here are stories of optimism, hope, and faith. They prompt each of us to revisit our own commitment to taking action on issues we feel passionate about.

In the two years since YouthActionNet was launched, it has attracted a growing community of like-minded youth—each committed to making a positive difference in the world around them. This vibrant community of young social entrepreneurs is tackling many of the most urgent challenges of our time, among them violence, discrimination, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradation, and homelessness. They’re doing so by applying their enormous gifts and talents as writers, filmmakers, human rights advocates, and social change makers. Each of the young people profiled here was selected through a peer review process to receive YouthActionNet awards of US$500, along with the opportunity to participate in a global workshop aimed at addressing the issues and challenges they face. They are among more than 800 young people who applied for the ’03 awards. This year’s YouthActionNet award winners remind us that it’s never too late to take action on an issue you care about. Take Afia Fitriati. After years of experiencing sadness and guilt each time she’d pass a child in need in her home town of Bandung, Indonesia, Afia, now 24, mobilized dozens of her peers around the country to launch a book drive through which poor families now access reading materials. Then, there’s Andrés Beibe, an Argentinian college student who, frustrated by the growing lack of faith in the political system among his country’s citizens, is now educating hundreds of high school students about the importance of voting and active civic participation. Many of these youth are motivated by personal experiences that prompted them to take a stand. Meseret Yirga, for example, a 22-year-old in Ethiopia, once worked from dawn until dusk selling used clothes on the streets of Addis Ababa. Now, she leads a theatre company whose goal is to educate and empower the city’s street children to seek alternative ways of life.

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Many of these youth are motivated by personal experiences that prompted them

These stories paint an

to take a stand.

overwhelmingly positive picture of the tremendous power and potential of youth to contribute to their communities.

These stories paint an overwhelmingly positive picture of the tremendous power and potential of youth to contribute to their communities. Such a picture runs contrary to many of the mass media images we’re presented of youth as “problems to be solved.” To the contrary, they are problem solvers. As 23-year-old Patrick Kaupun of Papua New Guinea notes, “As youth we have to learn to dream for ourselves.” In the following pages, you’ll read stories of perseverance and dedication. You’ll learn about the positive forces—the teachers, parents, mentors, and community members—who have actively supported these young people in pursuing their goals and ideals. Such stories are at the heart of the Make a Connection program. When the International Youth Foundation and Nokia launched Make a Connection in 2000, it was with the goal of equipping young people with essential life skills and connecting them “to their peers, their families, their communities, and themselves.” YouthActionNet celebrates the power of these vital connections. As you read these stories, we urge you to think about your own connection to the people and issues around you. David W. Hornbeck President & CEO International Youth Foundation

Martin Sandelin Senior Vice President Corporate Marketing Nokia

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Federico Matías Rossi

Lucas Martín Rossi

Empowering young people to make a difference

Buenos Aires, Argentina Federico Rossi’s career as a youth activist began at the age of 11. It was while shopping in a Buenos Aires’ mall with his father that he encountered a Greenpeace volunteer selling t-shirts and distributing brochures. After reading the material, Federico was hooked. Despite initial reluctance to accept a volunteer of his age, Greenpeace eventually welcomed Federico, who participated in protests and anti-nuclear efforts. Over the next decade, Federico became increasingly involved in a range of social and environmental causes. Building on these experiences, at 21, he launched Propuesta Joven, a project aimed at strengthening the ability of young Argentinians to contribute to the building of their communities and nation. Propuesta Joven grew out of Federico’s frustration with the lack of respect and responsibility accorded young people when it

building a better society. Through Propuesta Joven, he seeks to “create an atmosphere and process where young people are the ones who create and develop their own ideas.” Propuesta Joven encourages young people to move beyond talking and debating ideas to actually implementing positive solutions in their communities. Through the program, 30 young men and women, ages 16 to 23, agree to work together over the course of

such as the environment, health, human rights, employment, and education and culture. For the next four to six months, the youth plan and implement volunteer projects in their communities. This year’s project’s included an environmental awareness campaign carried out in schools and a program to educate disadvantaged children about their rights.

“Youth are generally marginalized in the process

Lucas Martín Rossi

of decision-making.”

Federico (center) joins working group members presenting their projects at a press conference at the United Nations in Argentina.

comes to assuming meaningful roles within society. “Youth are generally marginalized in the process of decision-making,” he says. “In their work with NGOs and other organizations, young people are commonly engaged in repetitive duties where they don’t have a chance to share their ideas and feel a constructive part of the project they’re involved in.” Currently a political science major at the University of Buenos Aires, Federico, now 23, believes that youth participation is essential to

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a year. Participant selection is based on an essay each writes in which they identify a social issue of interest and propose a plan for addressing it themselves. In 2002, the first year of Propuesta Joven’s operation, more than 200 youth applied to participate. The program begins with a three-day meeting in which participants debate pressing public policy issues with civil society and government representatives. Afterward, they divide into small groups focused on particular issues

Following the successful completion of their volunteer projects, participants submit a final report on their activities. These reports are then published in the form of a book and distributed to NGOs, public sector leaders and others—all with the goal of sharing information and recognizing the power of youth to contribute to positive social change. In carrying out his vision for Propuesta Joven, Federico received technical and in-kind support from two local NGOs, Vientos del Sur and the Democratic Change Foundation. Additional assistance has been provided by the United Nations Information Centre for Argentina and Uruguay, the University of Buenos Aires, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Still, one of his greatest sources of inspiration and support, says Federico, is his father.


Encouraging active civic participation among youth

Andrés Beibe Buenos Aires, Argentina During the 2001 Presidential election in Argentina, voters demonstrated their lack of faith in the political system through a “vota bronca” (anger vote), either by refusing to vote or casting ballots for fictitious candidates. The election was followed by violent protests and demonstrations by citizens who felt their interests were not being represented.

“These episodes indicated that Argentinians were tired of how politicians were running their country,” explains Andrés Beibe, a 22-year-old university student. “They also showed a lack of social consciousness of the importance of building and maintaining channels of civic participation.” For Andrés, who credits his parents for instilling in him a passion for social causes, the pervasive loss of faith in the political process was cause for action. His answer: educate and encourage the emerging generation of young voters to play a more active role in their nation’s civic life. Together with Agustín Frizzera, Andrés and 17 other students, ages 18 to 21, founded “Ágora, Educating for Democracy,” a program whose goal is to stimulate young people’s interest and involvement in the political process through voting, volunteering, and understanding and debating important issues. Says Andrés, “Ágora is essential to help young citizens to understand how decisions are made at the government level and to be fully aware of the advantages and limitations of the democratic system in Argentina.” In 2002, its first year of operation, Ágora succeeded in delivering its program within eight secondary schools in Buenos Aires, reaching over 350 students. Within participating

schools, the group begins by convincing the principal and relevant faculty of the importance of their activities. With the proper approval, they distribute a booklet to participating students describing the basic institutions within the Argentinian government. Following, participants engage in a role playing exercise, whereby they’re assigned various roles within the government— e.g., President, Minister—as a means of familiarizing themselves with the responsibilities of government officials and potential conflicts. Within four hours, the group must reach consensus over a National Budget Plan, negotiating with one another over what they deem as important. With a firm understanding of the political process, students then work to define a problem in their community, design a plan to resolve it, and implement their solution.

In 2003, Ágora aims to introduce its program in 25 Buenos Aires schools and in at least one school in El Bolsón in the Province of Río Negro. As of mid-2003, 70 percent of participants reported that Ágora had changed their perception of politics, with 100 percent urging that the program be offered in other schools. With the success of Ágora, Andrés has launched another initiative, the Center for Social Responsibility, aimed at promoting greater corporate social responsibility in the country. Apart from Ágora, the Center implements an annual consumer survey aimed at capturing consumers’ opinions concerning what socially responsible companies should be doing.

“Ágora is essential to help young citizens to understand how decisions are made at the government level and to be fully aware of the advantages and limitations of the democratic system in Argentina.” For Andrés, assuming leadership roles is less about “leading people,” than about equipping others with the tools and abilities to be actively engaged in the world around them. “I do not lead youth,” he says, as much as “work for them to have the ability to start their own projects according to their needs.”

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Equipping at-risk youth with marketable skills

Frances Bunji Elcoate Darwin, Australia With a ship’s captain for a father, Frances Bunji Elcoate, 23, spent much of her childhood moving from place to place

Frances (center) poses with Aboriginal children and youth engaged in the Nuff Stuff program.

along the Australian coast. These early travels fueled Frances’ appetite for engaging with new people and reaching out to those less fortunate.

Shortly after receiving her undergraduate degree in graphic design and new media, Frances was offered the chance to teach a multi-media course at the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in Darwin. Most of her students were poor Aboriginal youth, who had few positive role models and even fewer opportunities. Frances found she enjoyed working with these young people and witnessing their growth as they developed their skills and gained greater self-confidence. “This was a pivotal moment for me,” recalls Frances, “as I realized that I was able to help these young people express themselves in more positive ways.” Today, Frances leads the Nuff Stuff program, which provides at-risk youth and young offenders with multimedia training in an effort to broaden the opportunities available to them and help bridge the digital divide.

Through the program, participants work toward receiving a training certificate in such areas as graphic design, web design, sound engineering, and video production. The training and certification greatly enhance their job prospects.

“...I realized I was able to help these young people express themselves in positive ways.” Frances places a premium on the importance of positive role models in young people’s lives. Through training young artists to serve as mentors to Aboriginal youth, the program is providing juvenile offenders and other at-risk youth with new confidence about what is possible in their lives.

Through Nuff Stuff, disadvantaged youth acquire graphic design, computer animation, video production, and web-related skills.

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Nuff Stuff also engages in efforts to change the public’s perceptions of what youth are able to achieve. “Young people are often portrayed in the media as being disruptive to the community,” she says. Nuff Stuff is working to counter such negative perceptions through exhibiting participants’ work locally and nationally. Recently, the program received a national award for its multimedia work related to drug prevention. Empowering others and finding ways for them to maximize their potential are key elements of leadership, according to Frances. While she once aspired to be a Hollywood film director, Frances now hopes to make films about where she lives and the people of the Northern Territory. “There are some amazing stories that need to be told and I want to be a part of that,” she says.


Using dance and drama to promote individual transformation

Meseret Yirga Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Like many young Ethiopians, Meseret Yirga left the formal school system at the age of 12 to help support her family of eight siblings, mother, and father, a shoemaker. From 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, she would buy, and then sell, used clothes at the Mercato, the largest market in Africa and the center of business life in Addis Ababa. The less than US$1 she earned each day helped buy food for her family. The experience immersed Meseret in the world of the city’s street children. Current estimates place the number of street and working children in the city at more than 45,000.

“In my country, religion, whether Christianity or Islam, pushes them (women) to be quiet and does not allow them to stand up for themselves. I focus on empowering them because they have few legal, cultural, or traditional rights.”

When she was 15, Meseret was invited, along with nearly 100 other disadvantaged children, to take part in a performance of “Carmina Burana,” produced by British choreographer Royston Maldoom. The performance received rave reviews from the government officials, NGO representatives, ambassadors, and children who came to see it. Following the play’s success, Meseret, along with five other girls and twelve boys, was selected to participate in an extensive dance training program, which then led to the founding of the Adugna Community Dance Theatre Company. Today, Adugna, which operates under the auspices of the Ethiopian Gemini Trust, uses dance and theatre as tools for promoting individual and community transformation in Addis Ababa and throughout the country. A principal focus of Adugna is empowering marginalized people in Ethiopian society. For Meseret, this means focusing on young women, many of whom remain voiceless on matters affecting them. “In my country, religion, whether Christianity or Islam, pushes them (women) to be quiet and does not allow them to stand up for themselves,” Meseret, now 23, explains. “I focus on empowering them because they have few legal, cultural, or traditional rights.” Meseret leads dance and drama workshops that enable girls and women to express themselves and build self-confidence. In early 2003, she led a team to Debre Markos, a small town north of Addis Ababa to teach a group of young men and women about the problems of early marriage, which affect rural youth in particular. During one of the students' public performances, several young women, including two 13-year-old brides, came forward to talk about their lives and the effect their early marriages had on them. For her next project, Meseret will work with commercial sex workers—empowering them to be more assertive and to protect themselves and their children by making positive choices for the future.


Sharing the joys of reading and learning with children in need

Afia R. Fitriati Bandung, Indonesia As a teenager, Afia Fitriati would be overcome with feelings of sadness and guilt every time she would see children begging in front of the highend shopping mall near her home in Bandung, Indonesia, the nation’s third largest city. “It was then that I began to realize that people live in their cocoons in my country,” she says. “They wake up and mind their own business.”

Tired of merely watching, at the age of 23 Afia decided to do something to improve the plight of the country’s children. The most obvious place to start was sharing her love of learning and books. Given that half the nation’s population live in poverty and cannot afford to buy books, Afia and several friends launched 1001 Buku (Books 1001). The team began by establishing drop boxes in twenty locations throughout Jakarta and Bandung and set up an e-mail list-serve to encourage others to participate in their efforts. In just over two months, they collected 1,500 books, with more than 10,000 reading and school materials contributed by early 2003. The books were then distributed to community-supported libraries, where children and their parents could take them out on loan. For Afia, providing young people with books is a way of nurturing their dreams and knowledge of the world. “I believe that books should be considered one of life’s staples because by reading you learn to imagine things and dream,” she says. “It always amazes me that a bunch of paper and ink can bring you inside somebody else’s mind, allow you to travel to other parts of the world, and make you laugh or cry.” By contributing to the community library system, Afia hopes to lend special support to children who drop out of school for financial reasons. “For these children, I hope that the community libraries we support will become precious, alternative sources of learning,” she says. 1001 Buku has been especially helpful in promoting the concept of volunteerism in Indonesia, a relatively new phenomenon. More than 150 volunteers—students, professionals, and teachers—are engaged in the group’s efforts. Some help manage the 1001 Buku website (www.1001buku.org) and mailing list of over 500 individuals. Others maintain drop boxes, distribute flyers, or carry out local events. 1001 Buku’s success has reinforced to Afia the importance of working together to achieve important aims. “We can’t make a significant change to the world if we work single-handedly,” she says. “Working together with trust, commitment, and dedication creates a powerful synergy.” Afia’s dream is to establish free libraries throughout the country and to dispel popular notions that children don’t like books. “I hope to one day hear people say Indonesian children are voracious readers,” she says.

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“I believe that books should be considered one of life’s staples because by reading you learn to imagine things and dream.”


Rula (front right) with her drama group.

Nurturing self-expression through drama

Rula Khoury Haifa, Israel Rula Khoury, a 21-year-old Christian Arab living in Haifa, Israel grew up in an artistic family, which is why, she says, it’s been easier for her to take action on issues she cares deeply about. Had she grown up in a more conservative Arab household, her opportunities for self-expression might have been more limited, she explains.

Protecting and promoting women’s rights is at the center of Rula’s efforts as a youth leader and trainer, who uses theatre as a tool to generate greater understanding of complex social issues. For two years, Rula has been one of the active leaders of Baladna, a youth-led, nonprofit organization aimed at nurturing a better understanding of democracy among Arab youth in Israel, and fostering greater discussion and debate about Arab Palestinian culture and conflicts. Having completed an intensive training course through Baladna, Rula now facilitates weekly activities on the subject of democracy and identity for a group of 15 Arab teenagers.

In exploring the role of young women within contemporary Arab society, Rula and her group are preparing a play based on the story of “Little Red Riding Hood.” The play takes place in a small Arab village and tells the story of a Layla, a young girl in search of her identity, who is forced to choose between societal convention and what she knows in her heart is true. Rula and the play’s cast of 15- to 16year-olds are rehearsing the play and plan to perform it at schools and within Arab villages. For Rula, the play aims to encourage young people, especially young girls, to think for themselves. Given the rapid rates of change characterizing today’s world and the resulting clash in values when more traditional societies must accommodate new ways of thinking, Rula believes art can be a vital tool in stimulating dialogue and debate around critical issues. With a famous actor as a father, and an art teacher as a mother, Rula credits her parents with encouraging both her ideals and passion for the arts.

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Making a difference in the lives of Nairobi’s street children

Dorothy Atieno Nairobi, Kenya An estimated 100,000 children live or work on the

The group’s efforts began with the delivery of much-needed food, clothing, and first aid to children on the streets. To support their efforts, each of Tunaweza’s 20 volunteers was asked to donate 50 Kenyan shillings (less than US$1). With the money, they would buy food at a local market, cook it, and distribute it to children in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

streets of Nairobi, Kenya. As a young girl, Dorothy Atieno often viewed these children, referred to as chokoro mapipi, or “dustbin scavengers,” with mixed feelings of compassion and fear. She knew that these children often stole food or money to survive. Like many of the city’s residents, she wondered whether they could ever be rehabilitated to play a productive role in society. The challenges facing these children were so great, their numbers so large, Dorothy struggled with how to make a difference.

financial resources, they could make a difference, and that street children could be empowered to seek alternatives to their present lives.

“I see a future in which countries will have strong social policies where poor peoples’ concerns will be met without them having to live on the streets.”

Karel Prinsloo/AP photo

After graduating from high school, the haunting image of the city’s street children grew so overwhelming that Dorothy was compelled to take action. Along with several of her peers, she founded the Child Rights Defenders Movement (CRDM), through which they advocated for the rights of so-called “street children” by volunteering for various local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Not long afterward, the group launched a project called Tunaweza, which, translated from Swahili, means, “We can.” The name grew out of the group’s belief that despite their limited

Dorothy acknowledges that working with children on the street can be challenging. Many get high sniffing glue. As a result, they can be distant, and “may even try to steal from you while you’re trying to help,” she says. Changing societal attitudes toward these children is even more challenging, she adds. Dorothy sees hope for the future in the form of increasing government action on behalf of the nation’s street children. She is currently developing an entrepreneurship program to help equip such children with job-related skills. She has also started to link Tunaweza’s efforts with other NGO and government efforts aimed at getting greater numbers of children off the streets and into schools or enrolled in the National Youth Service.


Seeking to end the practice of female genital mutilation in Malawi

Kingdom Kwapata Lilongwe, Malawi Among the Yao, a large ethnic group found in Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique, female circumcision represents an important passage into adulthood. Through his work with the Malawi Human Rights Youth Network, Kingdom Kwapata, 24, has spent the last two years leading a campaign to put an end to the practice. He and his peers have worked on various fronts to generate greater awareness of female genital mutilation among those in positions to stop it. A Network task force is currently lobbying law makers and parliamentarians to enact legislation that would prohibit the practice. They have also established a clinic that provides

“I became a human rights

counseling to young girls who have undergone the procedure, and a

activist for youth after noting

refuge for children who have run away from the initiation rite.

that the majority of youth in my country are marginalized

Kingdom himself visits the communities where the practice occurs, seeking to educate village elders as to the dangers imposed on young girls’ health and well-being. Yet, even he admits that changing deeply entrenched traditions is challenging work. “It was not easy for the elders to listen to a young man,” he says. “Most of the time they would not attend my meeting, but this was overcome by using influential people such as church priests and school principals.” Kingdom’s advocacy efforts on behalf of young girls stem from his desire to see all young people in his country receive greater

respect within society at large. “I became a human rights activist for youth after noting that the majority of youth in my country are marginalized and looked down upon,” he says. Kingdom is using the funds he received through YouthActionNet to develop materials—leaflets, posters, and brochures—aimed at raising public awareness of the practice of genital mutilation. In addition, he is in the process of establishing Child Protection Committees within Yao villages to serve as local advocates against female initiation rites.

and looked down upon.”

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Forging bonds between homeless youth and their mainstream peers

Ilona Seure Amsterdam, The Netherlands For Ilona Seure, the four months she spent in India at the age of 17 constituted a life changing experience. It was while working in Vijayawada, a city of one million in the southeast portion of the country, that she first gained exposure to the world of street children.

“It’s about being there for youth, listening to them, and being sincerely interested in them.”

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"I worked as a volunteer at a Don Bosco project for street children,” she recalls. “I played games with the children at the shelter and spent time with them on the streets. What really touched me was the fact that just my presence—my interest in them and my love for them—was enough for the children. The experience inspired me to keep working for children who have fewer opportunities than I.” Now, at age 24, Ilona’s commitment to those less fortunate is as strong as ever. As Coordinator of Don Bosco Jonathan, a voluntary program operated by the Salesian Missions in Amsterdam, Ilona works to bridge the gap that exists between homeless youth and their more mainstream peers. Ilona points out that thousands of children and teenagers in the Netherlands suffer from neglect, ill-treatment, and abuse, often at the hands of their parents or step parents. As a result, many are forced to leave their families. Currently, an estimated 7,000 young people are homeless in the Netherlands. A network of shelters and hostels keeps most from living literally on the street. While they may forge bonds among themselves, these young people are often stigmatized by society—left feeling isolated and alone. For more than two years, Ilona has worked to foster a deeper connection between homeless young people and a network of young volunteers, eager to make a difference. Her work begins with educating mainstream youth about the challenges facing homeless youth, while underscoring their shared humanity. This is achieved through a series of publications written by volunteers and homeless youth, and through a variety of creative events.

For those wishing to get involved in a more substantive, “hands on” way, Don Bosco Jonathan offers a host of volunteer opportunities. Each month, volunteers, ages 17 to 30, engage in group activities—skating events, parties, and beach outings—where they interact with their homeless peers. Those willing to make more of a commitment go once a week to a hostel to share time together while eating and playing games. Others serve as a buddy to a homeless youth. The buddy pairs regularly go to the movies, museums, parks, or simply hang out. The goal is to have fun together based on values of shared respect and equality. Through the program, the volunteers learn and gain as much as the homeless youth. “Both feel enriched by taking an interest in others’ situations,” explains Ilona. Given that many of the homeless youth suffer from poor self-esteem, the volunteers help nurture their interests and abilities. The volunteers, on the other hand, often express admiration for their homeless peers, many of whom persevere in the face of adversity, refusing to give up. Forging strong bonds among young people and fostering a sense of community is central to Ilona’s personal philosophy and that of Don Bosco. “It’s about being there for youth, listening to them, and being sincerely interested in them,” she says.


“The extent to which we were fighting and killing ourselves was frustrating because it was sending a negative impression to children, who would later Speaking out on behalf of child victims of armed conflict

resort to acts of violence

Benjamin Azubogu

as a means of solving problems.”

Lagos, Nigeria Benjamin Azubogu, age 20, remembers clearly the moment he decided to commit himself to helping child victims of armed conflict in Africa. “I was at home watching a documentary on children in armed conflict in Rwanda,” he says. “It was then that I learned of the genocide in Rwanda that claimed the lives of more than 400,000 people, mostly children.” contributing positively, says Benjamin, “to the well-being of other children in order to create a peaceful environment for the 21st century.” To date, ACIPF has focused on generating dialogue among youth in Nigeria about how they might foster greater tolerance and peace-building in their own communities and lives. ACIPF has also provided training to 120 youth peer educators, who educate other youth about the rights of the child and the situation of children in today’s armed conflicts in Africa. To further its public education efforts, ACIPF has established a website, www.acipfnigeria.20m.com. Over the past five years, Benjamin has struggled to raise the funding he needs to build momentum for ACIPF’s work. Much of his activities are self-financed through his work as a computer operator and runway model. Still, he hasn’t given up hope. In the future, he hopes to host a summit to “bring together children and youth who have witnessed wars and who have taken part in them to express themselves on the affect of wars and what we as young people can do.” Sayyid Azim/AP photo

The next day, Benjamin, then 15, gathered his classmates and shared the story with them. “From then on, we started talking about the issue of peace in our country,” he says, adding that the group would meet twice a week to discuss the issue among themselves and with students from neighboring schools. Eventually, Benjamin established the African Children’s International Peace Forum (ACIPF), an international, nongovernmental organization aimed at raising awareness of the plight of women and children living in war-torn countries, and the tragic affect of war on young peoples’ development. Benjamin and his peers realized that the extent of inter-ethnic and tribal wars throughout the continent—combined with child exploitation, sexual harassment, and racial discrimination—was creating an atmosphere in which children were socialized to think that such a way of life was normal. “The extent to which we were fighting and killing ourselves was frustrating because it was sending a negative impression to children, who would later resort to acts of violence as a means of solving problems,” he explains. Instead, ACIPF seeks to underscore a message of children as potential leaders,

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Promoting community self-reliance

Patrick Kaupun Rebaul, Papua New Guinea Patrick Kaupun, a member of the Sulka tribe in East New Britain Province, Papua New Guinea, grew up sixth in a family of nine siblings. His family has long sustained itself through farming—growing what they need to nourish themselves and through selling cocoa and coconuts. While previously isolated from many of the effects of globalization, Patrick, 23, now finds himself battling to preserve a way of life and the very land that his people depend on for survival. High rates of deforestation and mismanagement of resources threaten to erode a subsistence-based way of life that has supported his family and neighboring communities for generations. The gains realized by those who “give in” to commercial interests have proven to be short-term, explains Patrick, with the long-term effect being an erosion of values, destruction of natural resources, and increased urban migration. “The sad story is that our natural resources, though biologically rich, are being blindly explored, extracted, and destroyed as long as royalties are paid,” he says. “As a result, my society is virtually governed by outside influences which are creating a handout mentality in which our people become recipients and mere spectators on their own land.”

Not only is the land being degraded, according Patrick, but growing consumerism is promoting greater selfishness, discrimination, separation, and jealousy.

“The sad story is that our natural resources, though biologically rich, are being blindly explored, extracted, and destroyed.” Today, Patrick works through ENSBEK, a local nongovernmental organization, to promote community self-reliance. His project, the Klampun Conservation Corps, grew out of a community-

Participants in front of the Klampun Conservation Corps training center.

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wide commitment to conserve natural resources in securing a sustainable livelihood. Among the activities the corps has succeeded in carrying out are the creation a local fish pond, a soapmaking project, a women’s catering and sewing group, and a rice milling plant. Patrick first learned of ENSBEK’s activities at the age of 19, a crossroads in his life. While he had hoped to attend college, Patrick’s application was rejected and he quickly lapsed into unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking, which earned him the label of a troublemaker. It was through his sister that he first witnessed ENSBEK’s work within local communities. “These communities were well-organized,” he recalls. “Their lives depended on community-based resources. They didn’t need to go to town to look

for work and money. People lived in abundance, had enough food to eat, and were mindful of their environment.” “This was a turning point for me,” Patrick recalls. “I was challenged. I needed to help my community help themselves. I realized I had a big role to play in my community.” Patrick now works with local youth to identify their strengths and weaknesses and plan small, sustainable projects that they can implement in their communities. “As youth we have to learn to dream for ourselves,” says Patrick, who equips young people with the tools to shape and realize their dreams.


Giving youth a voice on issues affecting them

Pocholo Gonzales Quezon City, Philippines According to a recent survey of youth in the Philippines, young people view poverty, crime, and government-related issues to be the most pressing challenges facing the nation. At the same time, respondents overwhelmingly answered that they feel helpless in addressing such challenges. How do you empower young people to make a difference? How do you maximize the efforts of youth leaders who are actively promoting social change? Such questions have long motivated Pocholo Gonzales, now 24, in his work as a youth organizer. Pocholo sees great promise for engaging the active participation of Philippine youth in helping to ameliorate a range of urgent social problems.

founders, themselves possessing skills as young broadcasters, voice talents, and singers, focused their efforts on launching a youth radio program. For more than four years, the program aired for two hours each Sunday, giving young people the opportunity to voice their ideas and opinions on a range of issues impacting their lives.

to make a difference. VOTY provides networks, tools, resources, and recognition for youth leading positive change in their communities. Among its efforts, VOTY is developing a peer-to-peer learning environment where youth may teach one another valuable skills. It’s also working to create a national platform to enable youth voices to be heard and acted upon.

“With young people... making up one-third of the Filipino population, they play an increasingly large role in the development of Philippine society.”

“With young people, ages 15 to 30, making up one-third of the Filipino population, they play an increasingly large role in the development of Philippine society,” says Pocholo. “Their attitudes, values, mindset, and priorities have a critical role to play in shaping the future of our country.” With that in mind, Pocholo and four other youth created Tinig Katataan, or the Voice of the Youth (VOTY), in 1996. Initially, VOTY

Over the years, VOTY members have been invited to present at local, national, and international conferences, and have been featured on national radio and television programs, as well as in newspapers and at school and community events. Today, VOTY has grown into a collaboration of youth organizations in nearly all 78 provinces of the Philippines. Its goal is to maximize the impact of young people working

A critical component of VOTY’s efforts is the use of the Internet to facilitate communication and information-sharing. VOTY’s website (www.freewebs.com/tinigkabataan) contains information on youth participation; a calendar of local, national, and international events; publications; and relevant links and statistics. E-mail discussion groups also enable young people to share what they know and network with one another. Currently pursuing a masters degree in broadcast communications, Pocholo sees great promise in utilizing today’s communications technologies to strengthen youth participation and leadership. “I believe that the media—radio, TV, and the Internet—offers a powerful tool to inspire, inform, and involve youth,” he says.

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Reaching out to refugee youth in Romania

Dalila Ionescu Bucharest, Romania Romania has long served as a temporary, or permanent, home for refugees from the Balkans, northern Africa, and the Middle East. The nation’s location on Europe’s eastern border, and its relatively relaxed immigration laws, have made it a destination, if not transit point, for those migrating from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Somalia, Sudan, and other countries in search of safety and opportunity. Dalila Ionescu has spent the last four years helping refugee youth grow more accustomed to their new life in Romania. As Leader of the Refugee Adolescents Club (RAC) of the Romanian Forum for Refugees and Migrants, Dalila works to forge bonds between refugee youth and their Romanian peers.

“Refugee children and adolescents live with the trauma of being uprooted... In addition to experiencing culture shock, most are searching for their identity, as well as for role models and values to follow.” “Refugee children and adolescents live with the trauma of being uprooted,” Dalila explains. “Due to the persecution that put their lives at risk in their native country, they have been forced to flee, whether with their families or on their own. They find themselves separated from their relatives, friends, and familiar places. In addition to experiencing culture shock, most are searching for their identity, as well as for role models and values to follow.” The Refugee Adolescents Club was created to provide a safe, multicultural environment for such youth, where they may over-

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come fears and build self-confidence. RAC trainings take place over a six month period, during which a group of six refugee and six Romanian adolescents meet twice each week. Training sessions equip participants with essential life skills, such as how to communicate more effectively, resolve conflicts, and relate to those of different backgrounds. Discussions and role play exercises focus on nurturing positive relationships with parents, teachers, and peers. “The learning that takes place isn’t so much about acquiring knowledge,” says Dalila, “as getting to know oneself and the others.” As part of the training, participants plan and implement a volunteer project. Past projects have included holiday performances, camping trips, and cultural events in which the refugees share elements of their culture

and traditions with the public at-large. Both the refugee and non-refugee youth benefit from the training, Dalila explains. The refugees not only gain tools for integrating better into Romanian society, but develop a greater pride in their culture through sharing what makes them unique with their nonrefugee peers. The Romanian youth learn about what it’s like to grow up in other parts of the world, and gain a deeper understanding and respect for those who are “different.” While Dalila says that there are many Romanians who take an active role in reaching out to the nation’s refugee population; there are many who discriminate against refugees, feeling that the country cannot accommodate the social and economic pressures their growing numbers represent. Part of what she and her colleagues hope to achieve is greater understanding and empathy among the population at large concerning the country’s diverse refugee population. Given that young people can tend to be more open-minded, says Dalila, RAC is focused on exposing Romanian adolescents to the needs—and contributions—of their refugee peers.


Leading judicial reform efforts

Marina Ivkovich Irkutsk, Russia Marina Ivkovich, 24, is a lawyer working to reform the judicial process in the Irkutsk region of Russia where she lives. Located on the shores of Lake Baikal in

specific issues—were submitted to government officials for analysis and action, says Marina. To publicize the process, and encourage greater transparency in judicial matters, a press conference was held, which was widely covered in the media.

southern Siberia, Irkutsk, like many regions within the country, is struggling to initiate changes in judicial processes that have been in

“A lot of people in the government, in the court, and

place for more than a century.

society have demonstrated “People go on hunger strikes and picket the courts,” says Marina, mostly because they feel they’re not being listened to or are being treated unfairly. “Peoples’ discontent is now impacting the court’s prestige,” she adds, “because people don’t believe in the validity of the judges’ decisions.” Many of the complaints are aimed at a system that is slow to respond to urgent needs. For example, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, many people migrated to Russia from former Soviet Republics. However, the process they must go through to obtain citizenship is extremely cumbersome, costly, and time-consuming. In her role as Administrative Leader for the Commission on Human Rights, Marina is working to address such issues. As a first

step, she and volunteers from the Russian Law Academy and Irkutsk State University initiated an extensive monitoring process in October 2002 They began by drafting questionnaires, based on similar surveys conducted in Moscow and Poland, aimed at determining which courts experienced human rights violations most often, the types of violations occurring, and their frequency. Separate questionnaires targeted citizens involved in criminal cases or civil suits, judges, and those with indepth knowledge of the quality of court buildings and prison cells within the region. Teams of volunteer students then conducted interviews with more than 500 individuals. In August ’03, the results of the surveys— along with recommendations for addressing

interest in the monitoring and offered to help us. People are now more active in promoting human rights.” As a result of the monitoring process, people are more open to talking about the judicial process and human rights, says Marina. “A lot of people in the government, in the court, and society have demonstrated interest in the monitoring and offered to help us. People are now more active in promoting human rights.”

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Training youth to serve as peer educators in the fight against HIV/AIDS

Carole Akuavi E. Midjola Lome, Togo In the small west African country of Togo, more than six percent of adults, or roughly 220,000 people, are infected with HIV/AIDS.* Having witnessed the devastating effects of the disease within her community and among her peers, Carole Midjola, 24, decided to take action. YWCA-Togo members visit the pediatric unit at a local hospital.

“While other NGOs are delivering similar services, young people are reticent to go because they fear condemning attitudes. What’s innovative about our work is that it is a youth initiative led by youth.”

As Chairperson of the Youth Committee of the YWCA-Togo, Carole leads efforts to educate youth about the dangers of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, and the risks of too early and unwanted pregnancies. Yet preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS in an environment where discussing sexuallyrelated topics is taboo, poses its own share of challenges. In many African nations, and within Christian communities in particular, discussing issues related to sexuality has traditionally been frowned upon, explains Carole, adding that the time has come for churches to reexamine and assess the way they operate in light of the danger posed by the disease. “We are confronted with a growing need to address issues like human relationships and sexuality in an urgent way,” she says. Through her outreach efforts, Carole aims to desensitize issues related to sexuality and equip young people with the education and skills to prevent harmful behaviors. For young girls, this often means developing their self-confidence and ability to set goals so they are able to make healthy decisions about their futures. The level of misinformation among youth related to sexuality is staggering, warns Carole. “Very few parents discuss health issues with their children,” she explains, “and *UNAIDS epidemiological fact sheet, 2002.

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the information they do get from friends and others is often misleading and harmful.” To help improve the level and quality of information youth receive, Carole is using the funds she received through her YouthActionNet award to train youth peer educators from 12 communities. “Participants will become a link between us and their community in order to train themselves and other young people,” she says. According to Carole, youth are far more apt to listen to their peers when it comes to sexual education. “While other NGOs are delivering similar services, young people are reticent to go because they fear condemning attitudes. What’s innovative about our work is that it is a youth initiative led by youth.”


Increasing awareness of the plight of children in Afghanistan

Zuhra Bahman London, United Kingdom Zuhra Bahman, age 20, was born in Afghanistan, the eldest of three children. Ever since she can remember, her country has been plagued by war and violence. As a child, Zuhra experienced the devastating effects of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed. “I remember bombs hitting my city,” she recalls, “and being taken by my father in the middle of the night to the basement where the artillery could not reach.” Zuhra also knows well what it’s like to live as a refugee. At the age of six, her family moved to a refugee camp in Pakistan to escape the war in Afghanistan. She remembers that camp as being “horrible… a collection of mud huts with no sanitation, education, or health facilities.”

Zuhra (left) meets with students at a school in Kabul where she helped create a library.

When she finally returned to Afghanistan and witnessed the erosion of human rights under Taliban rule, she resolved to do whatever she could to improve the lives of those most deeply affected by ongoing violence and abuses: women and children. “Sitting in my house with no clear view of my future, I decided that whenever I had a chance, I would do something to change the lives of

the people of my country, and especially women and young people,” she says. Today, as co-founder of the Afghan Youth Council, Zuhra is delivering on that promise. Founded in 2001, the Council is a membership organization working to advocate for the rights of Afghan youth, while generating greater awareness of their needs and role in building a more positive future for the nation. Based in London, where Zuhra is attending university, the Council has successfully raised funding for projects in Afghanistan, including the building of a library in a newly reopened school. Zuhra and her more than 60 fellow Council members, ages 14 to 25, are actively pursuing opportunities to give voice to the needs of Afghan youth. In the past, she has participated in discussions featured on prominent UK broadcast outlets, including BBC World Service and Channel Four. While she must balance the demands of school with her volunteer work, Zuhra gratefully accepts the challenge. “The best part of my work is the feeling that I am contributing to my community,” she says. “My work involves contact with people of all ages. The great friends that I have found through my work are a bigger satisfaction than any reward.” Zuhra plans to use the funds she received through her YouthActionNet award to publish a collection of writings and artwork by Afghan youth.

“Sitting in my house with no clear view of my future, I decided that whenever I had a chance, I would do something to change the lives of the people of my country, and especially women and young people.”

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Ensuring equal access to housing

Olando Cormier New Orleans, United States During any given week, an average of 200 families living in greater New Orleans, Louisiana face losing their homes due to their inability to pay their bank loans. At the same time, the city struggles with what to do with more than 10,000 blighted or abandoned properties.

Homes in New Orleans which Cormier Cares has either saved from foreclosure or helped to renovate.

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When, at the age of 19, Olando Cormier read a newspaper article describing the extent of the city’s abandoned buildings, he started thinking of ways to resurrect such buildings, while helping those with urgent housing needs. A year later, in August 2002, he founded Cormier Cares, a nonprofit, community development corporation. Currently an undergraduate majoring in chemical engineering at Tulane University, Olando’s vision is to help every low- to-moderate income family in New Orleans obtain safe housing at an affordable price. Cormier Cares’ is also working to counter discrimination in the lending industry through serving as a mortgage broker. Olando notes that 75 to 85 percent of those needing Cormier Cares’ assistance are African American families, who are frequently discriminated against when it comes to securing loans. “These people go into traditional banks and try to get a loan and are turned away, despite their qualifications,” he says. “There is discrimination. I’ve seen this first hand.” Cormier Cares’ paid staff of three, made up of college students all under the age of 23, work an average of 12 hours per week. They make phone calls, visit homes, and conduct

extensive research to help educate and assist Cormier Cares’ target market, which includes low-income families, first time homebuyers, and families facing bankruptcy foreclosure. In just over a year, Cormier Cares has purchased five homes from families facing foreclosure and counseled another 50 families in how to avoid foreclosure and save their homes. So how did a handful of college students with few resources of their own achieve so much in so little time? Olando says he and his peers have worked hard to gain the confidence of investors in the local business community. While such investors may net less of a return than they could get, they reap a far greater social reward, Olando explains. One of Cormier Cares’ initial supporters, Dan Burke, a private investor in New Orleans, helped Olando and his business partner Jarvis, make contacts and develop their business plan. “He did so because he saw that we were young and ambitious,” Olando says. In the future, Olando, the father of a oneyear-old son, aims to get a master’s degree in business and eventually a law degree specializing in real estate law.


Kristeen Mendoza

Casting a spotlight on issues affecting gay and lesbian youth

Harjant Gill San Francisco, United States Born in India to traditional Sikh parents, Harjant Gill moved with his family to the United States at the age of 15. A year later, he announced he was gay. The reaction, both at school and among his family, was far from unusual. “My locker was broken into, people would make derogatory comments,” he recalls. The process of telling his parents was made

Says Harjant, “The project made me realize how much gender is taken for granted in our society and how easily we can alienate and outcast those who do not fit into our rigidly defined, black and white ideologies around sexuality and gender.” By speaking out for those who are often discriminated against, Harjant strives to create safer spaces in which they may coexist within mainstream society. To be gay and of color carries an even greater stigma in today’s society, he says, referring to his own experience. While it wasn’t easy for him to “come out” in high school, Harjant succeeded in creating a safer atmosphere in which others could do the same. When he founded the Gay Student Alliance at his school, only a few students joined. Two years later, the Alliance had nearly 50 members. Harjant’s hope is that raising awareness may also save lives, given that rates of suicide are much higher among gay and lesbian youth, as is the frequency of hate crimes against young people who identify with sexual orientations outside the norm.

“The project made me realize how much gender is taken for

even more difficult given that in India, the issue of homosexuality is so

granted in our society and how

taboo there isn’t a word for it. While his parents were initially disturbed

easily we can alienate and out-

and attempted to change his mind, they’ve now come to accept his

cast those who do not fit into our rigidly defined, black and

sexual orientation.

white ideologies around sexuality and gender.”

Now 21, Harjant promotes greater public awareness of complex gender issues through his work as a filmmaker. Currently a student studying Cultural Anthropology and Filmmaking at San Francisco State University, Harjant believes strongly in the power of art to serve as a social change agent. “My work has and always will tell stories of oppression,” he says, adding that his films are dedicated to “getting

others to see outside their box and within a larger societal context.” Already, Harjant has a host of film credits to his name. One of his most recent films, “Some Reasons for Living: An Ethnographic Look into the Lives of Transgender Women,” explores the lives of two transgender women, their sisterly relationship, and their reflections on love, relationships, and life in general.

Much of Harjant’s work is motivated by the desire to overcome societal stereotypes and the overwhelming influence of mass media messages on people’s beliefs and attitudes. “We live in a materialistic, patriarchal world where we are constantly bombarded with false messages and images,” he says. His next project, “Mission Movie,” is a feature film exploring the diversity of life and relationships in the Mission District of San Francisco. The film’s multi-ethnic tapestry includes the experiences of a newly arrived Mexican family, and the conflict of values experienced within a Palestinian family. Harjant plans to use the funds he received through his YouthActionNet award to distribute his film on transgender issues and accompanying curriculum guide to high schools throughout the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of California.

Kristeen Mendoza

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Using the power of the web to promote peace

Billy Hallowell New York, United States In April 1999, the brutal killing of 12 high school students in Littleton, Colorado by two of their peers sent a shockwave of horror and disbelief throughout the United States—and the world. The event catalyzed public attention around the issue of violence among teenagers. Then 15 years of age, Billy Hallowell, a high school student in Rochester, New York, was roughly the same age as both the victims and perpetrators of the crime. He, too, was facing issues at school and realized that there were few, if any, safe spaces where he and his peers could talk about them. “I grew up in a small town,” he explains. “If you had a problem with one person it would branch out into problems with others. When I saw what happened at Columbine High School, I realized it could happen anywhere. It could happen at my school.” Capitalizing on the power of the Internet to attract and nurture dialogue among youth, Billy launched Teen Web Online (www.teenwebonline.com), a website dedicated to nurturing values of peace and tolerance. While initially focused on issues related to violence and discrimination among youth, the site has since expanded to include information and advice for teens on sexuality, alcohol and drug use, and the importance of nurturing a positive self-image. Young people are invited to post stories on the site and are encouraged to plan and carry out service projects in their communities. Central to the website’s approach—and Billy’s philosophy—is getting young people to talk about the issues they face, to realize they’re not alone, and to engage in positive behaviors that nurture community as a means of overcoming differences.

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Says Billy, “We focus on getting youth to think about their personal experiences, their behaviors, and habits,” adding that true fulfillment often comes from reaching beyond oneself and contributing to others. Today, as many as 4,000 young people visit Teen Web Online each month. Recognizing the limitations of a purely electronic medium, Billy has also started organizing public peace events. In 2002, he and Columbine survivor Evan Todd conducted activities in six schools in upstate New York. In March, 2003, he organized a three-hour event outside New York City that brought together 600 young people to talk about the root causes of violence and discrimination—and alternatives. Currently attending college in New York City, Billy is a regular contributor to numerous teen-oriented websites and magazines. He’s also in the process of compiling inspirational stories about youth leaders for a book to be published in 2004. Much of his own inspiration comes from his parents, he says, and from his faith in God.

“When I saw what happened at Columbine High School, I realized it could happen anywhere. It could happen at my school.”


Equipping rural youth with much needed educational materials

Fabrizio Scrollini Maldonado, Uruguay Fabrizio Scrollini loves to tango. He’s also a law student who’s deeply committed to improving educational opportunities for rural youth in Uruguay. As Representative of Rotaract District 4980, Fabrizio coordinates the efforts of 12 Rotaract clubs operating in Southeastern Uruguay. Organized through Rotary International, Rotaract clubs offer young people, ages 18 to 30, the chance to develop leadership skills through planning and implementing community service projects. Around the world, there are more than 7,500 Rotaract clubs operating in 155 countries. Recognizing that the needs of the nation’s rural youth are largely overlooked, Fabrizio and his Rotaract peers decided to focus their efforts on equipping rural schools with much needed educational materials. “We started this project because we wanted to give young people a chance, a chance to have the same or better study materials as people have in the capital,” says Fabrizio, age 21.

“We wanted to show our society that there are young people everywhere fighting for opportunity and if the State is not ready to take care of the situation, other young people are able to make a difference.”

“We started this project because we wanted to give young people a chance, a chance to have the same or better study materials as people have in the capital.”

Beginning in September 2002, Fabrizio worked with other local club members to collect books and mobilize educational resources to benefit high school students in Cebollatí, a small town of 2,000 in eastern Uruguay. While Cebollatí suffers from high rates of poverty and unemployment, hope for the future lies in its young people, says Fabrizio, noting that village teenagers express an eagerness to learn if only they could access proper books and educational materials. Over the course of six months, members of District 4980 clubs collected books and other educational materials, along with a computer, for the students of Cebollati’s high school. By March 2003—the beginning of the school year—these resources were made available to the students through a library established within the school. While not all the school’s students may go to college, says Fabrizio, “they will have the chance to see and experience a different world through the library.” While achieving the goal is one of the most gratifying aspects of his work, Fabrizio says that nothing compares to the expressions of gratitude he’s received from those he’s been able to help. “I keep in my mind the words of one student who said, ‘this is magic,’” he says, adding that “in a country of older people, young people taking care of young people, is truly magical.”

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About the YouthActionNet Awards Program Those young people profiled in this publication are each recipients of YouthActionNet Awards. Launched in 2002, the awards recognize outstanding youth leadership and are given to 20 young people annually. If you're a young person leading positive social change efforts in your community, we encourage you to learn more about the awards. Projects should have clearly defined goals and the potential for growth and further replication. Award recipients receive US$500 and are eligible to participate in an international capacity-building workshop. Awards are made every six months. Visit www.youthactionnet.org to access proposal guidelines, submission deadlines, and an application form.

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About Make a Connection Make a Connection is a global, multi-year initiative of the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia to promote positive youth development by giving young people an opportunity to “make a connection� to their communities, to their families and peers, and to themselves. In addition to country-by-country programs focused on teaching life skills to young people, Make a Connection supports YouthActionNet, an on-line platform promoting the vital role youth are playing in leading positive change around the world. For further information, see www.makeaconnection.org.

Design Kate Tallent

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Connect to youth creating change: visit www.youthactionnet.org

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