Thursday, April 16, 2015

Night Train: Tambaram Station, Chennai

Jereme Kennedy / youthjournalism.org
Two views of the Tambaram railway station in the city of Chennai, India. 

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Avoiding A Close Encounter With A Snake

Olivia Wright and Kitty, her boa constrictor. Wright, who loves reptiles, offers tips for those who don't share her passion. She says Kitty is "a real sweetheart."

By Olivia Wright
Junior Reporter
NASHVILLE, Tennessee, U.S.A. – Spring is a season of sun, flowers, April showers, and ... reptiles.
After months of brumation, or dormancy, they are just as eager as we are for some
warm weather. And spring is the time of year when people and snakes most often cross paths.
 
I’ve learned how to navigate the outdoors safely, both for your sake and for the sake of our snake friends.

I come from a household with two biology major parents and a reptile loving mother. Thanks to my upbringing, I learned about reptiles and amphibians, went reptile hunting and housed a lot of rescued reptiles growing up.
When I was three I had my first pet, a bearded dragon named Rocky.
Rocky was my introduction into the world of reptiles, and a loving pet for nine years.
When I was about four, I saw The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, on television. I was immediately mesmerized. The way he handled the beauties inspired me, and I wanted nothing more than to be a crocodile hunter myself.
A bearded dragon was my first pet, but not my only herp, or reptile. From milk snake to corn snake, to iguana to gecko, reptiles have always been a staple in my life.
At the age of nine, I got my first reptile field guide as a gift, and one day later I had read through the whole book. I took it upon myself to learn everything about the animals I loved so much, and still pick it up almost daily to flip through the worn out pages.
At 10 I started field herpetology, and just like when I was given my first lizard, I was in love. Being able to go on little adventures and getting to find my favorite animals in their natural habitat was absolutely exhilarating.
Reptile lovers like me are excited for spring, which is a great time for field herpetology.
But not everyone is eager for a close encounter – and lots of people are afraid of snakes – so here are some tips and tricks based on my years of experience and research, that I hope will help you enjoy spring without harming any reptiles.
Let's start with the basics. Take big steps while walking. What snakes don't have in hearing and seeing, they make up for in sensing vibrations.
Snakes have an inner ear with a more than sensitive cochlea, making them able to sense their prey. By taking large steps, you are able to warn off the snakes, giving them time to slither away.
Get to know the snakes in your area. Know where they are located and whether or not they are venomous.
You should learn this not only to make yourself aware of certain places you may want to avoid, but also to help understand these animals a bit more.
Knowledge is the greatest enemy of fear.
Wear shoes when outside, preferably boots. If a snake were to strike, their target would likely be your ankles or calves. This small safety precaution will make a bite feel non-existent.
Lastly, try to change your mindset.
When given the chance, snakes can be magnificent and lovely creatures. In most situations, snakes do more good than harm.
Even venomous snakes have value. Right now medicines aimed at treating disease are being derived by hemotoxins from snakes.
There's nothing to be ashamed about if you are afraid, though.
Everyone has fears, and you don't have to let yours define you. With certain precautions, you can be on your way to feeling more comfortable in the world we share with reptiles.
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Your tax-deductible contribution can help support Olivia Wright
and other students at this nonprofit at

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Nigerians Mark A Year Since Boko Haram Terrorists Kidnapped Chibok Schoolgirls

Arinze Chijioke / youthjournalism.org
Salamatu Usman called the kidnapping of the Chibok girls a crime against humanity.

By Linus Okechukwu
Correspondent
ENUGU, Nigeria – It was a mild Monday morning on April 14, 2014 as commuters around Nigeria's capital Abuja prepared to take on the day and eke out a living.
As it was the morning rush hour, commuters at the Nyanya bus station on the outskirts of Abuja chattered away, getting ready to board buses shuttling across the bustling capital.
A bomb exploded, killing more than 50 people and injuring 100 more. Nigerians were still reeling that morning attack when news filtered in that more than 200 schoolgirls had been kidnapped overnight in the northeastern town of Chibok in Borno state.
Two murderous attacks, two different towns, and two dimensions to the outcome: death and kidnapping.
"As a girl, I am depressed," said Salamatu Usman, 21, who was outraged by the abduction one year ago. "The news came to me as a rude shock. I feel it is a crime against humanity and particularly against the girl child."
Arinze Chijioke / youthjournalism.org
Giwa Ishaku said the kidnapping of

the Chibok girls threatens religious

 freedom in Nigeria.
Giwa Ishaku, 21, who is a student of Government Secondary School in Agyaragu, Nasarawa state, was also shocked.
The abduction of the schoolgirls was horrifying, Ishaku said, adding that it was more of a threat to people's freedom to choose their own religion.
Though reactions to the abductions vary throughout Nigeria, Febisola Okonkwo shares in a common mood.
"It's a very traumatic thing," said Okonkwo. "It's very sad and heartbreaking."
Okonkwo, who is the director of Help Initiative Nigeria – an NGO which helps less privileged children and based in Ibadan – said rescuing the kidnapped schoolgirls should be made a top priority.
Founded in 2002, the terrorist group Boko Haram has been launching a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria. The deadly militant group abhors western-style education, and has burned down many schools in that part of the country.
Photo provided
Febisola Okonkwo, director

of Help Initiative Nigeria.
On April 14, 2014, Boko Haram terrorists abducted 276 schoolgirls from Government Secondary School in Chibok Borno state. Of those, 57 escaped and returned to their families, leaving 219 girls still missing a year late.
In a series of videos released by the insurgents, its leader Abubakar Shekau questioned the rationale for allowing the girls to acquire secular education. They have been sold off and married to Boko Haram men, he said.
Usman, who attends Government Secondary School in Gwadenye, Nasarawa state, strongly believes in the power of education. She said that she wasn't scared about the kidnapping.
Arinze Chijioke / youthjournalism.org
Hawawu Abdullahi, age 10, fears
the terrorists of Boko Haram.
“Education has no substitute," Usman said.
Though a year has passed since the girls were stolen away, memories of the horrendous act is sharp among many people.
And the pain of it is still fresh for 10-year-old Hawawu Abdullahi.
"I feel very sad about the kidnapping,” Hawawu said. “As a little girl who wants to gain knowledge, I understand their passions and I feel sorry for them."
Hawawu, who attends Bigil Computer Nursery and Primary in Agyaragu, Nasarawa state, dreads Boko Haram.
"They are evil," the child said.
Perhaps nobody offers a more vivid description of how the missing schoolgirls constitute a part of the nation than Victoria Umahi, 23, who is working with the Help Initiative Nigeria.
"These missing schoolgirls make up a family, which is the smallest unit in any community; communities grow to form societies which make up a country,” Umahi said. “So if anything happens to any child in any family, it's definitely affecting the whole country."

Festus Iyorah / youthjournalism.org
Victoria Umahi is part of Help Initiative Nigeria. She said the kidnapping affects all of Nigeria.

Augustina Onyeachonam is a stay-at-home mother whose four children are still in school. Though safely ensconced in southeastern Nigeria where there is hardly any turmoil, Onyeachonam said she would hate any school that allowed children and young people to go missing.
Ifeanyi Onyekere /
youthjournanlism.org

Augustina Onyeachonam
 “If the school authority does not show any concern after my child get missing, I’ll never send any of my child back there and I will often feel terribly bad," Onyeachonam said.
Pastor Nwoko Ikechukwu, 30, who resides in the southeastern Nigerian state of Abia, said the kidnapping was more of an orchestrated plan to make President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria seem like "a weakling."
Though Ikechukwu said he feels bad about the kidnapping, he blamed religious leaders and politicians for failing to rid religion of political influences.
Are all hopes lost?
Okonkwo doesn't think so.
"All we can do is pray and create more awareness to let everybody know that these children can still be found," Okonkwo said.
This story was written and edited by YJI Correspondent Linus Okechukwu in Enugu with contributions from YJI Senior Reporter Festus Iyorah in Ibadan, Oyo and YJI Junior Reporters Nchetachi Chukwuajah in Abia, Ifeanyi Onyekere in Oji River, Enugu and Arinze Chijioke in Agyaragu, Nasarawa.

Links to more news and opinion pieces from Youth Journalism International students about the kidnapped girls:

Analysis: Schoolgirls Still Missing A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

From A Nigerian Sister, An Open Letter To The Kidnapped Chibok Girls, A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

Perspective: We Must Cry, Until The Missing Girls Return, April 14, 2015

Perspective: One Year After Their Kidnapping, The Missing Chibok Girls Are Not Forgotten, April 14, 2014

News: Missing Nigerian Girls Not Forgotten; Students Renew Calls For Their Rescue, October 14, 2014

Perspective: Missing Nigerian Girls ‘Should Not Be Traded Off Like Cheap Materials In The Market’ April 30, 2014
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Your tax-deductible contribution can help support young journalists
in Nigeria and worldwide through this nonprofit at

Schoolgirls Still Missing A Year Later

By Festus Iyorah
Senior Reporter
IBADAN, Oyo, Nigeria – Nigerians shifted their attention from the recently concluded national election as they remembered the first year anniversary of the more than 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists.

 After a myriad of terrorist attacks in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram – which is striving to create an Islamic state – ignited global outrage as they abducted the girls in the wee hours of April 14 from a public boarding school in Chibok, a town in the northeastern state of Borno.

The schoolgirls were about to conclude their final exam when the Islamist sect made away with 276 students. Of those, 59 girls escaped and 219 are still held captive.
In the outrage that followed the girls’ disappearance, the #bringbackourgirls campaign went viral on social media. It helped create worldwide awareness about the plight of the abducted schoolgirls – more than 6 million tweets have been sent using the hashtag since the girls went missing, the BBC reported.
From Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai to U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama to Oby Ezekwisili, a Nigerian leader in the effort to spotlight the plight of the missing girls, the campaign to raise awareness has gained endorsement from powerful countries, personalities and organizations.
But as time wears on, Twitter activity has dropped sharply and the campaign has dwindled.
Nevertheless, a fresh campaign continued last week as the #Bringbackourgirls group in Nigeria organized a series of events encouraging people to remember the girls ahead of their first anniversary. One event included a procession in Abuja, Nigeria's capital.
Also, last week, Yousafzai released an open letter calling on Nigerian authorities and the international community not to relent until the schoolgirls are freed.
Although military officers and negotiators from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Israel and France offered to help Nigeria in finding the girls, analysts said they left few weeks after their arrival due to lack of cooperation from the military and the Nigerian government.
Chibok is essentially a Christian community in the heart of northeastern Nigeria, the epicenter of terrorism since Boko Haram launched its first attack in 2009.
Initially, the schools in the town closed in the month before the kidnapping due to the fear of incessant attacks rocking the region. But the schools reopened so that the girls, who ranged in age from 15 to 18, could finish their final exams.
In one of its damning reports, Amnesty International said that in northeastern Nigeria alone, terrorists, who oppose secular education, have destroyed 50 secondary schools.
This deep-seated position is clearly demonstrated in a video released by Boko Haram last year. Its leader, Abubakar Shekau, said the girls shouldn't have been in school in the first place, adding that they should have been married since the age of nine.
In another video, Shekau claimed the abducted girls were converted to Islam and auctioned off for $12.50 each into forced “marriage” with members of Boko Haram.
A year and still counting, more than 200 girls are still missing and no clue about their disappearance. For their parents, it has been hell on earth as their wounds are still raw and yet to heal.
Al Jazeera reported that at least 11 parents of the Chibok girls are dead – four of heart failure and seven more killed in a bomb attack in a nearby village of Kautakari last July.
Nigeria’s outgoing leader, President Goodluck Jonathan has been pelted with criticisms for not doing enough to rescue the girls. The government announced a ceasefire deal in October, but it was nothing but a ruse.
With tension about the girls’ whereabouts still thick in the air, the Nigerian military has also been berated for not doing enough since the girls disappeared.
Early this year, a multinational joint task force comprised of soldiers from Niger, Chad and Cameroon, launched an onslaught on the terrorists, recording massive victories and recapturing many towns under the grip of Boko Haram.
Recently, Nigerian newspapers have reported that United Nations and military officials are speculating that the missing girls may have been murdered by Boko Haram as the terrorists fled the town of Bama.
Nigeria’s incoming president, General Muhammadu Buhari, has promised to vanquish the sect after he takes office at the end of May, but for now, Nigerians continue to mourn.


Links to more news and opinion pieces from Youth Journalism International students about the kidnapped girls:

News: Nigerians Mark A Year Since Boko Haram Terrorists Kidnapped Chibok Schoolgirls, April 14, 2015

From A Nigerian Sister, An Open Letter To The Kidnapped Chibok Girls, A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

Perspective: We Must Cry, Until The Missing Girls Return, April 14, 2015

Perspective: One Year After Their Kidnapping, The Missing Chibok Girls Are Not Forgotten, April 14, 2014

News: Missing Nigerian Girls Not Forgotten; Students Renew Calls For Their Rescue, October 14, 2014
Perspective: Missing Nigerian Girls ‘Should Not Be Traded Off Like Cheap Materials In The Market’ April 30, 2014

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Your tax-deductible contribution can help support young journalists
in Nigeria and worldwide through this nonprofit at

From A Nigerian Sister, An Open Letter To The Kidnapped Chibok Girls, A Year Later

By Mary Umeoguaju
Junior Reporter
Youth Journalism International

Anambra, Nigeria
April 14, 2015
My dear sisters,
How are you? Hope you are fine and in good health.
These questions seem to be insignificant to ask of my sisters who have been missing in Chibok since 14th of April 2014, but I still think we need to ask them.
It's been a year and I haven’t heard from you and neither have my fellow Nigerians.
It is unfortunate. I've never had any personal contact with any of you, but I feel so concerned and worried because you are part of humanity, because you are Nigerians, because you are my sisters.
It's troubling to see girls who want to acquire excellent education kidnapped in their school.
Today marks one year since you were abducted from your school by the Islamist terrorist group Boko Haram. It's maddening to know that these terrorists believe that girls should be at home and not in schools.
Now, when we read newspapers or magazines, or watch and listen to our television channels and radios, we think of nothing but abandoned homes, disintegrated families, bloodletting and the displacement of residents who once had comfortable homes.
We're all affected by your abduction, and we think of you as days tumble into months.
Beyond the shores of Nigeria, you're remembered by powerful countries and people. You still, and will always, remain important to all of us. To your parents, you're beloved daughters. To your siblings, you're wonderful sisters. To friends, you remain excellent companions.
To your teachers, you are students and to elders, young children. To society, you are youth and to our nation, students with a bright future.
But to me, you are my sisters, my friends, my loved ones.
Your abduction still hits us like an earthquake, and without communication, hope that all is well has been shattered.
Rumors that you’ve been used as objects for sexual gratification and taken as “wives” shudder us into numbness. I try to imagine your pains, fears and hopes, but not without my heart tearing apart.
We'll continue to pray for you and our military. We will never give up. We’ll remain entombed in shock and outrage until you return to us.
Our government has been criticized and a widespread dissatisfaction continues to boil, all because you are yet to be found.
In his memoir The Audacity of Hope, U.S. President Barack Obama talks about empathy as something that is "not simply ... a call to sympathy or charity, but as something more demanding; a call to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes."
When I did that, I was in tears. I couldn't withstand all the horrifying scenes trickling into my mind's eye.
No, I can't survive such thoughts.
In your absence, a presidential election was conducted and incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan accepted defeat. Our incoming leader, General  Muhammadu Buhari, a retired army general who ruled Nigeria from 1984-1985, has promised to crush those heartless insurgents.
We really miss you. We praise your bravery and courage – those who fought and are still moving, those who escaped and all who tried to do so and ended up dead or caught.
As we mark your anniversary, I can only pray and hope that you'll return to us alive.
Warm regards,

Mary
Links to more news and opinion pieces from Youth Journalism International students about the kidnapped girls:

News: Nigerians Mark A Year Since Boko Haram Terrorists Kidnapped Chibok Schoolgirls, April 14, 2015

Analysis: Schoolgirls Still Missing A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

Perspective: We Must Cry, Until The Missing Girls Return, April 14, 2015

Perspective: One Year After Their Kidnapping, The Missing Chibok Girls Are Not Forgotten, April 14, 2014

News: Missing Nigerian Girls Not Forgotten; Students Renew Calls For Their Rescue, October 14, 2014

Perspective: Missing Nigerian Girls ‘Should Not Be Traded Off Like Cheap Materials In The Market’ April 30, 2014

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Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at

We Must Cry, Until The Missing Girls Return

By Nchetachi Chukwuajah
Junior Reporter
Youth Journalism International
ABIA, Nigeria – When in 1948 South African author Alan Paton chose to entitle his book Cry, the Beloved Country, it probably did not occur to him that Nigeria would need to do that after over five decades.
Nigeria should cry, wail even, that after 365 days it was not able to deliver more than 200 of its daughters from the tight grips of their abductors.


We have waited too long for their return and, like the child whose mother went to the market, our eyes are fixed on the road expectantly waiting, watching, praying and of course crying that they return in peace.
Who knows what fate might have befallen them in the last 365 days. Have they been killed, sold to slavery, turned into sex objects – just what is their fate?
Indeed, Nigeria need to cry!
To think that we have momentarily forgotten about these girls after just a few months of chanting the “bringbackourgirls” mantra is more disheartening.
We have forgotten so easily that they could have been our sisters, friends, our co-compatriots and in the near future, mothers, doctors, lawyers, engineers and other leaders.
We really need to cry – for the poor state of our security agencies, for the ravages bedeviling northeastern Nigeria, for the brazen killings committed by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau, and for our country because we are becoming insensitive to the plight of the victims.
Who knows what they have been eating? Who knows if they have had their baths and changed their clothes? Are they sheltered or left at the mercies of these terrorists? Who comforts them when they experience horrific menstrual demons – or has that been taken over by pregnancy and motherhood?
Yes, Nigeria has done everything to rescue her daughters except to cry. Perhaps that might soften the abductors' hearts. Perhaps!
In the northeastern part of Nigeria – where terrorists kidnapped the Chibok girls from their school – where choosing to be educated is adjudged a crime by those same Boko Haram terrorists, then the last resort is perhaps to cry.


Links to more news and opinion pieces from Youth Journalism International students about the kidnapped girls:

News: Nigerians Mark A Year Since Boko Haram Terrorists Kidnapped Chibok Schoolgirls, April 14, 2015
Analysis: Schoolgirls Still Missing A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

From A Nigerian Sister, An Open Letter To The Kidnapped Chibok Girls, A Year Later, April 14, 2015:

Perspective: One Year After Their Kidnapping, The Missing Chibok Girls Are Not Forgotten, April 14, 2014

News: Missing Nigerian Girls Not Forgotten; Students Renew Calls For Their Rescue, October 14, 2014
Perspective: Missing Nigerian Girls ‘Should Not Be Traded Off Like Cheap Materials In The Market’ April 30, 2014

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Your tax-deductible contribution can help support this nonprofit at