Friday, September 22, 2017

My summer in Hel ... taking care of seals

Photo by Ewa Malinowska / used with permission
YJI Reporter Joanna Koter with one of the seals at Fokarium, a seal sanctuary in Poland. As a volunteer, she had the chance to take part in the medical training of the seals.

By Joanna Koter
HEL, Poland – When I told my teacher that I was going to spend my summer volunteering in Hel, she did not treat me seriously. She was a geography teacher, after all, however very few foreigners know that Hel is a holiday resort at the very end of the Hel Peninsula in Poland.
Hel is well known for being home to one of 13 sea lanterns on the Polish coast of the Baltic Sea. There is the Museum of Coastal Defence that includes an extensive range of World War II bunkers and a seal sanctuary called Fokarium. The latter is a popular tourist attraction, but it is most importantly a research center and is managed by the Oceanography Department of the University of Gdansk. This place became my work and home for two weeks last summer.
My first impression of Hel was that the local council has a sense of humor – I saw the only bus that runs in town, and its number was 666. With that nice start, I eagerly got to the sanctuary with my backpack and, as the volunteer coordinator had advised me before, a pair of my own wellies, or rain boots.
By noon I was ready to meet six other volunteers and the seal trainers, who were to introduce us to our responsibilities. And by trainers I do mean trainers, not keepers, because seals can be trained in the same way as dolphins. They can jump onto buoyant platforms, fetch balls and roll around when told to.
However, seals will not listen to everyone – they are still independent, even though they are not allowed to be released back to the sea after becoming trained seals. The reason for this is that they are fed only by humans, as fish is used as a reward during what is called a medical training. This form of training is based on encouraging the animal to take part in a medical check-up, and the most effective incentive is feeding them fresh Baltic herring. 
Joanna Koter /
The seal sanctuary on a calm day.

Fokarium is home to six seals: two males, Bubas and Fok, and four females: Agata, Ewa, Ania and Unda (whose name means “a wave” in Swedish). There are three trainers who take care of them, and the first time I got to watch them during training it was amusing how much the seals resembled dogs following commands. (I have to admit, I stood out in the group as most of the volunteers were either current or aspiring animal science students and compared to them, my previous knowledge on animal training was minimal).
The relationship visible between a seal and a trainer resembled to me the one between a dog and its owner. The obedience was caused not only by perfected training but simply a friendship between a man and an animal. It is worth mentioning that a young seal is called a szczenie, or pup - just like a young dog, and its mouth is said to be “dog-like,” although that depends on the species. Species other than the grey seal, which is kept at the sanctuary, have a more cat-like mouth.
This is one of the number of seal “fun facts” we had to learn as part of our job. On the first day, we were given a brochure with a set of FAQs on seals and the sanctuary. We had to know what species of seal we kept, how many we have released to the wild (all seals born at the sanctuary are released to the Baltic sea after they reach a specific weight) and even how many teeth seals have (18-20 on the top jaw, 16 on the bottom one).
Photo by Ewa Malinowska / used with permission
Getting up close and personal with a couple of the seals. YJI reporter Joanna Koter is on the right.
Learning about the seals wasn’t hard when compared with our other tasks, which were mostly dealing with tourists. And tourists, as you may know if you ever had a summer job in a holiday resort, can be difficult to handle. For example, one of the work shifts was patrolling the grounds. That person had to make sure that no one climbed onto fences or benches, leaned out of the barriers too far or did anything else to damage the sanctuary or themselves by falling into the pool.
What worked best in the case of children was telling them that seals do have teeth and bite - which is true and is written on the fencing, so it was only a friendly reminder.
We also helped to keep the sanctuary tidy during the day. In the evening we cleaned the building which housed a museum with an exhibition dedicated to the history of sealing and their protection. But the shift everyone enjoyed the most was helping with the training – even though it included fishing dead Baltic herrings out of the sink and cutting them in half, grinding the insides which fell out of them, and then carrying heavy steel buckets with fish between pools, trying not to fall into them.
Joanna Koter /
A seal trainer works with a volunteer to make healing saline water for the seals with an eye sickness.
The fact that you had to wear wellies while doing it did not make it easier. As one of the trainers told us, “If you fall in, drinks on you.” Still, there was a chance you would get a peck from one of the seals before the eyes of hundreds of tourists, so everyone did their job the best they could and there were rarely any complaints about it.
At the end of the day, all of our work was dedicated to help fill seals’ stomachs and run a place where all the profits went to funding the research on seals and other creatures from the Baltic Sea.
In our spare time (which was sparse but enough) we were free to explore Hel, wander to the beach or go and treat ourselves to delicious fried fish from the morning catch.
The two weeks at the sanctuary were full of hard work and – no surprise here – flew by really fast. This volunteering experience made two of my wishes come true - to see what it’s like to work as a zookeeper, and to work in a visitor attraction dedicated to conservation of the environment.
I definitely do not regret my time at the seal sanctuary. My one piece of advice to other young reporters, or college students: next summer, go and do something completely new, explore a fresh ground, and make a good experience out of it. You will definitely learn some new things, and if you did not expect them, your experience – and your story – will be even better.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tree Street Youth center helps immigrant teens feel at home in Lewiston, Maine
From left: Beth Criado-Band of Scotland, senior videographer for YJI; Dawit Leake of Ethiopia, reporter for YJI with two of the young people they interviewed, Djmal Maldoum and Halima Ibrahim, residents of Lewiston, Maine who are involved in Tree Street Youth.

By Dawit Leake

LEWISTON, Maine, U.S.A. – Students from different backgrounds – including asylum seekers looking for a better future – have found a sanctuary of support at a busy youth center here.
“Anyone is welcome” at Tree Street Youth, said Djmal Maldoum, a recent graduate of Lewiston High School who spends much of his time at the center.
Maldoum, 19, is originally from Ndjamena, Chad, a country in the center of Africa.
When the political situation in Chad spurred Maldoum to come to the United States with an aunt in 2014, he spoke only French and Arabic.  
He settled in with another aunt in Lewiston and found that learning English was his biggest challenge.  Maldoum got the hang of the language quickly by talking to people, mostly his cousins, but also by often visiting Tree Street Youth as a new resident of Lewiston.
“Every single day, Tree Street,” said Maldoum.
He appreciates the technology here in the United States, he said, and the amount of support available for students at school and at Tree Street. He said he was surprised that teachers here don’t use corporal punishment like they do in Chad.
Something else that surprised and pleased Maldoum was discovering the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants here in the U.S.
Although Maldoum is very happy with his life in Lewiston, he still feels pressure to help his family in Chad. He said he misses his family, especially his mother, the food back home and even the sounds of kids in the street.
Maldoum wants to go to college and study international business, but can’t afford it yet. His status as an asylum seeker does not include a work permit, so he spends his days volunteering from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. helping younger kids at Tree Street.
“The community helped me a lot when I came here,” he said.
He found Maine’s snowy, cold winters “crazy” at first, Maldoum said, and quiet little city of Lewiston didn’t initially match up with the expectations he had for life in an American city. He said he got used to all of it, though, and made a lot of friends.
“I feel like I belong to Maine now,” he said.

Setting an example

Maldoum isn’t the only one who appreciates the support and friendship at Tree Street.
“Tree Street is the only fun part of my day,” said Halima Ibrahim, 14, who volunteers at the center, working with three to five-year-old children.
“I’m being an inspirational person to them,” said Ibrahim, a student at Lewiston High School. “I’m showing people what’s wrong from right.”
A native of Kenya, Ibrahim came to the U.S. when she was just two years old and is now an American citizen. She’s lived in Lewiston since 2009, runs track at school and hopes to one day be an Olympic athlete. One of 11 children, Ibrahim said she spends much of her time babysitting her seven younger brothers.
A newcomer to Tree Street is 15-year-old Abdifatah Bare, also a student at Lewiston High School.
A native of Somalia, Bare moved to the U.S. when he was only six. He said he doesn’t remember much about his hometown of Mogadishu.
Bare said he has fun playing basketball, but also likes to hang with friends at Tree Street. He said he likes school in Lewiston and the teachers there, too.

Looking for a home
Hana Mougin
College bound Hana Mougin, who graduated from Lewiston High School this year, also gives her time to Tree Street. The center assisted her with her SAT exams and getting into university, she said.
“It’s a really good place to get help,” said Mougin, who will start taking pre-med courses at Husson University in Bangor, Maine in the fall.
Mougin is from Djibouti, a tiny nation on Africa’s eastern coast. She’s lived in Lewiston with her mother and younger brother for about four years. The three family members recently gained asylum in the U.S., she said, after spending two years in India with her step-father, a diplomat.
“It’s the best country that I’ve ever been in,” said Mougin, of India. “The people are very warm and welcoming and the food is great.”
But Mougin said that they wanted a permanent home and moved to the U.S. primarily because her parents felt that India was not safe for a teenage girl.
Being in the U.S. also offered her a chance to become tri-lingual as she didn’t speak English before arriving here.

The goal: staying safe

Both Mougin and Ibrahim said they’d been on the receiving end of hateful remarks since coming to Maine.
“I hate it when people think it’s okay to say disrespectful things,” said Ibrahim. She said she and another young Muslim girl were in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park one day when they were called “cockroaches” and “terrorists.”
She didn’t fight back, Ibrahim said.
“If someone says something about me, I don’t fight them,” Ibrahim said. “Violence is not the answer.”
Mougin, who is also Muslim but doesn’t wear a hijab, said the local Muslim kids have questioned her faith and called her “the Christian girl.”
“It’s my choice,” said Mougin. “I guess I got used to it. Now I don’t care what people think.”
Mougin, who is bi-racial, has a white father from France and a mother from Djibouti.
“When people see me, they don’t really know that I’m from Africa,” Mougin said.
One day she was in Wal-Mart with her mother, who was speaking French with a friend. Another customer didn’t like it and made negative comments to Mougin, not realizing the insults were about her mother.
Mougin, who said Maine has “bi-polar weather” ranging from very warm to very cold, wants to return to Djibouti and to travel everywhere she can.
Ibrahim wants to travel too, especially to Australia and Canada.
Though she’s never met her grandparents in Kenya, she said she has no desire to go back “or anywhere that’s dangerous.”

Watch a short video with Djmal Maldoum :

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Saturday, September 16, 2017

The sting of pepper spray at St. Louis protest

Sydney Hallett /
Protesters use milk to treat a man who was pepper sprayed by police at a St. Louis protest on Friday. 

By Sydney Hallett
Senior Reporter
ST. LOUIS, Missouri, U.S.A. – I never thought a police officer would spray me in the face with pepper spray while I stood at a peaceful protest, but that is what happened to me Friday.
In St. Louis, and its suburbs, there’s tension between the police and the community, and many people believe the police abuse their power. The killing of black teenager Michael Brown three years ago by a white officer in nearby Ferguson ignited a violent response.
After the acquittal Friday of another white police officer who had faced murder charges in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man, people gathered at the court house to protest.
I went, too, to take part peacefully, and to document what happened.
The verdict came from the judge about 10 a.m. and that’s when people assembled around the courthouse to protest on a sweltering morning. I arrived about 12:30 p.m. and saw protesters, some lined up and others huddled together, on sidewalk and street in front of the building.
Sydney Hallett /
Protesters link arms in front of a bus in the street in St. Louis early in a long day of protests Friday.
There was no violence, but police were prepared with riot gear.
The first rounds of pepper spray came about 1 p.m. when about 30 officers on bicycles were using their bikes to push people to clear a path for a bus. They used pepper spray, arrested people, and used force.
I saw two plastic water bottles and another reusable water bottle thrown at the police, striking them from different directions. From what I saw, most protesters were peaceful and even yelled at the ones throwing things, telling them to leave.
Many protesters stood in a line, parallel to the officers in riot gear. They chanted, “No justice, no peace,” which was the slogan for the protest. There wasn’t violence the first time people lined up in front of the officers.
After the police moved the protesters from the street toward the courthouse – sort of containing the crowd with squad cars and lines of officers in riot gear – things were different. Police didn’t disturb the protest then.
In the center of a four-way intersection blocked off from traffic for the protest, protesters handed out food, water bottles, and other things people might need. People were chanting and taking care of each other. The people I met came from many different backgrounds and I found them insightful.
About 2:30, protesters began to move peacefully toward downtown. Traffic was stopped for us, but we maneuvered our way through the cars. There was no violence towards any pedestrians or cars. We were not on the highway.
Sydney Hallett /
St. Louis police officers protect the entrance to a bus about 1:15 p.m.
 At 5 p.m., we gathered by the courthouse again and stayed there. We were lined up in unison, and at that moment, I didn’t see many police officers in riot gear. There were police cars blocking the roads, stopping us from going any further.
One of the protesters approached a police officer and talked to him about everything that was  going on. A crowd gathered around. The man who was protesting and the police officer were both respectful towards each other.
But then we saw the officers in riot gear. They were dividing the crowd, turning what was a peaceful protest into a violent one. The protesters who got stuck on the other side were fleeing, but some weren’t able to make it out.
Sydney Hallett /
St. Louis police officers line up about 5 p.m., just before they divided the crowd of protesters.
An officer in riot gear tackled a small young woman to the ground. I don’t know why.
Most of the protesters were in the same part of the crowd as me. Like before, we linked arms parallel to the officers.
I thought they might have felt threatened. I was chanting, “this is a peaceful protest!” Others were chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot,” a popular slogan during the Ferguson protests.
Sydney Hallett after getting pepper sprayed
When I saw the officer in front of me pull out a can, I didn’t know what to expect. I had a towel on my arm, ready to help anybody who was about to get pepper sprayed. The last thing I expected was getting pepper sprayed myself. As I was chanting, “This was a peaceful protest,” the officer in front of me pepper sprayed the left side of my face.
I turned away from the police, screaming and feeling immediate pain in my face. I closed my eyes, losing sight of what was going on. My breathing hurt, my throat was tight, and I couldn’t help but cry.
I could feel someone move me away from the crowd, screaming, “We need a medic!”
It was the worst pain I had felt in my life. It affected all of my senses.
I was confused, angry, panicked, and passionate. We were peacefully protesting, and they decided to pepper spray a line of people who were doing absolutely nothing.
I didn’t understand.
In the past, when I read news stories of riots, I always thought protesters were the ones who started the violence. Now, in the protest that I was in, it was the police who incited the violence.
I was told to turn my head to the side as milk was poured onto my face. It burned more than anything. For 10 minutes, water and milk was poured on my face as someone grabbed an extra shirt from my bag and dabbed my face.
I’d brought a towel and extra clothes to help other people in need, but I couldn’t. I never knew that this would happen to me.
When I was finally able to settle down, I couldn’t help but go back to the front of the crowd. It seemed like the police hadn’t learned their mistakes in pepper spraying people. Instead, they threatened to chase everyone down. Every 20 minutes or so, the police threatened to chase everyone down, leading to widespread panic among protesters who turned and ran.
The protest was worth every second. The 90-degree weather, the pepper spray, and the solidarity of everyone in the crowd. Things in Missouri need to change if officers keep abusing their power and shooting people of color. This should not keep happening, but it does.
The protest shows that people care what happens in our government.
As a chant went during the protest: “This is what democracy looks like.”
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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Abolishing DACA targets innocents

By Garret Reich       
Senior Reporter
GLENWOOD, Iowa, U.S.A. – Until recently, DACA was just another acronym to me.
Before President Trump announced he would abolish this specific policy established by the Obama administration, I was unaware of its existence.
Now, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy is all over the news.
And I hope other students are learning about its significance as well.
For those also unknowing about DACA, this consequential act was initiated in 2012 under President Barack Obama. It was an approach designed for immigrants under the age of 31 whose parents illegally brought them to the United States before their 16th birthday.
Once vetted and accepted into the DACA program, they are able to obtain a work permit and avoid being deported for two years. At the completion of this two years, their case is re-evaluated to decide their continued stay.
This may seem basic – and possibly over-exaggerated – to Americans who have the right to live and work here without question.
Yet the instigation of DACA extended an opportunity for children brought illegally into the U.S. to have a chance at the “American” dream.
As a citizen born in this country, I’m always surprised by the hardships that immigrants and refugee families face.
My boss told me about moving here at age 12, speaking primarily Spanish. He then picked up English in school until he was fluent.
My co-workers and customers have similar biographies.
Some were brought to the U.S. as children, before they were aware of it. Others were separated from their friends and family as adolescents, and brought here for a better life.
There are many stories of legal relocations, but several also were initially brought here by their guardians in violation of immigration laws.
Naturally, the innate instinct of a parent is to protect their child and offer them the best life that is possible. With the adoption of DACA, the U.S. government recognized that children were facing the repercussions of their parent’s choices.
Now, with the eradication of this policy, nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” – young people here under the DACA program – could be deported.
Whether they’ve grown into adulthood or are still teenagers, many of these DACA recipients could be removed and sent away from the only life they know.
My hope is that others learn more about this program and defend DACA. The young people it protects are not criminals, but teenagers and young adults brought here in search of American opportunities.
The adults who brought them here may have broken the law, but punishing those not given the choice to move here is an unjust act upon humanity. 
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Monday, September 11, 2017

'Nae Nazis:' Scots use bagpipes to try to drown out anti-Islamic protests in Perth

Katy Lingwood /
Perth police stand in front of barricades Sunday while supporters of the Scottish Defence League behind them carried flags, including a Confederate flag, in protest of a new mosque in town.

By Beth Criado-Band
EDINBURGH, Scotland – In quiet Perth – a small city not used to being the center of attention –anti-fascist protesters used bagpipes to drown out a far-right group rallying in opposition to a new mosque in town.
The rally against the mosque was held by the Scottish Defence League. According to the Scottish Defence League 2 Facebook page, its mission is “to stop the Islamisation of Great Britain by peacefully protesting.”
In a video posted on the Scottish Defence League 2 Facebook page Sunday, its supporters are shown carrying a black flag that says “Scottish Defence League Anti-Antifa” and chanting, “No more refugees!”
Sam Baillie, a 21-year-old from Kirkcaldy who said he attended the event out of curiosity after reading about it on Facebook, said the anti-fascist protesters far outnumbered the anti-Islamic group.
Rather than inciting violence, organizers of the anti-fascist groups encouraged participants to bring musical instruments to drown out the anti-Islamic cries from the SDL.
Some did their best to drown out the Scottish Defence League with bagpipes. Others carried signs saying, “NAE Nazis,” using the Scottish word for “no.”
Photo by Sam Bailie; used with permission
Counter protesters carrying signs reading 'NAE
Nazis' and other anti-fascist  banners in Perth
on Sunday.
Despite pleas for a peaceful protest, not everyone limited themselves to bagpipes and signs.
Asked whether the counter demonstration had any violence, Baillie said, “For the most part, no. The police did a fantastic job and any violence was stopped immediately.”
But Baillie added, “That being said, I did give a man in a balaclava an anti-fascism sign, and later on, I saw him punch a guy outside Kwik Fit but this was stopped basically the second it started. Otherwise, nope. Some people were throwing eggs if that counts, but again that was stopped straight away.”
The anti-Islamic group arrived in Perth from across the country, to protest the building of a new mosque.
After the Scottish Defence League confirmed they were to protest in the center of Perth, locals started a new group, Perth Against Racism. That group’s Facebook page created the counter-protest event “Stand Up Against Racism and Fascism in Perth” which gave details of where, and when the counter-protests would occur.
According to a Scottish Defence League poster, they held the protest over the number of parking spaces the new mosque will have.
But according to a statement by Perth Against Racism on its Facebook page, there was more to it.
Photo by Sam Bailie; used with permission
Counter protesters gathered on a corner in Perth
with rainbow and Scottish flags.
“They claimed their demonstration was about concerns over parking at the site of the new Mosque – yet they came with flags emblazoned with Nazi insignia and flags of the confederacy, and signs emblazoned with slogans against refugees,” the statement says. “Their agenda was clear. Racism. Bigotry.”
In an unsigned response to a reporter’s message to the Scottish Defence League 2 Facebook page, a moderator called the rally “very successful.”
The response was to stand as a statement from the Scottish Defence League, the message said. The statement also said that their Facebook page includes the numeral 2 because Facebook deleted the first one, citing a breach of community standards because of a “ban the burka” photo.
Baillie said a lot of the Scottish Defence League supporters “got excited and hyped up over getting insulted and shouted at” by counter protesters.
“By the way some of them behaved, they enjoyed the hate,” Baillie said.

Editor's note: The story has been corrected to reflect that Baillie was an observer, not a counter-protester.
Take a look at video footage from the protest, provided by Sam Bailie:

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bella Skyway Festival lights up the night

Joanna Koter /
One of the art installations at the Bella Skyway Festival, a lights, art and music fest now going on in Toruń, Poland. 
By Joanna Koter
TORUŃ, Poland – Although Toruń is a popular tourist destination all year round, there is one week in the summer when its streets are filled to the brim until well after dawn.

You can walk around the Old Town all lit up and resounding with music, and all restaurants and bars are open longer than usual. This is because every year since 2009, the city hosts an international festival of light called Bella Skyway Festival.
This year, the festival is taking place over six days. It began Tuesday August 22nd and ends today, Sunday August 27.
Joanna Koter /
Tourists and locals visit the light festival throughtout the night in Old Town, Toruń.
The festival centers on the numerous pieces of installation art involving light, sound, and shapes. Artists from Poland and abroad prepared the installations.
The most popular art at the festival are colorful three-dimensional videos displayed on walls of historical gothic buildings, accompanied by music.
Joanna Koter /
One of the most popular types of art at the festival are lights projected onto Gothic buildings.
Joanna Koter /
Vendors sell an assortment of light toys.
Other work is also interesting and draws attention to some of the problems encountered by our planet in the 21st century. There are fluorescent puddles (H2SO2), which pinpoint the problem of contaminating water with toxic chemicals.
Another shows a futuristic gathering of brightly lit animal figures (oZoo), representing a new form of life which arose on Earth in the 23rd century, feeding off the remains of plastic left behind by humans.
The festival is incredibly popular both among tourists and Toruń residents.
Locals have an opportunity to see their city from a different side, as perhaps not everyone walks around the Old Town after dark.
Skyway also brings great revenue to local businesses, and new stalls pop up selling light toys and accessories, neon bracelets and hats, and various kinds of fair-style snacks.
The Bella Skyway Festival has become a compulsory part of Toruń’s cultural program for the year, and it will definitely prepare something great for next summer, when it will be celebrating its 10th edition. 
Joanna Koter /
The Bella Skyway Festival is finishing its ninth year.
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light up the world with their work. Make a contribution:

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Video: Restoring the Wildcat at age 90

Beth Criado-Band /
Part of the Wildcat, a 90-year-old wooden rollercoaster at Lake Compounce, silhouetted against the Connecticut sky.

Lake Compounce General Manager Jerry Brick explains to Youth Journalism International student reporters about the restoration work done this year on the Wildcat, the park’s historic wooden rollercoaster, now in its 90th year:

More on YJI's 2017 visit to Lake Compounce:

Young reporters visit oldest amusement park   Senior Videographer Beth Criado-Band of Perth, Scotland, decided to find out what the a top-ranked coaster was really like by asking a couple of experts - her fellow reporters. 

NavigatingCrocodile Cove: from high speed slides to gently floating on the Lazy River Read reporter Luke Ashworth’s top reasons why the water park Crocodile Cove is one of the coolest places at Lake Compounce.

Rollercoaster guide for scaredy cats   Reporter Mugdha Gurram offers 10 tips for how to conquer your fears and ride that coaster.

Lake Compounce proves memorable for first-time visitor from Ethiopia   Reporter Dawit Leake shares his first amusement park experience as a visitor from Ethiopia, sampling everything from the high speed coasters to a gentle water ride.

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