Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Gambian democracy brings economic relief

Abdoulie Jammeh /
New Gambian President Adama Barrow waves to the crowd at the ceremonial swearing in event at Independence Stadium.
By Lama Jallow
Senior Reporter
SERREKUNDA, The Gambia – Citizens here are happy to welcome the nation’s new president, Adama Barrow, and merchants are hopeful that the change will mean better relations with neighboring Senegal.
Ousainou Sallah of Senegal, operates a shop in the large regional market in Serrekunda and spoke about when the border between the two nations was closed under former President Yahya Jammeh.
"It was not just about business but safety,” Sallah said. “Peace which can determine free movement of goods and people, too, and if that is not there, then both countries will be at risk of endangering their citizens."
Geography plays a role.

Google maps
The country of Senegal borders The Gambia on all sides except for an Atlantic Ocean coastline.
Lama Jallow /
Gambian Momodou Baldeh
standing next to his shop in
the Serrekunda market.
"Senegal surrounds almost all parts of The Gambia except the coast and most of our goods are from there, said Momodou Baldeh, a Gambian who owns a shop in the same market. “So our governments must understand that we cannot be in a state of that kind. We are the same people and we can't live without each other."
President Adama Barrow defeated Jammeh in a December 1 election, sparking joy in the streets. But the nation grew tense when the longtime ruler refused to leave last month when it came time for Barrow to take office.
Barrow fled to Senegal and was sworn in as president at the Gambian embassy and Jammeh finally left after African leaders intervened and troops from the Economic Community of West African states entered Gambia to remove him by force.
After Barrow took the oath of office at a low-key event in Senegal due to the political instability in Gambia, people packed a stadium to celebrate their country’s 52nd year of independence and witness the ceremonial swearing in of the new president.
Lama Jallow /
The crowd outside the stadium, where posters
of the new president hang outside.
African heads of state and other friends of The Gambia attended the Feb. 18 ceremony to witness the birth of a new nation after 22 years of dictatorship under Jammeh, who has since left the country.
President Macky Sall of Senegal, who along with the international community, played a major role in helping The Gambia remain stable during the difficult days after the election, spoke strongly of the need for a better relationship between the two countries.
“We are the same people, and we remain the same people,” Sall said.
Lamin K. Darboe, a school teacher at Sanchaba Sulay Jobe Primary, went to the ceremony at Independence Stadium in the Westfield section of the city of Serrekunda.
“The tyranny is gone, the dictator is gone,” said Darboe.
In his speech to the people at the Independence Day ceremony last week, talked about the need for unity, the economy and the desperations of Gambians to see a better nation.
“This is a victory for democracy,” he said.
Abdoulie Jammeh /
President Adama Barrow (in white) toward the right of the frame, rides into the stadium waving to the crowd.

Barrow elaborated on the challenges his government will face.
“We have inherited an economy in decline,” said Barrow. He promised to convince investors to invest in the country especially in the technology sector, to introduce free primary education and reinforce the judiciary.
Though the national election divided the country along ethnic lines, Barrow condemned tribalism.
“All the tribes are equal and it’s one Gambia, one nation,” strongly condemning any form of tribalism. "Long live the republic. Long live the Gambian people. Forward ever, backward never."

Abdoulie Jammeh /
Gambian Vice President Fatoumata Tambajang at 
the ceremony.
After his historic upset over Jammeh, Barrow is reversing other decisions by the former leader. Barrow has freed political prisoners and returned The Gambia to the International Criminal Court. And the process is underway for Gambia to re-enter the Commonwealth after the former president cut ties last fall.
After more than two decades of dictatorship under Jammeh, the freedom Gambians so yearned for has arrived in a peaceful way.  Gambians in the Diaspora are already coming back home after some years in exile. Among them are journalists, musicians and politicians.
Democracy appears to be good for business and family stability, too, according to the two shopkeepers from the Serrekunda market.
Lama Jallow /
Ousainou Salla of Senegal, 
in the foreground, at his shop
in the market in The Gambia.
"My business, for example, was at risk, and if I am at risk, then my family is,” said Salla.
Baldeh said, "I hope and pray such things will not happen again. It was really tough for Gambians in particular, especially those who are poor.”
Those people couldn’t afford to keep paying expensive prices on goods, Baldeh said, and the prices kept on increasing every day.
With the closed border, Salla said he couldn’t send a good amount of money to help his family back in Senegal.
“I know it had bad effects on many families, too, from both countries,” said Salla. “So it's not in any way good to see these two countries in bad terms. We are far from that."
Baldeh praised the new leader.
"Barrow started well with the Senegalese government and I hope this will be a relationship that will stay forever," Baldeh said.
Abdoulie Jammeh /
The Gambian flag flies at 
Independence Stadium.
With the election behind them, Gambians are expecting more from a different government that will support democracy and build a better Gambia. They want to see employment opportunities to stop Gambian youth from leaving for Europe on dangerous journeys over the Mediterranean Sea in search of work.
Whether Barrow and his cabinet can meet their expectations won’t be clear right away, but the new leader set a limit of just three years before Gambia’s next presidential election.
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Thursday, February 16, 2017

YJI statement on immigration policy

A core principle of Youth Journalism International’s mission statement is that it “fosters cross-cultural understanding.” Understanding starts with open minds and hearts, not fences and walls. In furtherance of its mission, and in recognition of the value of diversity, YJI is proud to count Muslims among its current students and alumni. As an organization, YJI stands against any immigration policy which by implication or operation discriminates against Muslims or any other group. Such a policy stands in opposition to our mission statement. It only further deepens divides in our country and society, and darkens the shining beacon that the United States has been as a symbol of liberty and freedom.

Unanimously adopted, YJI Board of Directors, Feb. 16, 2017

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The bells of St. Valentine ring with love

Mary Ngozi /
The market in Nsukka, Nigeria.
By Mary Ngozi
Junior Reporter
NSUKKA, Nigeria – The Valentine's Day bell rung loudly as the priest wished all the congregation happy Valentine's Day.
He stressed the unfailing love of God for all creation and repeated the message to always live love, touch love and see love in all humans.
The bell continued to ring as I reached the market, where happy Valentine's Day greetings could be heard. I offered Valentine’s wishes to every customer and the bell didn't stop when I received a lovely rose from a dear friend.
From my heart I want to ring my own Valentine's bell to my brothers and sisters in need – the  oppressed, depressed, poor and sick.
My bell sings “I love you” to prisoners, the handicapped, the orphans, the homeless, the sick, the cheated, the wounded, the lost ones. It urges strength to those who are tired of life, to not give up because it is not over yet.
To all living, I love you.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
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St. Valentine would approve.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Women are finally playing by Aussie rules

Alyce Collett /
A moment at the Melbourne vs. Brisbane Women's Australian Football League game on Sunday.

By Alyce Collett
MELBOURNE, Australia – The national Women's Australian Football League made history over the weekend with the inaugural rounds taking place on the continent.
This may not seem historic at first, but when you consider the history and sacrifices that were made to get to this point, you realize how significant it is.
Let me give you a little history lesson to begin with. Although the men’s Australian Football League has existed in one form or another for 159 years, women have never had these opportunities. Until now.
The journey to a national league for women began in 2013, when the first exhibition match of the best female footballers from across the country took place at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Two teams representing two of the Victorian clubs from the Australian Football League faced off in that match.
Since then, the support for women’s footy and for a national league has grown. Finally, two years ago, the Australian Football League Commission did something about it and announced that there would finally be a national competition.
The original goal was to have a league by 2020, but Gillon McLachlan, the chief executive officer of the Australian Football League, announced that the goal had been changed to 2017.
In mid-2016, the first announcement about the structure of the new competition was made, with the naming the eight clubs that would be competing in the inaugural season. Further steps, such as the draft and fixture release, came in the subsequent months and it all culminated in the first round of matches this past weekend.
The first game was on Friday, and was between two clubs that have been rivals for a long time in the men’s competition, Carlton Blues and Collingwood Magpies. Collingwood was never in the match, though, as the Blues side dominated from the outset.
They were originally going to play the match at Collingwood’s home ground, but when the Australian Football League realized that a bigger than capacity crowd was expected, they moved the match to Carlton’s home ground, which is larger.
This proved to be a good move, as it became a lock-out crowd early on in the evening, which means they had to physically lock the gates and not let any more spectators inside. Even so, there were still long lines of people trying to get into the ground. This is a testament to both clubs and the interest in the new competition.
Saturday saw two matches take place, one in the Western suburbs of Melbourne and the other in the heart of Adelaide. In Adelaide, a smaller but still healthy crowd of 9,000 saw the home side the Adelaide Crows register a comfortable win over their less fancied opposition, the Greater Western Sydney Giants.
The Giants were never in the match, not even registering a goal on the scoreboard until well into the second half.
Meanwhile, game three of the weekend saw a match between two teams that began the match as flag favorites, Fremantle and the Western Bulldogs. Like in the previous two matches, the Bulldogs on the home side dominated, beating Fremantle comfortably. This game saw a near capacity crowd, which continued the trend from the previous matches.
Sunday‘s one match rounded out the weekend, and it took place in Melbourne’s southeastern suburbs between the Melbourne Demons and the Brisbane Lions. In wet conditions, it was the Lions who took the four points in an upset. The game actually had to be delayed just before half time due to a lightning storm, and the Demons were looking like the more dominant side before the interruption. After the interruption, the Lions dominated and ran away with the match, taking a 15 point win.
So as you can see, the first round of the new women’s football season was a roaring success. The crowds were massive, the television ratings were very high – on par with the men’s matches – and the matches were good quality contests.
The scores weren’t high, but there are many factors, such as nerves, that probably affected the scores. There’s a good chance that the scores will increase as the season goes on.
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Thursday, February 2, 2017

'T2 Trainspotting' is a dangerous, tender trip down memory lane

From the official Facebook page for T2 Trainspotting
T2 Trainspotting is out now in theaters in the UK and will be on screens in the U.S. next month.

By Beth Criado-Band
Junior Reporter
EDINBURGH, Scotland, U.K. – Walking into the cinema, I saw a number of lone, late-30-to 40-somethings already in their seats for T2 Trainspotting, the sequel to Trainspotting, the 1996 film on Scotland’s drug scene.
The trailer for looked as energetic as the first film, I reminded myself.
But as the pre-movie advertisements started screening, the doubts about this sequel to my favorite film had already been cast. Did I really want to revisit these characters now they’re old?
Those doubts were thrown out the window within the first few minutes of the film. T2 is almost as outrageous as Trainspotting, filled with the same amount of profanity, sex, violence, drugs and drama as the original, without trying too hard.
Director Danny Boyle focused on making sure that T2 was relevant, and unique from the original. It made an attempt to put the action in the present day, but there weren’t a lot of references to contemporary events. For example, there was no mentioning of Brexit or even the Scottish independence movement, though the Scottish government didn’t exist when the original film came out.
This is all especially strange when Mark (Ewan McGregor) and Simon (Jonny Lee Miller) receive £100,000 in funding from the EU for their sauna/brothel business venture.
It did make reference to legal highs (though they’ve past their peak in the UK), and different social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) in the updated “Choose Life” rant, though that came off as a bit cheesy.
The persistent references to the original film also grew tiresome. On certain occasions, it worked well – such as the scene in the club where Mark gags at the sight of a dirty toilet. But other times, the audience could make the visual or audible connection without needing flashbacks.
Recreating moments didn’t make sense or add to the story. The most notable example of this was the scene where Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is chasing Mark, trying to kill him, in a multi-story car park. Mark – while running for his life – stops after falling off the car to laugh at the driver; recreating a shot from the first film.
But the inclusion of the shot made no sense, and I was internally screaming at Mark to just keep running, rather than basking in the nostalgia of the moment.
Lastly, although Diane (Kelly Macdonald) features in the trailer, she doesn’t add to the story at all. She makes a minor appearance, for less than five minutes, representing Simon for his blackmailing and cocaine possession court case. Despite her brilliance, Diane is reduced to a minor part of a subplot that doesn’t get furthered, or even mentioned again after the meeting.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved it. It’s not the fast-paced, edgy, youthful piece of genius that Trainspotting was, but I enjoyed the nostalgia. The characters have aged, having grown up into ‘proper adults.’ Maybe not for the best – Simon became more bitter and arrogant, and Begbie more unstable and violent – but it’s understandable given the way the last 20 years have treated them.
Simon manages to sum up the film with: “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here. You’re a tourist in your own youth.” He says this in a scene to Mark, scornfully, but I have no issue with nostalgia. Perhaps it didn’t have the best storyline, but the character development, their relationships and drama were entirely worth it.
T2 turned out to be exciting and dangerous, but also tender and emotional. There were times when I laughed, cried, and cried laughing. It might not have been perfect, but it certainly was touching.

T2 Trainspotting came out in UK cinemas on January 27, and U.S. cinemas will have it March 17.
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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Illinois teen wears a hijab, and invites everyone to try it, just for one day
A small number of the Muslim students at victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, Illinois, include, from left, Esraa Gomaa, Jameela Yasmin, Ayaa Kanan, Diana Awawdeh, Danya Abuawad, Tesneem Abdelkhaliq and Jenna Ahmad.
By Diana Awawdeh
TINLEY PARK, Illinois, U.S.A. – A hijab, or head scarf, is not meant protect men but to honor women. It is not just what you’re wearing but it's also what you do and say.
It’s who you are.
World Hijab Day is to represent and support Muslim women who wear the hijab. Anyone can wear the hijab for a day on February 1st  to support and represent these women. You don’t need to be religious or a Muslim to do it.
New Yorker Nazma Khan founded National Hijab Day, which was first celebrated in New York in 2013.
Last year, people in 150 nations took part in World Hijab Day, according to the event website, Organizers are expecting participation from people in 190 countries this year.

When I began to wear the hijab, I was 15 years old and it was my choice. Nobody ever told me to wear it or forced me to wear it. My parents made sure when I wore it, I was comfortable and happy in it.
I wear it every day and only around people who aren’t related to me. I can take it off at home and around my female friends and my family.
Some people think the hijab oppresses women. Technically it's not. It gives women freedom to try to be whatever they would like in a career or hobby.

Islam doesn’t have any rule that specifically tells women not to work in an environment because of her gender or her clothes. Islam isn’t oppressing anyone and is welcoming and gentle.
Let me tell you something. Since July 21st, 2013 – the first day I wore it – I am still in love with my hijab and will always be.
My hijab gave me strength and confidence, and I always lacked confidence. As a Muslim American, I wore my hijab to express my beliefs and to show the world what the hijab really is. Wearing the hijab is my decision alone.
With a hijab, Muslim women can express our beauty and let people know that we are not oppressed but instead living with freedom and happiness.

With all the anti-Muslim sentiment coming from all over the country and especially the man sitting in the White House, you may think that I have second thoughts about my hijab and keeping my religion private.
I did not, surprisingly.  I never had any hesitation about wearing my hijab or being open about my faith. I'm always proud and never afraid to show it.
As a Muslim in today's society, you can't be weak. You have to stay strong and keep your head up. There may be people who are bigots, but then you will find people who have your back and stand up for you.
Knowing there are people out there in the United States who show their love towards us and don’t judge us makes me happy and stronger.

After President Trump signed the executive order creating the “Muslim Ban” that restricts people from seven mostly Muslim nations from entry into the U.S., thousands of people across the country protested it.
No matter what role you have in life, what race you are, whether you are Republican or Democrat, a celebrity, a billionaire or a regular student or working person, we all need to fight together against discrimination. It will make us stronger and keep our heads up high.

To my Muslim sisters: never hesitate to wear your hijab. It makes you stronger and beautiful.
As a Hijabi (a women who wears a headscarf called a hijab for religious beliefs), I chose to become a fashion and lifestyle blogger and YouTuber, so I can show the world what the hijab really is and how beautiful it is. It’s my way to prove to the whole world that just adding a piece of cloth to your head does not make you different.
When they see on the internet what the hijab is, people become more familiar with it and view it no differently than other fashions or styles.  A hijab embraces the beauty of a woman and shows the world how she is just as beautiful as a woman who is not wearing one.
The color of our skin, hair or eyes, or our choice of clothes doesn't change who we really are deep inside. We are all human beings.
What do you think? Will you stand in solidarity with me and my Muslim sisters by wearing the hijab for one day on February 1?
With all the modesty and respect you get as a Hijabi, you would feel like a queen and that your hijab is your crown.
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Monday, January 30, 2017

Muslim ban breaks America's promise
The Statue of Liberty, as seen from New York harbor, has long been a beacon of hope to American immigrants and refugees.
By Mugdha Gurram
Senior Reporter
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. –  That promise of open arms, engraved on the Statue of Liberty, rings empty in the ears of immigrants and refugees now.
On Friday, January 27th, President Trump signed an Executive Order stopping immigrants and refugees from seven Muslim countries entering the United States.
Following through on promises he made during his campaign, Trump implemented the ban with the intention of decreasing acts of terror, the blame for which he placed upon the Muslim community.
It was an action rooted in hatred, fear, and cowardice.
The Trump administration fails to see the humanity in an issue that is at its core about humanity.
Immigrants and refugees are not statistics. They are not “this percentage” terrorist and “that percentage” job stealers. They are people who are fighting for hope and opportunity, people fleeing injustice and persecution. They are people seeking the open arms promised at America’s gates, the home promised by words engraved on the Statue of Liberty. They are people who have faced threat after threat only to be accused of being one themselves.
As an immigrant, I can say proudly that we understand and embody American values just as well, if not better, than many native-born Americans. Because being an immigrant is not easy. You do not just get to just hop on a plane and fly to America on a whim. It takes time and money and grit and patience. You have to fight be an immigrant. You sign document after document, wait year after year, invest thousands after thousands to arrive and do it all again just to stay here.
Immigration is not a process for the faint of heart. It takes people away from their family, their homeland, from everything they’ve ever known and tosses them into a sea of uncertainty.
But immigrants do it anyways. Why? Because we believe in American values. We believe in the freedom, hope, and opportunity promised by the United States.
No race, faith, or nationality keeps an immigrant from believing in that promise. And for that reason, no race, faith, or nationality should keep an immigrant from their rightful place in America.
I fail to see how any proponent of American values can support this Muslim ban. How can someone who claims to celebrate freedom deny it to those who seek it? How can someone who claims to support equality deny it to those they deem lesser?
My heart breaks on behalf of all those who overcame barrier after barrier just to be stopped at the finish line. Those who have come running into the open arms of a nation should not have to see it turns its back at the last second.
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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Celebrating the Year of the Golden Rooster

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
This is the Year of the Golden Rooster in the Chinese zodiac calendar. Effigies of roosters are omnipresent in Singapore's Chinatown for the Lunar New Year celebration.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
Thousands of people filled up the streets and alleyways of Singapore's Chinatown on the eve of the Lunar New Year.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
The color red is ubiquitous during the Lunar New Year period, as it's seen as an auspicious color in Chinese culture. These lanterns are hung on strings along the streets of Singapore, illuminating the path below.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
Workers selling sweets at the Lunar New Year Night Market at Chinatown, Singapore.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
Giving sweets to loved ones is a Lunar New Year tradition. In multi-cultural Singapore, citizens of every ethnicity join in, giving gifts to their Chinese friends and money in red packets (Ang Pows) to children.

Selvaganeshamoorthi Balakrishnan /
Colored flower lanterns and other decorations for the Lunar New Year brighten a roadway in Singapore.
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Monday, January 23, 2017

Teen journalists and teachers, it's time to enter your work in YJI's 2017 contest
Trophies from Youth Journalism International's 2016 Excellence in Journalism contest.
WEST HARTFORD, Conn., U.S.A.  –  January 23, 2017 - Connecticut-based non-profit organization Youth Journalism International is hosting its eighth annual Excellence in Journalism contest, the largest in the world for English language work published by amateur journalists aged 19 or younger. The event aims to further YJI’s mission of promoting a free youth press, fostering cross-cultural understanding and showcasing the voices of the next generation. In the contest, original content published in 2016 will be judged by professional journalists, educators and experts in related fields. The deadline for entry is 11:30PM EST on Feb. 3, 2017 (see rules for details).
The international contest features “High Honors” prizes in more than 20 specific categories, including individual and team reporting, sports journalism, multimedia, reviews and more. In addition, five “Highest Honors” prizes recognize outstanding commitment to key values of journalism as well as journalism education. Winners receive YJI prizes and often receive acknowledgements from local and national/international news outlets as well.
Photo provided
Francisco Martinez of the Alaska Teen Media Institute won the 2016 Frank Keegan "Take No Prisoners" Award for News for his story on a new drug, spice, that was sweeping his community.
This year, “Technology” has been added as a category for High Honors prizes, in recognition of the profound impact that technological advances have had and will continue to have on the world around us. Another change is the expansion of the “Sports” category definition to include “Esports,” or professional video gaming. Work in any journalistic medium that focuses on Esports is officially included in its respective Sports category. For example, an Esports photo submission would be judged alongside Sports photos and receive a Sports category prize.
“Youth Journalism International is dedicated to providing next-generation resources and community for thousands of young aspiring journalists across the globe,” said YJI Executive Director and veteran journalist Jackie Majerus. “From our beginnings as a teen newspaper in 1994, we have served as a platform for young people to hone their reporting skills and collaborate online and in-person to see their perspectives impact the world. Our annual contest is a celebrated part of recognizing and encouraging that work.”
The 2016 YJI Excellence in Journalism contest saw nearly 100 winners in 19 U.S. states and nine nations across five continents. Students and student publications in middle schools, high schools and universities were recognized for original content ranging from reporting on local drug addiction epidemics to features on discrimination against LGBT teens to photo essays about India.
The contest’s coveted Courage in Journalism award has been given to young journalists who investigated teen murder and rape in Ethiopia, overcame challenges to launch independent, internationally-flavored news sites and more.
“The truth is, YJI saved my life,” wrote former YJI reporter Jessica Elsayed, winner of the first Courage in Journalism prize in 2011 for her coverage of the Arab Spring in Egypt. “It showed me that that I, like all youth, have respectable thoughts that, when put into writing, are priceless.” Elsayed went on to graduate from Denison University in Ohio, U.S.A. and become an AmeriCorps member who currently works in Community Refugee and Immigration Services in Columbus, Ohio.
Previous contests and winners have been highlighted by NPR, NBC affiliates, the Journalism Education Association,, the International Journalists Network and many other notable organizations and publications. Winners have gone on to attend some of the world’s most prestigious post secondary schools and some are professional journalists.
About Youth Journalism International
The genesis of YJI traces back to 1994, when Majerus and YJI board President Steve Collins started a teen publication in Bristol, Connecticut called The Tattoo. When The Tattoo went online in 1996 as the first website devoted entirely to student journalism, it sparked keen domestic and international interest, which led to YJI’s formal incorporation in 2007. As YJI’s network grew to more than 200 students in dozens of countries (and more on the waiting list), the platform has featured eyewitness reporting on nearly every major story of the past decade worldwide; YJI reporters have attended press events by international journalism outlets like ESPN, interviewed the Dalai Lama and more. Visit YJI at and on Facebook at

Jackie Majerus
Executive Director
Youth Journalism International

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