Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Youth Journalism International Gets Glowing Reviews

Check out the many reviews of Youth Journalism International on the website http://www.greatnonprofits.org/.
We have 40 reviews now and have surpassed the required number to qualify for the website's "power of education" campaign.
We don't settle for qualifying, however, and have continued to rack up more testimonials to our work. YJI students, alumni, parents, grandparents and other family members, teachers and donors have all weighed in, along with YJI's own volunteers.
Anyone who isn't a paid staffer -- and YJI has no paid staff -- is eligible to write a review.
There's a wide range of people, just like in YJI, coming from all around the world, who have plenty to say about the difference YJI has made in their lives and the lives of the young people they know and love.
GreatNonProfits.org is a place where people can check out reviews of non-profit organizations and see where they'd like to offer their own time, talents and treasure.
We hope our efforts to raise our profile will help YJI continue to grow and thrive.
We're really grateful to everyone who took the time to write a review -- and to those who take the time to read them.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

From Kabul: Candidates of All Types In 2010 Parliamentary Elections

By Edrees Kakar
Senior Reporter
Youth Journalism International
KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 18, 2010 – Afghanistan is holdings its parliamentary election today. This election comes a year after the 2009 presidential election which was tainted with fraud and irregularities.
This 2010 parliamentary election marks the second time the Afghan nation cast its ballots for members of parliament.
This election attracted candidates from all walks of life, including politicians, people in business, academics, warlords, film artists, singers and sports personalities.  Intellectually, the candidates differed from one another, with some not too ready to act as the voice of the people.
The female candidates, who will make up at least 25 percent of the parliament, are working overtime to win the votes of the people.
Numbering 2,500 from across the country, the candidates are battling to gain a place in the country’s 249-seat lower house, known as the Wolosi Jerga. The substantial number of candidate for MP in this election aren’t especially astonishing for the people, since last year’s presidential election had 43 candidates running for a single seat.
Kabul, the capital and the nation’s largest city with roughly 4.5 million inhabitants, offers the most candidates. More than 600 are hoping to claim one of the 33 seats allocated to the capital.
Since it has the largest number of candidates, Kabul is painted with an incredible number of posters on billboards, walls, commercial buildings. In addition, campaign leaflets are handed to drivers in traffic jams.
Crossing in the markets of Kabul during this last week before Election Day, it is quite unusual to see any ads other than for MP candidates.
The overwhelming number of MP candidates on one hand might reflect the overreach of democracy in the politics of the country. On the other hand, it may also demonstrate the ambitiousness of the Afghan people towards gaining power.
Since the start of the campaigns, the television and radio networks in Afghanistan have been allocating their peak hours to the parliamentary election coverage with programs interviewing candidates and sessions for the candidates to discuss their plans.
Election campaigns in the past three months have been a source of income for businesses such as media, printing presses or the hotels that hosted the gatherings for the campaigns.
The performance of the last parliament has made a large portion of the people apathetic about casting their votes, and many fear instability in today’s election. Hundreds of polling stations have been closed in the outskirts of the country due to security threats.
Will Saturday’s election be secure and fair, and will the new parliamentarians live up to the nation’s expectations?  The answer to these questions and more will surely be in the national and international headlines to come.
See photographs of Kabul during the campaign here.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Afghan Parliamentary Election 2010

YJI Senior Reporter Edrees Kakar, who lives and works in Kabul, Afghanistan, took these photos there on the day of the Afghan parlimentary election last week. Unfortunately because of a family health emergency, we were unable to post them until today, but they still give the flavor of the fervor of the race. Kakar also wrote a piece about the election, which will be added to this blog tomorrow. We apologize for the delay, but hope readers will understand and find the photos and report by Kakar of interest. -- Jackie Majerus, YJI












Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 30: Farewell Ramadan

I have never been good at goodbyes. I put them off for as long as possible to avoid any excessively emotional reaction.

Today was the last day of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan really slowed down time for a month and let me think clear, set a few priorities straight and know what I really want from life.

And so, as the new moon has been sighted, today marks the last day of Ramadan and start of a new chapter in my teenage life.

It breaks my heart what is currently happening in with Terry Jones in Florida with his Quran burning on the 9/11 anniversary.

Many people here have reactions like “funny how ignorant a man can be when he lives in the most powerful, educated country.”

For some reason I have a gut feeling that if this pastor actually carries out his heinous plan something terrible will inevitably happen.

I think the thing many people in the West don’t know about the Middle East is that we aren’t raised to take religion as a joke and that means any religion.

In Islam we believe in Jesus, Moses, Joseph, David, Solomon, the Bible and the Torah and although almost no one in Egypt is Jewish, no one would ever burn or even bad mouth the Torah.

Coptic Egyptians literally treat Eid (the celebration after Ramadan) as if it were their own, calling their friends to wish them a happy Eid. This is unlike in the United States, where it’s okay to make a joke about Jesus.

Honestly, I hope Mr. Jones backs down. There are so many other ways to send a message, and being intolerant and radical is not one of them.

In this post are also a few pictures of a group that is very, very dear to my heart. Two of my best friends introduced me to Geel Al-Amal, which means Generation of Hope. It is a great religiously motivated non-profit organization that does amazing things to help their community.

The sub-group I am in is called Law Sadakna La-Sabakna. I know that’s a lot, but it means, “if we are true, we will prevail.”

It’s a group of around 25 young women between the ages of 15 and 30, all of whom are dedicated and passionate about their religion and helping others.

During the month of Ramadan, under the guidance of our amazing Yasmine, we passed out hundreds of bags of high quality food to an impoverished village to last them about 20 days.

We packed and distributed them ourselves. For the last 10 days of Ramadan, we went to the village daily to pack meals for iftar.

According to some of the leaders of the village, there were families who used that meal to eat the whole day. For me, that’s when I truly felt the intensity and the depth of what we do.

I also want to introduce everyone to Eid.

It’s our Christmas, our Hanukah. Its full name is Eid Al-Fitr and it starts tomorrow right after the Eid Prayer which will take place tomorrow at 7 a.m. and continues for three days.

Everyone calls or visits their family and friends to say, “Happy Eid,” and greetings vary from country to country. Kids go out to amusement parks or upper-class resorts, depending on their social class, but everyone finds a way to celebrate.

It’s probably the only time of year that everyone on the street looks happy. Despite difficulties, everyone is in the mode of celebration. We also eat excessive amounts of Eid cookies, otherwise known as kahk.

The making of these cookies, in all their varieties, is a tradition all in itself.

Women from the whole family get together before Eid to make massive amounts of cookies to distribute.

This is my favorite part, sitting in the kitchen with my grandma and aunt – three generations of Egyptian women making dough.

So yes, there are currently about four large containers – and an Egyptian container really contains large amounts – of yumminess in the kitchen waiting for attack tomorrow morning with the usual shay bel laban, or tea with milk.

Children and young members of the family also get a present of money known as edeya, given by relatives for Eid. And this is where I wish I had a bigger family because in Eid time, more uncles and aunts means more ca-ching.

Another favorite part is the new clothes. In Eid almost everyone, at least here in Egypt, makes sure they have something new to wear for the holiday.

Even if they are poor, they will manage to get at least something.

It’s just captivating what the streets look like in Eid. On the way to my grandparents house on the first day of Eid, I always notice the new clothes. You can just tell by the smile on a girl’s face that her dress is new.

New pajamas are another tradition. Similar to how there are movie specials about Christmas, in Eid, the TV is full of old Egyptian comedy plays which are just hilarious.

My family pretty much celebrates by being together and eating the cookies while watching a play. It’s nothing extravagant, but we all enjoy it.

And there you have it – Eid in brief.

It’s been just amazing writing this journal and by far the best part of my Ramadan.

I’m so glad I got to share with everyone something from the Middle East. Thanks to Youth Journalism International for giving me this opportunity and to everyone who has commented and engaged.

Till Ramadan of next year, Happy Eid everyone. :)

Egyptian Ramadan Photos

The photos below were taken by Hana Moussa, a young Egyptian college student, for Jessica Elsayed. There will be more information later about what's happening, but we couldn't resist the gorgeous colors and wanted to get them up as soon as we could:




Wednesday, September 8, 2010

YJI Alum's New Music Video

Here's a new music video by YJI alum Brian LaRue, performing with the Tyler Trudeau Attempt in "These Are Dark Times."

Monday, September 6, 2010

YJI Participating in Campaign to Showcase Great Educational Non-profits

Youth Journalism International is participating in a campaign to bring attention to some of the best educational non-profit organizations out there. Of course, we know we're offering something unique and wonderful, but we want the whole world to know it, too!

If you're familiar with the work YJI does, please consider writing a review for us on http://www.greatnonprofits.org/.

You can sign in through Facebook or just with your email address. It only takes a few minutes and it doesn't cost anything. It's pretty easy to do, too.

While you're there, you might want to read what our students, former students, professionals and even a grandparent of some of our students had to say about our work.

Of course, you can just go there and read about us, if you like.

We're in this education campaign hoping to raise our profile and make some new friends and the promoting organizations are plugging the top-rated non-profits. Help make sure we're among them!

Back To School

We're about to release our annual back to school package, the Insider's Guide to High School, so watch for it!
This year, we've got advice coming at you from India, California and Australia.
It's aimed at incoming freshmen or students starting at a new school, but it's interesting reading for anyone.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Thanks, Google!

YJI's three editors -- Steve Collins, Katie Jordan and myself -- spent a gorgeous day on this holiday weekend creating our new Google Grants AdWords campaign.
To our joy, Google accepted Youth Journalism International into its free ad program for non-profit organizations a few weeks ago. So we spent all afternoon ignoring the perfect New England weather on this warm and breezy day coming up with an ad campaign.
We're hoping the Google ads will raise our profile and spur more generous folks to support our efforts to teach journalism, give young people a voice, and help them build bridges between their nations, cultures and religions.
Google tells us it could be a few months before the whole thing is approved because the program is so popular, and while we hope it's sooner, that's okay. We believe it'll be worth the wait.
We are grateful to all the individuals and companies that have helped YJI serve young journalists around the world, and now we can add Google to that list.
-- Jackie Majerus

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Expendables: Packed With Action And Violence

Talon Bronson, a new YJI reporter in Portland, Oregon, offers this review of The Expendables:

PORTLAND, Oregon, U.S.A. – Movies that try to pull together an amazing cast of heavyweights often seem to fail. The movie Be Cool, a kind of sequel to Get Shorty, had a grocery list of names that had to have casting directors drooling. It also ended up being one of the worst films I have ever seen.

So it was with apprehension that I saw The Expendables. I was looking forward to it in the respect that it had been a very long time since I had seen a straight out action flick.

The market has been still for some time for these types of features, but I was very nervous that the producers would get Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Mickey Rourke, and numerous others into the same room . . . and then not know what to do.

But surprisingly enough, from a strictly entertainment value standpoint, they pulled it off.

Let’s start by saying that if you do not like extremely violent, machismo action flicks, this is in no way for you.

I haven’t seen this much blood on screen for a while, and then, it was either in your standard horror, or a Kill Bill comic book extravaganza of violence. The Expendables is not stylized in such a way. It is just violent, the old-fashioned way that they did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, before every action character had apparently spent half their lives in a dojo.

The Expendables does have redeeming qualities and there are points to the story. The assignment that the film is based around is not taken for money, but for the noble idea of writing the wrongs of a tyrannical dictator, or, rather, his puppet masters.

Slid into the violence is the overall message that a life of death and destruction is really no life at all.

That being said, brace yourself for some carnage.

There are explosions, flying body parts, decimating shotgun attacks, and more throwing knives than I think I’ve ever seen. There are fist-to-fist melees that make you ooh and ahh with every punch, and, if you start to tire from hunks of muscled steel beating the crap out of each other, you have Li throwing in a spinning kick for good measure.

Li, who I was very excited to see in a new action movie, actually ended up being more of a comic relief character than a vicious fighter, but there is no doubt that the seasoned action film star can still move.

So, too, can Stallone.

I’ve seen neither the new Rambo or Rocky Balboa, so maybe I am behind the times on the man’s physical fitness, but if The Expendables is any indication, he can still taking a beating, and give one right back in return.

Stallone also directed the movie, which always puts props in my book. To star in a movie this size and direct it has to be at least a little trying.

Statham displays in full force why he is in almost every action movie of recent years, and Randy Couture has a very satisfying fight against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’ of World Wrestling Entertainment fame, as well as a very comic play on his hideous “cauliflower ears.”

Rourke’s acting, though, takes the cake. Everyone else in the film has the bare minimum of facial expressions to work with, but Rourke, the one character who has given up on the life of death, has a monologue both well written and perfectly delivered.

It easily shows why he has climbed back up on top of Hollywood, after years of exile.

The scene, which is brief, has Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Stallone in the same room. It’ll make any action flick aficionado quiver with excitement, and is guaranteed to make you at least smile as both Stallone and Schwarzenegger take little jabs at one another.

If there was one thing missing from this film it would be to at least see dear Arnold involved in at least one battle. But complaining about a lack of violence in this film seems ridiculous, as there was more than enough to go around.

The Expendables is an honest-to-God action flick. It’s exactly what you expect it to be – bloody, violent, and brutal, with an underlying moral that can easily be forgotten.

You don’t have to wait long for the next bout of violence, since it seems the film was set on a timer for five-minute intervals. Beyond that, there’s gunfire.

If you are looking for something more than brutality, don’t see this movie. Something more is there, but that’s all it is; there. If you took it out, the film wouldn’t be too different.

That being said, if you have found yourself at the theatre lately wondering where the good, old-fashioned action flick has gone, go see The Expendables.

It’s exactly what you are looking for.

Fasting For Ramadan in Canada

Mehran Shamit, a teen writer for Youth Journalism International from Toronto, Canada, is also fasting for Ramadan.
In Canada, Mehran explains, she's in a tiny minority. Here's what she has to say about why she fasts and what it's like for her in Canada, along with a couple of photos she snapped in her community at the iftar, or meal that breaks the daylong fast.
 -- Jackie Majerus, executive director, YJI
TORONTO, Canada – As Ramadan starts, many questions like, “Why do you have to fast?” start to pop out at me. It’s probably because only about 2 percent of the Canadian population is Muslim and many people here are still not familiar with Ramadan, even though it’s a very multicultural country.

To be honest I don’t mind answering all the questions, but sometimes I get asked the same questions so many times I get tired of answering.

Some people understand why I fast and others don’t and they give me shocked looks. Usually their first response is, “Can’t you even drink water?”

I understand why many people are so shocked, but when you are used to fasting it really isn’t that hard. I get to eat at sundown and throughout the night and I wake up before sunrise to eat some more, so I have enough energy to get me through the day.

One of the reasons Muslims fast is to feel the pain of others who don’t have food. Because many people don’t seem to think about or care about all those underprivileged people out there, Ramadan is a time for people to reflect on how privileged they are and how they take basic things for granted, like food and water.

At least for a month, being in someone else’s shoes and physically feeling what they feel can help people to become more aware of the situations many people have to go through on a daily basis.

Fasting is a lot easier than going through the situations many people face, because I always know that there is going to be food on the table for me to eat before sunrise and at sundown, but for many people around the world, food isn’t always available.

It can be very hard sometimes when I go outside and see people eating. There is that temptation to eat, but even though it’s hard, it pays off later. When I can finally eat, I always remind myself of how hard it was to resist the temptation of eating during the day. It makes me feel a lot better when I know that I’ve tried hard to do something difficult that others aren’t doing and that I feel something most people around me don’t feel.

It gives me a sense of accomplishment.

In Canada, people have many misconceptions about Muslims and about Islam. Because of those misconceptions, they start to believe that all Muslims are extremists. They not only have negative attitudes toward Muslims, but also toward their practices. Many people view fasting as something that is beyond extreme, as something Muslims are forced to do.

In fact, Muslims make the choice to fast to please God and to purify themselves from bad things.

Throughout the month, Muslims try to pray more than usual and many Muslims also finish reading the entire Quran. In Toronto, mosques play a very important role during Ramadan. People use mosques to gather together with other people and to pray together. Many people also spend time in mosques reading the Quran.

Most mosques usually host iftar (breaking the fast) meals. Lots of people come out to Mosques for the iftar meals and there are normally big gatherings. In the gatherings when it’s iftar, people start out by eating a few simple things or drinking something and then they pray the sunset prayer.

After the prayer, people eat the actual meal and have time to socialize. The gatherings are one of the things about Ramadan that many people enjoy and they are great for catching up with friends or meeting new people. The gatherings are also great ways to have cultural exchanges. As you start talking to different people, you find that you learn a lot about another culture. It’s incredible how the gatherings bring together people from so many different cultures and how they create a unique mix between Canadian culture and other cultures.

Even though there are many negative attitudes toward Muslims in Canada and toward Islam, just being able to fast during Ramadan is a great form of freedom for us. It’s a way to talk to others and show others what our religion is about.

Hopefully one day people will no longer have those misconceptions about Muslims and Islam and people will think of Muslims as peace-loving people.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ramadan, Day 22: The Cherry on Top

The last 10 days of Ramadan are the most blessed and cherished nights of pretty much the whole year.

We are bidding farewell to the most beautiful nights of the year and it really is overwhelming.

It’s a sad but beautiful farewell, beautiful because of Laylatul Kadr, which means the Night of Power. It’s an incredible gift Allah (which is Arabic for “God”) sends to Muslims in one of these 10 final days.

God has not mentioned exactly what day it is, but it is said that it is one of the odd-numbered nights like the 21st, 23rd, or 25th.

We believe this is the night Allah sent down the Quran to Prophet Mohamed through the angel Gabriel, and we celebrate this spiritually by praying and reciting the Quran all night.

It is the crowning glory of the Holy Month. Prayer on this night is better than a thousand months of prayer, and so millions of Muslims, in Egypt and elsewhere, fill the mosques and ask Allah for forgiveness.

In Islam, all a person’s deeds, good or bad, are written in his kitab, or book. If a person’s prayer is answered during Laylatul Kadr, his kitab is cleared of his sins and his pages are clean, like that of a newborn baby.

Anything you ask of Allah on this night is surely to be answered and the gates of heaven are opened wide.

And so I call to everyone reading this, whether Muslim or not, to keep Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan in their hearts and prayers.

There is just so much beauty in the Arab world that is overlooked. Even people here don’t see how spectacular our culture is, with its simultaneous intricateness and simplicity.

For the past two days, I have had only one concern – how do I slow down time for a just a few days? I want to savor every moment left in the next seven days of Ramadan.

I honestly have never at any point in my life felt so serene and I am so worried that it will slip away as soon as school starts.

So yes, while the world is busy making war “ending” speeches and “direct” Palestinian/Israeli peace talks and negotiations, I am busy trying to find myself.

Sounds un-Ramadanish? Actually it’s what it’s all about – renewing yourself to reach the best version of you to engage with the rest of the world for the next year.

Hopefully it shows on my college apps. Yes, I kinda quivered, too, just thinking about college now.

That’s whats up, till next time.