Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Best Way To Feel Good? Do Good

Dina El Halawany /
Couples at a recent charity wedding for orphans in Alexandria, Egypt.
By Dina El Halawany
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – You know those days when you wake up feeling like crap? When you’d rather stay at home and do nothing?
I woke up one day not long ago, not feeling that great and I thought about missing the charity event I was invited to attend.
It was a group wedding for five couples, all orphans who couldn’t afford to get married.
Rotaract Ramleh Heights, a Rotary-sponsored service club for young adults, organized the wedding along with other charity events.
At first I thought it wouldn’t be any good, but then I changed my mind and decided to go.
After I got there, I was still standing outside the hall when one of the brides’ cousins arrived. She kept wandering around, astonished by how wonderful the place was. Then she started to cry because she couldn’t believe that her cousin was finally getting married, and not just at any place, but at the Hilton Hotel, one of Alexandria’s best wedding halls.
Dina El Halawany /
A newly married couple share a
slow dance.
I was honestly so touched that I couldn’t help but smile every time I looked at their relatives waiting impatiently to see the brides and grooms climb down those stairs wearing the best tuxedos and dresses.
It took a while because there were people still checking the sound system and the lights to make sure everything was ready before the wedding started.
Then it was finally the moment everyone had been waiting for, and all the relatives and the event organizers gathered near the stairs.Music started playing and the people clapped as the couples slowly climbed down the stairs. It was a spellbinding moment and the smiles on their faces proved that every effort made was totally worth it.
I can honestly say that this moment was enough to make my day much brighter.
I just felt so happy and excited for them. We danced and laughed all night – everything was simply perfect. I was really enjoying myself so much that I wished that it would last longer than it did.
Dina El Halawany /
Men take part in a group dance at the wedding.
That day I went back home after learning a very important lesson.
I learned that being the reason behind someone’s happiness can bring you more joy than you can ever imagine. It can even totally reverse your mood.
All those people who put so much effort into organizing this wedding deserve to be awarded, but they were not waiting for any prizes, because they already had one in seeing happiness all over the orphans’ faces.
After all, that’s what they worked so hard for and I was so glad I attended. It felt like I was a part of something really special.
In life, some people struggle to find happiness, but happiness won’t always come knock on your door. Instead, you need to go out there and always find a reason to smile.
If your life lacks joy, you’ll find plenty in helping less fortunate people.
Organizers of the charity wedding for orphans included members of the Rotaract Ramleh Heights and friends.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Must Our Brothers Be Killed Before We Care When Terrorism Strikes?

By Linus Okechukwu
NSUKKA, Enugu, Nigeria – It was the morning rush hour in the bustling Nyanya Motor Park, a bus station nestled on the outskirts of Nigeria's capital, Abuja.
Commuters were there, chattering and exchanging pleasantries. The day was fresh, and hopes were high.
Today is Monday, but all Mondays are never the same. Days are different, and so is today.
There was no premonition, no signs – just happy faces willing to take on the day and make ends meet.
Then it happened: a blast. Lifeless bodies. Pandemonium. Tears.
Sirens blaring, no doubt, but that noise in such situations could go unnoticed.
The day's happiness has morphed into sorrow as genial faces stiffened. Then evacuation and the casualty figure must be taken.
Vanguard, a Nigerian national daily paper, reported that more than 71 people were killed and 124 injured after a bomb blast at the Nyanya bus station today. It's about a six-hour bus ride from my campus.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, but all fingers point to the radical Islamist group Boko Haram. The group has perpetuated such acts for many years. And there is no doubt they are responsible.
We are grieved by the death toll and the number of injured.
The Nigerian government must eradicate this menace and entrench a peaceful society bereft of killings and tears.
The onus is on the government and all of us to make life better here.
On his visit to the gruesome scene, President Goodluck Jonathan promised that we would rise above these challenges – but the feasibility of the promise is causing us pains. When? How?
Why is this group causing us anguished nights?
Our security networks aren't asleep, but their best we are yet to see.
The government is not too feeble, yet stringent measures are not adopted to curb terrorism.
We have suffered and we have lost a lot.
February 25, 2014 remains indelible, too, when 59 students in a federal government secondary school were brutalized and killed by the extremist group.
When did schools become grounds for war? Do we stop schooling because terrorism is on the increase?
Amnesty International reported that 1,500 civilians died as a result of the escalating violence between Boko Haram insurgents and the military. The radical group has attacked schools, markets, churches, mosques, and many other places. It hopes to foist an Islamic state in the northern part of the country on the people.
It’s really galling to see many Nigerians become impervious to such gory spectacle.
It is commonplace; it has become part of our everyday life. But then, must our brothers be killed before we share in the pains of the victims?
When stories of bomb explosion are broached, many people could not care less about what's happening. It is not in their vicinity, not in their state nor region – so why should they care?
Here are humans killed mercilessly. Innocent civilians made to pay for goods they never bought. Optimistic students whose hopes for tomorrow were destroyed by Boko Haram, children turned orphan by the scourge.
Do you see why we have to care?
Sad faces. Tears all over them. Nobody to console them. Yet, in their pains they can't stop clinging to the rope of hope. See why they need us?
Like us, they are human. We must learn to empathize with victims of such unimaginable violence.
Stop being clannish! Watch and see – we used to live like one big family, sharing in one another’s successes and failures alike.
Get over to the bridge and console that little boy who is crying. His parents are victims of violence. Give him hope, make him believe Nigeria will get better.
Tell him that terrorism isn’t routine in the world, that he can be an agent of peace.
There is no better way to do this than to come to grips with the sufferings of the victims and show genuine sympathy.
The government owes us some measure of responsibility. The media must enlighten the masses so they may become security conscious and alert. We must learn to take precautions and contribute to the eradication of violence, insurgency and ignorance in our society.
Forget blame – this is our collective responsibility. Today it is in Nyanya Motor Park. If we don’t act, who knows where terror will strike tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Rock 'N Roll Hall Of Famer Steve Van Zandt Schooled Teen Reporter On Music History
Little Steven Van Zandt in New York City in December 2006

In late 2006, Zach Brokenrope, then a Youth Journalism International reporter from Aurora, Nebraska, visited New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood with YJI co-founder Jackie Majerus for an amazing interview with rocker Steven Van Zandt.
Van Zandt, host of  Little Steven's Underground Garage on Sirus radio and owner of Wicked Cool Record Co. was starting a new initiative to bring rock 'n roll into high schools. He was then also star of the hit HBO show "The Sopranos." Beyond that, he's a key member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and previously organized Artists United Against Apartheid. He's an advocate for music education and bridging the generation gap with rock 'n roll.
Tonight, seven years after our interview, Van Zandt  will be inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame with the rest of the E Street Band. 
Today, we're revisiting the day he generously spent more than two hours with us, talking about a wide range of projects and issues.  We published the stories below on January 8, 2007. Editing by Majerus, Steve Collins, Joe Killian and Brian LaRue.

Rock and Roll High School

By Zach Brokenrope
After 40 years of living a life dedicated to rock and roll, Little Steven Van Zandt wants to go back to high school.
Listen to Little Steven talk about bringing rock and roll bands into America's high schools (Tattoo MP3)
It’s his passion for rock and roll that’s taking him there.
Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and a star on the hit HBO series The Sopranos, is on a mission to introduce kids to the music that shaped his life.
“We want to spread the rock and roll gospel as much as we can,” said Van Zandt. “I want to go where the enthusiasm is.”
Though rock and roll was once in the mainstream, Van Zandt said, it’s become an underground movement. 
  -- Tattoo video --
Little Steven talks about acting on "The Sopranos"
For the story:
Van Zandt is introducing an eight-week curriculum, tentatively titled Little Steven’s Rock and Roll High School, that can be used nationwide within music classes or as an after school program.
He aims to have it in schools starting this fall.
“We have a basic history of rock and roll in 40 lessons,” he said.
The second stage of the program, Van Zandt said, will be concert tours of old and new bands, playing high-energy gigs together in high school gyms around the country.

“We’re trying to get it out of the museum and institutionalize it in public life,” said Van Zandt. “I want to reach kids.”

“Everybody’s welcome in the rock and roll world.” - Little Steven Van Zandt

A wicked cool record company
To spotlight new bands – and bring rock and roll back into the musical forefront – Little Steven Van Zandt recently launched the Wicked Cool Record Co.
As part of Van Zandt’s larger enterprise, Renegade Nation, Wicked Cool will produce predominately rock and roll records by new artists.
The concept for the new label grew out of the same idea that propels Van Zandt’s popular radio program, Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
“I wasn’t hearing my favorite songs on the radio,” Van Zandt said. Click here for the whole story.

Rock and roll renegade

New rock and roll bands will soon have a place on the internet dedicated to introducing their work, thanks to Little Steven’s Underground Garage website.
Little Steven Van Zandt, host of the popular Little Steven’s Underground Garage syndicated rock and roll radio show, said he’s making room on his website for unknown bands.
Within a few weeks, Van Zandt said, the website will start a community forum that will allow users to post video and audio.
It’ll be a way for unsigned bands to present their work to an audience that otherwise wouldn’t see them, according to Van Zandt, who intends to keep an eye on the new talent.
If he sees something he likes, Van Zandt said, he’ll give the band a call. Click here for the whole story.

Little Steven doesn't always win
Little Steven Van Zandt was part of the unsuccessful fight to save CBGB’s, New York’s legendary rock club that closed in October.
Its closure, Van Zandt said, was a blow against rock and roll.
“Literally tens of thousands of tourists would come to New York just to see CBGB’s, the venue where punk was born,” said Van Zandt, deejay of the hit rock and roll radio show, Little Steven’s Underground Garage.
“It’s a shame that kids will now not be able to go in there and be on the same stage that The Ramones were on,” said Van Zandt. “It’s one of our biggest disappointments.” – Zach Brokenrope

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

High School Stabbing Strikes Close To Home

By Katherine Holland
PITTSBURGH, Penn., U.S.A. – When I arrived at school today, it was just another Wednesday. I had to finish my statistics homework during chemistry, and I was looking forward to talking with my friend during English about the guy she’s been seeing.
But the first thing I heard when I walked into homeroom was “Oh my God, did you hear about the stabbing at Franklin?”
I don’t know if there’s a worse sentence to start off your day.
At Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, this morning, a 16-year-old sophomore went from classroom to classroom, stabbing and cutting a total of 19 students and a security guard, according to a report on the regional Trib Total Media website.
Twelve of the victims are being treated at various hospitals within the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center network, and as of later afternoon Wednesday, three of the patients are in critical condition.
It’s a terrifying situation, and one that’s hit far too close to home. The school is just a half an hour from my own, and as a result, I know a few people who attend.
Very luckily, they’re all unharmed, just incredibly shaken up. This is the sort of thing that never seems to happen nearby. I’ve only ever heard about incidents such as these on the news, or as part of an argument for metal detectors in schools.
In stark contrast, my phone has been blowing up with live updates and concerned texts from family members who saw “Pennsylvania high school” and panicked.
The atmosphere at school was noticeably different today as well, much less light-hearted. The ‘promposals’ looked phoned in, a fight broke out over nothing, and the halls weren’t as mind-numbingly loud as usual.
All my friends and I could think about was how easily this could have happened to our school.
In these sorts of situations, the public often hears about the attacker’s hidden mental illness, or about the bullying he or she endured for several years. Students like this are often named as loners within their school, kids who had few friends to lean on.
Many at my school could name several classmates who fit that profile, but I can’t imagine any of them being capable of such violence.
There are always going to be people who don’t mesh well with the masses, for sure, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s a big difference between eating lunch alone and the horrific acts that took place today.
I don’t know if anyone at my school will change their attitude, though that would be the expected and ideal action.
I think it might take some time for this to truly sink in. When it comes down to it, the situation is just shocking and sad.
Many of the local religious groups will be holding prayer services, and the school in Murrysville is closing down for the next few days.
This situation will be in the hearts of the students at my school and surrounding ones for a very long time, and we can only imagine how the victims and their families must feel.
But it does seem that a few heroic students and faculty minimized the amount of damage that took place.
A local television news report on WPXI mentioned that one girl applied pressure to her friend’s wound until the ambulances arrived, probably saving her life. Another student reportedly pulled the fire alarm and yelled for everyone to clear out of the building, and there’s no doubt that his actions saved many others from being sitting ducks.
It’s wonderful to be reminded of the good that can be found in such a horrific situation.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Afghan Youth Vote Spurs Excitement, Hope

Voters lined up at a polling place on the outskirts of Kabul on Saturday.

By Edrees Kakar
Senior Correspondent
KABUL, Afghanistan – Although the official results of Afghanistan’s national election won’t be announced for another month, the victory is already clear.
The people of Afghanistan are the winners of this election by defying violence, terrorism and showing their enthusiasm for a democratic process.
This election turned out to be an unprecedented major event due to the immense enthusiasm displayed by all generations, but mainly the youth.
After witnessing two months of rigorous campaigns across the country, on Saturday, Afghans went to the polling stations to elect their future president from a field of eight candidates.

It’s the first time I have participated in an election and it was with my full spirit and enthusiasm that I cast my vote with optimism for Afghanistan’s prosperity and for real democracy.

Throughout this election, I witnessed all my friends engaging in election-related debates and conversations in a more civic way, even though with disagreements.
For me, the most interesting events during the campaign periods have been the live television debates among the candidates, which provided a wonderful opportunity for us to evaluate them.
Edrees Kakar's voting card and his ink-stained finger, showing that he cast a ballot on Saturday.
Polling day was a joyful day for me, seeing Afghans with happy faces while casting their ballots.
Maybe the reason for all this enthusiasm is that the youth make up most of the voters.
This much-needed spirit for democracy comes in this important year when foreign forces are withdrawing from Afghanistan and transferring all security responsibility to Afghan forces.
This is in fact a sign of progress and optimism for the future of Afghanistan where estimated 7 million people cast their votes despite intimidating security situations and harsh weather that included pouring rain in Kabul and snow-blocked roadways in some mountainous districts.
It shows the determination of the Afghan people to defend the values of democracy and decide their own fate through voting. Though eight candidates competed in the race, the top three frontrunners are Dr. Ashraf Ghani, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Zalmay Rassoul.
Messages of pride for being part of this election have circulated online and on various television channels, and many people are calling to establish the 5th of April as a new national festive day for democracy in the country.
Many of those who voted uploaded pictures of their finger colored with the ink of the polling stations.
Long lines outside the polling places, like this one on the outskirts of Kabul, showed that Afghans were determined to vote.
People also praised the Afghan security forces for their services and sacrifices day and night to keep a secure atmosphere for the election. Though there were minor incidents and some polling places were closed because of security threats, the election went fairly smoothly.
The winner will replace the country’s first democratically elected leader, President Hamid Karzai, who will be ending his two consecutive terms in office. He was constitutionally barred from running for a third time.
By transferring power peacefully through this election, Karzai will make history as the first elected president of Afghanistan to transfer power through polls and to respect the decision of Afghan voters.
Despite differences of views with some of his policies, people in general are praising Karzai’s tenure during 13 years of harsh situations and are showing gratitude by sharing his picture online.
Afghans on social media across the globe exhibited a significant amount of support for this election, too, many expressing gratitude, pride and excitement at the large turnout and toward police and security forces for the safe election.
Others marveled at the historic election and stated hopes for freedom from terrorism and extremism and a stable, peaceful and prosperous future.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Fireworks In Lahore For Resolution Day

Arooj Khalid /
 In Lahore, Pakistan, people celebrated Pakistan Resolution Day, held on March 23, with fireworks. The holiday marks the day when the resolution was passed for a separate Muslim homeland, which is Pakistan. At midnight, there were fireworks in Race Course Park in Lahore. YJI photographer Arooj Khalid wasn't able to go to the park, but got these pictures from her home, where her view was partially obscured by trees and other houses. 
Arooj Khalid /

Arooj Khalid /

Arooj Khalid /

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Youth Issues To Be Part Of A New Nigeria

Festus Iyorah /

Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of Nigeria spoke at a journalism conference at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka this week.

By Linus Okechukwu and Festus Iyorah
NSUKKA, Enugu, Nigeria – Youth interests must be part of Nigeria’s national rebirth and transformation, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar said at a journalism education conference this week.
Abubakar called on the media and society to help advance those interests.
“We must help our youth to find their part in this world or the one they will help to create, and help them follow that part with enthusiasm, commitment, fidelity and dedication,” Abubakar said. “The media can help our young people by exposing bad deeds, promoting good deeds, highlighting good people and good deeds. That way we can help our youth to help change the world for the better.”
Abubakar gave his keynote address, “Media, Youth and Nigeria’s Development Challenges” at the 16th annual conference of the African Council for Communication Education at the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria in Nsukka.
Festus Iyorah /
Part of the crowd at this week's conference.
The conference will be of great importance given that “it deliberates on ways to ensure that the more than 10 million out-of-school children are in school,” Abubakar said.
The former vice president called youth to action.
“Get an education, acquire useful skills; become aware; dream big; and aim for your dream,” he urged them. “Do not constrain yourselves; and do not settle for half-measures. Follow your heart; the road may be rough but then only rough roads lead to somewhere desirable. Opportunities abound in this country’s economy and in the economy of the 21st century which we should be building.”
Festus Iyorah /
Prof. Chris Ogbondah from
the University of Northern Iowa.

The conference, which focused on the impact of communication – especially new media – and on children and the youth drew renowned scholars from the United States, Sierra-Leone, South Africa as well as a number of Nigerian academics.
Professor Chris Ogbondah, who teaches journalism in America at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was pleased to be part of it.
“I feel great! A conference like this in Nigeria is a learning experience in terms of gaining knowledge,” said Ogbondah. “It is a time to tap from other people’s brain. For me, it is always a learning experience.”
Students who attended were thrilled at the opportunity.
“I feel very great to have participated in this kind of conference which has gathered scholars from different walks of life,” said 20-year-old James Ojo, a first-year student of mass communication. 
“I have really learnt a lot," Ojo said. "I have gotten a lot of experience and knowledge about communication.”
Festus Iyorah /
Student James Ojo
Second-year mass communication student Victor Agi, 20, said he felt very excited to have participated in the conference. He said the lessons learnt in the conference would remain invaluable.
“Communication has had negative and positive effects on the youth. For me, this type of forum is very important. It is a conference I would love to attend again and again,” Agi said.
Professor Cecil Blake, who teaches African studies at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, was enthusiastic about being in Nigeria.
“I am always happy to be in Nigeria. I feel I am part and parcel of this organization,” Blake said.
Festus Iyorah /

Professors and other dignitaries stand with former Nigerian Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who is in the center wearing a traditional robe and hat.
Ogbondah said the conference theme, “Communication, Children and the Youth in the 21st Century,” is relevant because the pervasive nature of today’s media has made any public discourse on children and the youth valuable.
“Technological revolution has made this the age of instant communication where children and youth are more exposed to mass media than ever before,” the professor from Iowa said.
With a large number of parents now working, Ogbondah said, children and youth are normally left at home unsupervised, so the theme of the conference comes in handy at a time when the world is increasingly becoming technologically-driven.
“It is good to have a theme like this that will examine the type of effects, if any, may be having on children in terms of exhibiting violent tendencies and criminal behavior” Ogbondah said.
Blake, who previously served as Sierra Leone’s information minister, said rapid developments in information and communications technology have exposed children and youth to the media, so the conference theme came at a time when it is highly needed.

Youth Journalism International reporters Festus Iyorah, left, and Linus Okechukwu, right, with Professor Cecil Blake of the University of Pittsburgh.
Despite the negative effects of social media, Blake said, “It is too early to speak categorically on whether” they should be banned outright or used solely for academic purposes.
Blake equally charged professors “to nurture a young generation who would diversify their research” given the dearth of diversity in content and communication researches generally.
Blake commended the African Council for Communication Education in Nigeria for remaining committed to the organization and taking a leadership role.
“Without the ACCE in Nigeria, the organization in the continent is meaningless,” said Blake.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Shivering With Cold And Excitement - And Covering The President Of The United States
Youth Journalism International reporter Sherry Sah looks back for a moment while President Barack Obama, at the lectern in the background, speaks to a crowd at Central Connecticut State University last Wednesday.

By Sherry Sah
Junior Reporter
MANCHESTER, Conn., U.S.A. – Standing and waiting in line to go and see President Barack Obama was an amazing experience.
The cold wind swept around my body as I shivered outside the gym at Central Connecticut State University, where he spoke last week.
I couldn't believe that I was actually going to see the president of the United States. As the lines grew shorter, my turn finally came.
Sherry Sah /
Billie Jefferson and Raisa Koch, both 17-year-old seniors at Conard High School in West Hartford, had the job of checking media credentials at Central Connecticut State University when President Barack Obama visited.
Youth Journalism International reporter
Sherry Sah's credentials, from YJI, on the
left, and from the White House, on the right.
YJI reporter Sherry Sah waiting
in the cold.

My heart was beating like crazy. When I was finished getting checked by the police, I made my way into the auditorium. 
As soon as my feet hit the gymnasium floor, the sounds of the university’s band soothed my ears.
As I made my way to the side where members of the press were, more and more people crowded into the gymnasium.
After everyone took their seats and we heard from the college president and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, President Obama took the stand. 
The crowd went crazy chanting his name.
As soon as he started speaking about the minimum wage, everyone listened.
It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.