links for 2007-08-30

Oxfam Youth Engagement Internship – Applications Open

If you’re passionate about youth engagement, and the arts, Oxfam has an amazing opportunity for you.

Oxfam is looking for 16 young people (18-30 years) to participate in a one-year internship program. As interns, they will participate in a 10-day program in Sydney in October 2007, followed by a one day a week commitment for a year. The internship will focus on engaging youth through the arts, such as setting up events and festivals.

More information is available on their website. Applications close 30th August 2007.

Links in Post

AYA Dream Malaysia Awards 2007: Vote For Me!

I’ve just been shortlisted for the AYA Dream Malaysia Awards 2007 in the Most Outstanding Youth category. Check out my profile, which includes a short interview with myself and my mother. I thought they played up the depression/anxiety angle a bit too much, but oh well – it is about overcoming adversity, after all.

To vote, send AYA Y 14 as a text message to 36828. Each text message costs 80 sen and I think you can vote more than once.

The other people shortlisted are:

Hmm…looks like a lot of doctors!

Check out their profiles and if you like, vote for them too! You may even win tickets to the Awards Ceremony if you’re lucky!

Links in Post:

Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 3 – A Call For Action II

Ah, colour! Specifically the New Jersey Ghanian Seventh Adventist Youth Choir. Inspiring and so full of life. My favourite performance so far!

According to Dr Valdov, it’s the beginning of the closing. To start us off is Rwanda genocide survivor Jacqueline Murkete, who has transformed her experience to help others and to inspire others to fight for human rights and human dignity. She tells us the story of her and her grandmother being hunted down by the opposing tribe, how they were described as “cockroaches [that needed to be] exterminated”, how she felt like she wanted to die – all because she was a Tutsi. They found refuge in an orphanage owned by an Italian priest, but eventually they found adults too risky so her grandmother couldn’t come – the day Jacqueline went to the orphanage was the last day she ever saw her grandmother. However, the Hutus weren’t all that barbaric – one such neighbour sheltered her family. But when the government says that all Tutsi people had to die, no matter their age…things get scary. She started her initiative to share her stories, educate people about the realities, and get people to think about making peace no matter your age.

One of the members of the Ghanian Youth Choir, Afia, has a song to share…

After the singing is James Quilligan, Managing Director of the Centre for Global Negotiations. As Dr Valdov mentioned, just talking about the issues for ages would not get you anywhere. However, James is working on a practical economic solution to resolve poverty. Among the issues he talks about is poverty and how no one nation can take the lead currently; sovereignty versus global governance; global environmental concerns and the Kyoto protocol; sustainable development; bilateralism and multilaterism; trading of food on the global market; biosystems; and the concept that maximization of self-interest does not lead to the greater public good. His speech works fine as a university lecture; however, after 3 (or more) long days of work without rest, having all that talk in the middle of the afternoon with no interaction or visual aids is just too much information. Also, they didn’t consider the fact that many of the participants have English as a second-language, and even native English speakers may have trouble with all the jargon. What’s the difference between bilateralism and multilateralism? What is a biosystem? What are your sources? Too much information, too little brainpower to process. I’m having trouble summarizing him right now! Apparently there will be a wiki for NGOs to contribute to a Global Marshall Plan. Considering how wikis tend to work, and how many NGO people aren’t too familiar with the ways of the Internet (especially when it comes to Web 2.0 things like wikis – I had one person who was convinced Wiki = Evil), I honestly wish them luck.

Next up is 3 time Olympian Devon Harris, part of the Jamaican bobsled team. Yep, “Cool Runnings”! Fun movie that was. I didn’t actually think it was real! He’s also the ambassador for Right To Play, an organization who gives young people the opportunity to play sport in places where such opportunities didn’t exist before. His speech was essentially inspirational, telling us about our full potential, reminding us to follow our dreams, and sharing some anecdotes about being in the Jamaican bobsled team when there isn’t even any snow in Jamaica. He even cracked a joke about how Jamaica has never been invaded by the US…coconuts make good missiles!

In this midpoint, we have been given a new mission: to be an International Peace Ambassador. Our job is to work towards the MDGs within the next year, to be “the very best of humanity”. Passing our work on. Apparently we’re the first group ever. The goal is to make this world a better place for everyone to live in; we’ll get more information on that soon. There was a group here that started an International Youth Council (UN doesn’t have one currently; they used to some years ago) and that’s starting off soon. Having just spent the last few minutes reading up on front organizations*, I am a bit nervous at the prospect – I love the idea, I just don’t want to be forced to believe in something I don’t believe in. Yes, I strongly support the MDGs and the need for a better world; I’m just cautious about things like “you must believe in God!” or “you must have ‘morals’!” or subjective things like that. Oh well, we’ll see.

They are now giving our the Youth Achievement Awards to 5 young people that have made a significant difference in the world. Devon Harris is giving out the medals. Colin hosted a walk for celiac disease; Kaitlyn started Inspiring Youth For Change to put on a conference, write declarations for the Canadian Parliament, rally and protest for youth issues, and provide toolkits for young people; an Indian student (he didn’t give his name) is working to develop his “backwards” village into a model village for the MDGs through his school; Megan organized a fundraiser with some choirs to do Christmas Carols for the WHO to raise money for polio and built a room for people with disabilities; and Kacie has been working in a girl’s home in El Salvador to try to cheer up their lives by painting and brightening up their rooms. And all of them are in HIGH SCHOOL. Huzzah!

The young people from one of the earlier panels on the first day are back – turns out they had formed a youth initiative to work on the MDGs, and they helped Dr Valdov arrange speakers and set up events for the Youth Assembly! Samuel W. Strike, Mathew Wisniewski, Sarah Leavitt, Evangeline Taylor, and Rajiv Ramakrishnam have worked together to come up with a manifesto for youth. The idea was that young people all over the world have been working on initiatives, but there wasn’t a clear way for everyone to connect. With the Youth for Action Declaration, they (and us) declare that us youth will work together in unity to make a measurable difference, to reach the Millennium Development Goals, and to improve human life, using our strengths and diversity.

It would have been handy if we got to talk about this manifesto more, especially when it’s meant to include us. The group of us that went to the Leadership Seminar have also come up with a declaration to send to the UN, which focuses on fixing the issues in Darfur, Korea, sub-Saharan Africa, and Palestine and Israel. It was meant to be signed tonight but we never got enough time to put all our work together. Indeed, a common comment made during the Assembly was that there was too much of being “talked to” and not enough interaction. Samuel just said that without action, this would be more words. Will all this just be more words?

Ah! My wish is being granted!

Currently there is an open discussion about ideas young people here have for projects. One asked for Powerpoints of the presentation; I asked about starting a fund; another suggested global conferences that influence governments; a young person working with The ONE Campaign wants international partnerships; a Nigerian wants to pass on the knowledge to the young people in his country, and wants to encourage their government to have a special advisor for the MDGs; the International Youth Council folk have formally introduced their project. THIS is what I came here to do! THIS is what I’m here for! Now if only it lasted more than 15 minutes!

Another song, then Arun Gandhi speaks…

Dr Arun Gandhi is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and he has done a lot of peace work through the years. The lot of us from the Leadership Seminar actually got to have lunch with him at an exclusive UN banquet place – Indian food! Yum! We got to chat with him about his work and his thoughts on leadership. I asked him if he ever felt like he was in his grandfather’s shadow. He told me that when he was younger he used to feel that a lot; however, as he grew, he figured that such a legacy can either be taken as a burden or as a light – which do you choose? He is very soft-spoken, quiet and a bit shy, very wise. He’s honest and himself. I want a hug, haha. For the closing remarks, he told us many stories about how his grandfather would teach him life lessons through all sorts of things – a LSE doctorate who wanted to transform the world was asked to clean the toilets for a week to see if he had the same passion, and when Arun threw away a 3-inch pencil once, thinking his grandfather would get him a new one, he told him off by saying that throwing away a perfectly good resource is violence against nature, and overconsumption is violence against humanity. He said that when he hears people that say nonviolence doesn’t work anymore, he feels that they’re essentially denying love, respect, kindness, and compassion, because that is what nonviolence is. He was humble and sweet and funny, and seriously they should have put him far far EARLIER in the program.

Dr Valdov – GO VALDOV GO VALDOV – wished us well and blessed all of us in her own way for our journey, and then we now have a song to close this event.

Tonight there is a farewell dinner and party, and some folk (like me) are staying back for a NY tour. But this has marked the end of the 4th Annual Youth Assembly at the United Nations. Thanks for hanging in there.

* Front organizations are companies or orgs that claim to have a nonpartisan/nonbiased approach to things, but are really formed or funded by a bigger organization to either achieve its own goals or to make more money. One student group here has a MASSIVE number of representatives, and they turned out to be a front for a religious group that has a bit of a sketchy history and leader. I’ve got some friends in this org, and some other friends in similarly “Strange” orgs, that haven’t brought me to harm and seem pretty decent so far. As long as I’m not forced to subscribe to something I don’t hold to, that’s fine. But their approaches kind of disturb me sometimes. Even more disturbing, though, is the thought that we may be supporting fronts for things whose principles we don’t follow on at all. Maybe the “front” is fine but the support org is really sketchy, or vice versa. How do you make the distinction?

Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 3 – Our Commitment To Our House – Mother Earth – Ensuring Environmental Sustainability

We’ve got a former astronaut speaking on this panel. Woo!

This former astronaut is Dr. Brian O’ Leary, who is currently the Director of the Centre of Peace and Sustainability in Ecuador. His speech was basically basic polemics on the importance of good leadership in maintaining the environment, the roles young people have, and so on – but there were some points where he sounded very conspiracy-theory-ish, claiming that the media and the government are blacking out possible environmental solutions. That may be true, but I would have liked to know what those solutions were when we’re free of the blackout! It didn’t captivate me so I didn’t really pay much attention.

Next was Jon Beyer, founder of TerraCycle, a company that makes environmentally-friendly products using recycled packaging. The Aquafina bottle I’m drinking out of now will turn into a plant food spray in their factory. They also sell worm poop (yes, literally) as fertilizer – the worms eat through the waste and apparently it’s very good. It all started from writing a business plan for a college competition about the worm poop idea – while they didn’t succeed in the competition, they borrowed money to make a larger-scale device and got started. Apparently cafeteria waste is horrid to work it. THey started out as a waste-disposal company but decided to focus more on their end products, while still maintaining the environmental focus. They also had faced challenges trying to get their packaging (originally through custom molds) – when they saw that the bottle process was quite toxic, they figured they had to rethink it – and that’s how the recycling-bottles idea comes from. Other products they have include solid fertilizer (packaged in milk jugs), pots made from crushed car plastic that are uniquely graffitied, and some other ingenious ideas up their sleeve. Intriguing!

Lunch next!

Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 3 – With All Our Strength, Hearts, and Minds – Combating HIV/AIDS

The session started with a moment of silence for independence, in honour of India’s Independence Day. The first speaker was Dr. Aleksandra Sasha Bodiroza, Technical Specialist for HIV/AIDS at the UNFPA. He describes the various approaches that UN bodies and NGOs have taken to combat and educate people on AIDS – and why they DON’T work. Turns out that efforts tend to so scattered and unconnected that there is hardly any impact. However, when efforts are linked and connect with each other, and when young people are given more power over decision-making, the impact made is far far greater and far more effective. 11 different campaigns for $468,000 was not as effect as one solid campaign that only cost about $70,000. I was surprised at the honesty – most other speakers have been “this is why we are great” and it was refreshing to see someone say “hey, what we’re doing doesn’t work”.

Next up is Brad Kerner of Save the Children. He shared stories of young people around the world making a difference in the world of HIV/AIDS. He also shared their strategy of SOS – Skills, Opportunities, and Services – to provide care and help to younf peoploe living through HIV/AIDS. It linked in quite well with the earlier presentation on how youth can be more involved in decision making and being powered to fight AIDS by providing plenty of real0life examples.

The next speaker was from UNICEF United For Children – I didn’t get his name. He also touches on the different strategies taken to combat HIV/AIDS, but also speaks of some challenges. The first is whether young people get the correct scientific information about HIV/AIDS, the second is the issue of gender equality (which he found important), and the last issue is the discrimination of people with HIV/AIDS.

Let me get on my soapbox here for a second. In this Youth Assembly I have met a few groups who promote abstinence as the main way to combat HIV/AIDS. You should not have sex at all until “lifetime partnership”, and if you do get HIV/AIDS from sex, you should remain abstinent so that you don’t pass it on to anyone else. I have a few issues with that approach. Firstly, it places virginity on too high a pedestal, and implies that anyone who’s had premarital sex is immoral, evil, and HIV-spreaders worthy of contempt. It’s not your virginity that makes you a good or bad person! Abstinence only doesn’t protect you wholly from HIV/AIDS – there’s also needles, and blood transfusions. The fastest growing group of people with HIV are straight married women. Are they to be blamed for not being “abstinent” when they got the disease from their husbands? It also ignores all the cultural implications that go with HIV/AIDS – how there are cultures with a high HIV/AIDS rate that encourage young marriages, polygamy, where a suggested cure is to have sex with a virgin. Being abstinent doesn’t help you. And has any of those young people ever heard of a CONDOM? Someone please correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s not possible to be extra HIV positive once you’ve been infected, so how does being abstinent then help? It doesn’t cure you. The issue is being faithful, not being abstinent. If they’re going to use abstinence as a way to protect others from spreading the disease, then why don’t they talk about blood donations? HIV+ blood, while rarely donated, still exists, and there have been people that have been affected recently through blood donations. What about people that were raped – are they to be blamed for not being “abstinent”? What about children born with HIV/AIDS – are they to stay abstinent forever, never to find a partner?

Even the way the medical aspects of the disease was portrayed was totally off – one youth group that did a skit had a story about a young girl who has sex with a guy once and gets sick. The doctor asks if she’s “been close with someone recently” and then tests her for HIV “just in case”. THAT IS NOT HOW IT WORKS! Doctors tend to be a lot more direct with that, especially with STIs, and you need to specifically request for a HIV test mainly because the implications are so big. They could suggest it, but they won’t do it without your consent. Also, I highly doubt sharing EARRINGS counted as “needles”. Yes, it may not be a good idea to share things that have been close to your body to someone whose immune system is compromised, but it’s more complex with HIV/AIDS itself. There was all this rhetoric about how you are a “hero” if you wait and how you’re “worth the wait” – but not much actual education about protecting yourself and others, other modes of transmission, the medical process. It gives a false sense of security – “you’ll never suffer if you stay pure!”. That group performed at Culture Night last night and made me so md that I left soon after. Also, this speaker tried to link watching porn with HIV/AIDS. er. I’m not sure that’s always a good reason.

The last speaker is Dr. Bunmi Makinwa, Director of UNAIDS. He talked about the efforts of the UN and the Government in combatting AIDS (Senegal is apparently a great example) and asked us young people what we could do about it. I was busy writing blog entries so I didn’t catch a lot of it. We have question time – one asked what Senegal did that South Africa didn’t do with HIV/AIDS, and what South Africa does with all the money. The next question was about changing attitudes on apathy. Senegal took the issue of AIDS/HIV seriously and across all levels of government (including religious leaders who were skeptikal at first). South Africa, though, took too long – by the time they got around to tackling the issue, it was already in epidemic levels. People also aren’t taking pills because they feel they were going to die anyway, so why bother.

The last question was about the best way of preventing HIV/AIDS contamination, and the best educational method for addressing the issue. He brought up abstinence as the best way, but thought it was contradictory when condoms was being distributed. Dr. Sasha brought up a study that says abstinence makes no difference. It is a valid method, but when you promote abstinence ONLY, it doesn’t really help. There is no balance, and there’s no proof that abstinence-only programs actually work. He talked about visiting a Palestinian center where young people knew they were at risk, but didn’t know where to get a condom. In today’s environment, you HAVE to get a balance – talk about abstinence, sure, but also talk about being faithful and talk about condoms. There are people that have never had sex, those who have tried it but haven’t continued in a while, those who are sexually active. How do you preach abstinence ONLY when a lot of the people you’re talking to have gone past abstinence? I’m SO GLAD Dr Sasha brought up the study and his experiences – about 1/5th of the folk here are from a group that’s pro-abstinence-only and are quite vocal about it, and it’s necessary that they be aware of the impact of such programs. THANK YOU.

Next session is the environment. Be back in a few.

Liveblogging: UN Youth Assembly Day 3 – Hip Hop MDG Campaign Part II

Charles Fisher, who founded the Hip Hop Youth Summit, came up to me a few minutes ago and told me he read this blog. Huh, I’m being read by celebrities (sort of). My sister thought I was skeptical of the Hip Hop MDGs Campaign, based on how I wrote the article about the first presentation. I actually thought it was a really cool idea – it’s about time that pop culture became more socially aware. There were some claims that seemed a bit out there (like how celebrities were going to come to our country to record PSAs with us – nice idea, not sure if it’ll ever happen) but overall it’s a great initiative. I’m just not a fan of hip-hop in general, though, so I wasn’t as engaged as I could have been. If it was the Darren Hayes MDGs Campaign on the other hand…

I’m really really tired today so I’ll keep all liveblogs today short.

Charles talked a LOT about their plans for the campaign – and seriously, there’s plenty planned. Raffles, competitions, training, scholarships, seminars…anything you can imagine really! In return, we would be representatives of the youths in our community, be marketing and promotional consultants, we would advise them on how the campaign can move forward, and we would hold them accountable. When I asked him about his plans and whether he can make them real (because seriously they sounded very lofty), he told me that I can use my blog to hold him accountable – if he doesn’t make any progress by next year I have every right to report on it! He’s even called me Blog Lady, haha! Someone else brought up how hip-hip music now tends to objectify women and how the values doesn’t match up. Charles replied that hip-hop is changing and it’s up to us to let them know what they want to see – Dr Valdov shared some support. He then showed off an upcoming fashion trend, Spinwear – basically turning your T-shirt around! Heh.

It will be interesting to see how this Hip Hop MDGs Campaign plays out. I suppose this isn’t the first time a subculture went all out to make a difference, but how many of them have been successful? Maybe this one can start a positive trend of its own.

One minute till the next panel…