Sunday, August 29, 2010

Five years after Hurricane Katrina

On the day that Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 1995, a St. Bernard Parish teen named Samantha Perez began writing a journal of what the killer storm did to her life. When she started it, five years ago today, the winds still howled and the rain still fell. None of us knew what was really happening in her hometown just outside of New Orleans but it looked pretty bad. It turned out, of course, that our fears were justified.
What follows is the first day of Perez's journal, but there are many, many others that followed, detailing what it was like for a brilliant and brave young woman following a modern day odyssey. We strongly urge you to grab a box of Kleenex, clear a few hours and read what it was really like.
Here's the first installment:
Last days in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana
By Samantha Perez
Monday – Bossier City , Louisiana (5:25 pm) --  I guess that, in the long run, my dress won’t matter much.  
It was a pretty dress, though, and even though I haven’t cried yet over what’s happened, I know that when I do cry, it will be because I lost my pretty dress.  
It sounds petty, and in your minds the stereotype of this girly, popular, cheerleader will come into your head: gorgeous, blond hair with bright blue eyes, nice makeup, with long eyelashes that never have tears on them to mess up mascara.  
That’s not the person I am.  I’m not pumped full of estrogen. I’m not a cheerleader. I don’t have blond hair. But, I will miss my dress….  
I was going to wear it to my senior prom this year. It was strapless, this beautiful shade of pastel pink. A band of material crossed the dress at the top, a pearly, pearly white.  Pearly white flowers were printed on my dress and I loved it more than anything else in my whole room.  
I didn’t really dream of the prom, wearing my dress for that night. I dreamed of just wearing it and stepping into my living room, thick brown carpet beneath pretty white shoes. Shelby, the boy I’ve fallen madly in love with, would be waiting, looking at the giant, 11x17 pictures of me as a baby hanging on my wooden paneled wall.  
When I walked in, he’d look at me with those eyes and I know that he would be thinking that I’m beautiful.  
Maybe I loved the image of that more than I loved the dress, but the dress symbolized that fantasy, and right now, I’d give anything in the world to live in that moment for the rest of my life. Then again, maybe I just loved the dress, but that image and that dress both belong to an old world that doesn’t exist anymore.  
That dress, those pictures of me, that thick brown carpet … it’s all gone now, because Hurricane Katrina took it all away.  
I lived in a place called St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana, a town just southeast of New Orleans. I say that I lived there, because I don’t anymore. I don’t live anywhere. Currently, I’m in a hotel room in Bossier City , four miles outside of Shreveport , Louisiana , nine hours away from my home – my home that doesn’t exist.  
Four days ago, Friday afternoon, I had no idea that this was going to happen. I woke up Friday morning and went to school. We had a Creative Writing meeting during lunch, and my friend Jenny Mae and I went. I was elected Editor-in-Chief unopposed.  Everyone knows that I’m a writer. After the meeting, we ate hotdogs for lunch in the cafeteria, but the hotdogs tasted funny — kind of chewy — so we only ate a few bites.
That’s the last time I ate.  
Friday night, I had to go to my school’s first football game of the season. My friend Leanne and I are in the band. We both play flute, but I play piccolo for marching band. We’re both seniors in high school and this weekend was supposed to be our senior retreat, an overnight “bonding experience” for the senior class.  
Leanne and I talked the whole game, mostly about the retreat: how boring it was going to be and how we still needed to pack for it when we got home. We talked about how we were going to just bring two pairs of clothes and a bathing suit. We would be packing light so there would only be a little to haul with us. I was going to sneak my MP3 player, even though they weren’t allowed.  
Our friend Chris came over to sit by us near the end of the game. Chris is just a sophomore, but he’s funny and makes Leanne extremely happy. Leanne, of course, likes him a lot and when the other girls came to sit by him, she was more than a little jealous.  
We lost the game, naturally, but we were happy then. Who knew that in a few days the stadium we were sitting in would be under water.  
Leanne and Chris decided to go by her house after the game and they asked me to come, but I decided to go home and pack for the retreat. I walked towards the parking lot with the new tuba player and his mother. She asked about the senior retreat and mentioned, slightly worriedly, that a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico might be coming our way.  
Not a big deal, I thought. August and September are the worst months of hurricane season, but I’d been busy with school so I’d only heard a little about hurricane Katrina. I knew that it had passed over Florida but not much more than that. I doubted it would be anything major. After all, the retreat wasn’t even cancelled. How bad could it possibly be?  
I talked about it with my mom when I reached home, in Violet, part of St. Bernard. Most of the family lives in Violet and we’re no exception. My mom said that the retreat was still scheduled, so I should just pack for it and we’d see what the hurricane was going to do in the morning. The hurricane was still too far away to predict its path with any accuracy. Dad called from his work (he had the night shift) and suggested evacuating. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Since hurricane Ivan last year, he’d been fairly paranoid about hurricanes.  
So Friday night was a night I spent packing for my senior retreat, which of course was going to be boring, and getting a few items of clothing ready, in case of that unlikely possibility of evacuation.  
By Saturday morning, the hurricane’s projected path showed New Orleans getting a direct hit.  
Mom called the school. The retreat was cancelled. Dad doubled the efforts of his evacuation campaign. I filled a Rubbermaid container with my clothes, emptying my closet and throwing everything into a container. I spend most of the day on the internet, getting information from my friends and giving it. Everyone planned to depart, but my family rarely ever leaves for a hurricane. We ride hurricanes out. It’s what we do. My family and our relatives are linked to our parish. We don’t like to leave it.  
However, by Saturday night, the decision had been made: we had to leave. Hurricane Katrina was now a category four -- and it was coming straight for the city. We needed get out of the parish.  
My Aunt Tudy had made calls and gotten the family a number of rooms in a hotel just outside of Shreveport , Louisiana , in a place called Bossier City.  Mom was upset because she did not want to leave our home and she especially did not want to go to a hotel in Bossier City that allowed pets. She and dad fought a lot that night, and a good bit of their anger was taken out on me.  
I finished packing all of my clothes into the Rubbermaid container. I filled it to the top. I found two old Jansport backpacks, one bright red, one a deep, wine red. I found my notebooks of poems and stories and drawings, and I put them in. I put in the little book my dad and I wrote when I was just 6 years old, about how Super Sam had to save Barbie and Ken from a ghost. I saved my disks of my stories, because I would not be able to bring the tower of my computer with me. I took my books, my precious books, off my shelves and stacked them high in my room so just in case we did get water, they would be safe. I filled two backpacks with the things that were important to me. I put them in my room and stacked everything atop my desk, bookshelf and dresser, so it would all be safe.  
I looked at my pretty dress a lot that night. It was just hanging in my near-empty closet. I wanted to bring it so badly, but mama said no. No room for dresses.  
Besides, mama was hoping so much that we would be safe. New Orleans take a direct hit? No. Never! Betsy was bad enough. My grandmother stayed for Betsy in 1965 and I’ve heard stories of that hurricane my whole life. I grew up hearing tales of people hacking away at their roofs with axes, cutting holes into their roofs so that they could squeeze out to safety, fleeing from the water flooding their home. I heard about feet of mud waited for people in their destroyed homes. The parish was devastated.   
My dad went to work Saturday night and the oil refinery in the parish at which he worked was shut down for the hurricane. I had piled everything onto my bed, just in case we did get some water. I slept that night on the floor, my cell phone plugged into the charger.  We were planning on giving it to my mother’s parents, because they were evacuating too but have no cell phone. I slept on my thick brown carpet, my sky blue robe as a blanket and my stuffed bear that Shelby gave me as a pillow.  
I thought about driving all that time in a car, leaving for Shreveport . I wished Shelby were there, I know, because I’m always wishing Shelby were here since he left me this summer. I have plenty friends at school and in the parish, but none that I tell everything to. Shelby was the only person that ever loved me for me, who was ever there for me, and as I sat on my floor, picking things up at two in the morning and making sure that they would be safe, I wished more than anything that he would come back to me.  
We’re still friends, I guess, but now he’s not here for me in the way I need him. We were together for so long and I haven’t stopped loving him. I curled up on the floor. I found a note he’d written me months ago in my nightstand drawer as I was searching for things to pack. The air conditioner kicked on, and I pulled my feet under the robe.  
Dear Sam, I love you, you know. I’m here for you whenever you need me. You should get some rest, ok? I love you, and I care about you so much. I’m here whenever you need me. I love you, baby girl. Your Shelby  
At two in the morning, it was cold, and I wanted to cry because I needed my Shelby back to me. Part of me was just so tired, but another part of me was scared about what was going to happen. Two backpacks were full of the things I wanted to bring, and all my books were stacked against the wall, high where they would be safe.  We were really going to evacuate. For only the second time in my life, I was going to leave my home for a hurricane. I looked at everything stacked on my bed.  I didn’t want to leave. I fell asleep on my bedroom floor, looking up at my ceiling and holding the note tight in my hand.  
More than anything, I wished that I could bring with me my pretty, pretty dress.
In better times, Samantha Perez in her pink dress.

Read the entire Hurricane Journal by following this link.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Ramadan, Day 16: Muse

The most amazing part of a Ramadan day is the few minutes right before sunset.

I almost always spend this time at my window where I watch the sky turn different shades of pink and orange.

The streets are completely empty at this time, and if you listen closely, you can hear plates and pots being put on tables. At the very moment the sun sets, the azan, which is the call to prayer, resonates loud in Alexandria.

Mosque by mosque, the azan marks the time to break the fast. My musing is soon to be interrupted by my brother’s loud run to the kitchen, so I go, too. All I can think about these days is after 16 days of being connected with my family again – even if only at iftar, when we break the fast – is what is going to happen after Ramadan when life revolves around life again, like school and work and schedules.

It’s ironic how much we worry about life when it really is just a temporary state.

Of course we should work to make that temporary stay as pleasant and fruitful as possible, but really, when was the last time you took the time to reflect and think about how you can be happy using what you have?

Make the most of anything you already have.

That’s what I’ve learned the past few days. Going to pray with my 10-year-old sister, I realized that she can be my friend despite her age. I’ve revived friendships with people who have always been my friend.

I’m going to miss Ramadan so much. And I pray more than anything that I can stay focused after Ramadan on what is really important, that I can see priorities without getting lost in the worries of studying and relationships and just life.

I have a friend who always tells me that I contradict myself, that I call on people to reflect and take things simply when I spend so much time talking about the complexities in the world.

How is that I can sit at peace with myself and others while I’m talking about the war and injustice? Unfortunately, I don’t have an explanation for this.

I do know, though, that the last 10 days of Ramadan are coming up in four days. The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially sacred.

It is said that there is one night in those 10 days – but we don’t know which one – that if you pray, that prayer is surely to be answered and the supplicant forgiven of his sins and guaranteed heaven.

I will write more on this in a further entry, but for now, I would like to remind everyone to keep Pakistan in their prayers.

Thousands of families are now homeless and stranded because of the flooding there, and they need any help they can get.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ramadan, Day 10: So, How Do We Do It?

Ladies and gentlemen, first my apologizes for keeping you waiting. Today I’m going to answer a question others and occasionally I ask; how do they do it?

How do Muslims go without food or drink from around 4 a.m. until about 6:40 p.m. every day for a month?

The answer is not as simple as I wish it could be. We can start, of course, with the fact that our bodies can handle it. Biologically, it’s possible.

If I were any good at biology, I’d explain further how this works. But our bodies, at least mine and those of most people I know, love the fasting.

Yes it is hard, mostly at first, but then you get used to it. Most families train their children early on to fast at least a few hours. They aren’t obliged to, but they tend to want to do it.

My little sister fasted all month last year and she was nine, and my brother is fasting with us this year and he is eight. He does complain occasionally, but he always seems to do so a few minutes before sundown, which my mother uses as an opportunity to teach him patience.

See, it’s not that painstaking. Think of it in a “if there’s a will there’s a way,” way. We want to please God in this month and it is obligatory for those capable of fasting to fast.

In the Arab world, most people step up to their obligation and responsibility and when one does so it seems that any hardship fades. Almost no one wakes up too lazy to fast or just not in the mood.

Consider also the epic heat we are having these days, when the average temperature here in Alexandria, Egypt is 30 degrees Celsius (that’s 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and it’s only that cool because it’s a coastal city.

I cannot say for others how they cope with the thirst or hunger, but I know for myself that when I feel that rumble in my tummy, I think about the people who feel the same but won’t have food to eat in a few hours.

My mother always tells how happy God is with us when we put an effort to withstand something for his sake and that makes me and my sister even happier to fast.

There are people out there plowing the sides of the Nile in the scorching heat and yes, they too are fasting. Sometimes I think about how they do it. And when my brain is sore from finding an answer, I reach just one conclusion- they just do it. It is almost as if God gives us this magical super-ability to take it and really around the fifth day it’s routine and nothing outstanding.

Ladies and gentlemen, do not forget that we rampage the dinner table at sunset and ravenously attack dessert for sugar later on. Of course Ramadan is supposed to be a humbling month of moderation but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a lot of the people here consider Ramadan a month of eating, not fasting.

It’s kind of like trading the giving spirit of Christmas for the gift obsessive spirit of those who don’t understand Christmas.

Also we always have a meal right before dawn which keeps us going throughout the day. In Egypt, many, many people like to eat a meal of beans and bread. They say it gives them enough energy to work for the day. We also make sure we drink a lot of liquids.

Egyptians who feel water is tasteless drink karakadeh (hibiscus flower drink) or kharroub (carob fruit drink) and just normal orange or mango juice.

Personally, I need my cup of coffee. Yes, sounds like I’m a coffeeholic but seriously, I can’t go without it. That’s worse than scorching heat or thirst.

I hope this made at least some sense and answered the question of how we handle being hungry or thirsty during fasting Ramadan.

Finally, I want to say that Youth Journalism International really is the greatest youth journalism in the world. I love the fact this is a platform to connect with the rest of the world.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Ramadan Journal -- Day 7 -- Time flies

A week passed. I didn’t feel a thing, though. I don’t think anyone did.

It's unexplainable how quickly time passes when you’re so consumed.

Any typical school week would have taken ages to pass. You know that “when will this end” feeling you get by the time Wednesday arrives?

For some reason that doesn’t happen in Ramadan. It’s almost like every second is blessed. 

Needless to say, the peaceful spirit is starting to sink in.

I think I ate too much for iftar (breaking the fast meal) so I’m in this couch potato mood.

Nothing interesting for today, but stay tuned for pictures of the traditional Ramadan desserts, kunafa, atayef and more.

In the meantime check out this cool Muslim dude, Kareem Salama.

He's an Arab American country singer. I love how he uses music to build bridges. Here's a link to one of his really pretty songs. 

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ramadan Journal - Day 5 - To mosque or not to mosque

What’s worse than not knowing what to do is not knowing what to think.
Any newspaper reading person will come across the fight to stop the building of a Muslim community center – which would include a mosque, a library, a gym, an auditorium and a restaurant – two blocks from Ground Zero.
At first, I felt torn about the proposal.
There are obviously two ways to see this and both make sense.
But I have decided to take a stand. To fulfill the dream of making the United States a tolerant, loving place for all races and religions, this center must be built.
Thinking about this further will even bring one to the conclusion that this “sensitive” location is perfect. It’s exactly where it should be.
Now there are a plethora of rants against this from regular citizens and government officials alike.
It’s of no surprise that Sarah Palin, the Republican 2008 U.S. vice presidential candidate, sent a tweet insisting, “Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.”
This is just one of the rants, though it is extremely polite.
Of course there are others that aree downright offensive.
Consider this, for example, from Slate:
Rick Lazio, New York's leading Republican candidate for governor, held a press conference to decry the project. He framed it as a threat to New Yorkers' "personal security and safety." Then he stood proudly beside Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, as she accused Rauf of hatching the mosque plot "to bring people to Islam" and create "a Muslim-dominant America." Burlingame said "creating an Islamic presence" near Ground Zero would serve as propaganda for "people who want to hurt this country."
I wish I could tell Mr. Rick Lazio that during my father’s 25 years in the U.S, where he worked hard and struggled to make a good living, he was never a threat to anyone’s personal security and safety.
Nor was my uncle and his family who continue to live in the California ever think about hurting this country—the  country that made him.
Now since it’s a Holy Month and a time to reflect and have at least some peace of mind, I didn’t read too many of the negative online comments abou the plan, but here is an example of what people think:
C'mon. This isn't a mosque. Or a cultural center. It's a shrine. Sure they have a right to build a shrine to their heros. Go ahead, and good luck with that.
Dear Rbrown, you spelled heroes wrong.

There really isn’t much to say about this. I understand where the opposing viewpoint is coming from.

I mean if some sick person who belonged to the religion Cupcake (for example) threw cupcake bombs in my neighborhood and then the non-sick Cupcakians decided to build a Cupcake Center in that same neighborhood in an attempt to mend their tarnished image I’d have at least some doubts.

Yet, they have to start somewhere, right?

I don’t know. I don’t want to say arguing for this is close to useless but President Barack Obama supports the right for mosque near Ground Zero. Maybe others should, too.

Clearly there is much more to this.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ramadan Journal - Day 3 - Doors

Yes, the gates of heaven are open for the Holy Month of Ramadan, but not so much for the gates of college.
For the past two days I have been slaving  on university websites trying to reach a final top ten list of colleges where I should apply.
Scale of success from 1 to 10: 7.
I have a list of 10 names but worry none of them will accept me.
Sounds a little off topic for a Ramadan journal, right? I respectfully disagree.
As a college bound junior, a few things are certain.
At some point the “average” and “typical” student population at the college of your dreams will cause frustration in epic proportions. You will by all means feel hopeless as your SAT scores and mere page of extra curricular activities are of no comparison next to the applicants of your dream college.
And the expenses to your dream college are also a number you’ve seen in a dream.
This is where the Ramadan spirit kicks in.
Towards making the end of my list I realized an Islamic fact: God does not put to waste the work of one who has worked for His sake. Niyya (intention), like I mentioned before, is very important in Islam.
It is said that work done without a pure intention for God’s sake is worthless.
Now let’s use a more tangible example.
If my niyya in applying and working to get accepted at U.S colleges is to have a heard voice with which I will attempt to remove the stains 9/11 and other incidents have left on Arabs and Islam, then my dreams are secure.
Doing this for His sake is a guarantee that even if I do not prevail, an alternative which may prove to be better for me and my mission will appear.
I cannot now doubt that I will have God on my side for this journey because quite frankly I need a miracle.
Heaven’s gate opens and the one to a university doesn’t?
If that’s not ironic I don’t know what is.
I would not say anything in Ramadan that I do not intend to do, so here it goes: I here vow with the readers of Youth Journalism International as my witness that no matter what UC Berkeley’s sophisticated requirements are, and no matter how many times I realize I cannot afford to go to Berkeley, I will continue to move forward.
I will take the required exams, study and do my best to look like one of those outstanding young scholars, all because I have faith enough to let me know that no one’s hard work goes to waste.
It is now 10:40p.m. in Alexandria, Egypt time and about time I hit the fridge for something sweet.
Regards until next time. Peace.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Ramadan Journal - Day 1 - What is Ramadan?

Ramadan Kareem!
That literally means Generous Ramadan ad is one of the many ways the Muslim world congratulates each other that the Holy Month of Ramadan has arrived.
It’s being called generous is no coincidence. Ramadan is a month full of giving, charity and love.
It is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar and its start is marked by the sighting of the new moon and ends by the sighting of the next month’s new moon.
For the next 30 days, 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe will fast from dawn to sundown. They will spend their evenings in prayer and spreading happiness to the poor and needy by giving of food and money.
Ramadan is the month when Islam’s Holy Scripture, The Qu’ran ,was sent down to Islam’s Prophet Mohamed . We celebrate by reciting the Qu’ran all month long.
Ramadan is a chance to purify one’s soul by abstaining from worldly things. Doing so puts one in focus with himself, allowing people to set their priorities straight and find inner peace.
It is a gift from Allah – Arabic for God – to cleanse one’s self from sins accumulated all year long and a chance to rid the self of a bad habit or pick up a good one.
Fasting in Islam is not just abstaining from food and drink. The entire body fasts.
The tongue is to not backbite, gossip, lie, spread rumors or use foul language. The eyes are not to set sight on obscenities. The ears are to refrain from hearing another man’s backbiting and foul language. The feet are to refrain from going to sinful places and the hands are to not take what does not belong to it.
One may ask: How is it possible after 11 months of eating all day that in the summer heat a Muslim will withstand the fast?
The answer to this starts with the fact that fasting Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam and that Muslims believe that during Ramadan Satan is shackled and thus is unable to whisper in one’s ear that he is unable to fast.
It teaches patience and mercy and is in a way like recharging the battery of one’s soul.
It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open during The Holy Month, making the self-sacrifice a pleasant task and as a personal witness, the most purifying, humbling way of worship.
Children, the elderly, those sick or traveling, pregnant or on the menstrual cycle do not fast and are pardoned to make it up on other days.
The day we break the fast differs from country to country.
Ramadan is also the time to strengthen family ties and so the iftar (breaking the fast meal), which literally means breakfast, is eaten with family and sometimes several relatives.

Ramadan Journal, Introduction

As Ramadan begins, I will pray a lot and read the Qu'ran.
But I also hope to  spread through writing for Youth Journalism International what Ramadan is truly about – why and how we celebrate it – in an attempt to break the media’s stereotype and possibly create a much needed bridge between the West and Middle East.
In this journal I will explain as much as my knowledge can serve me about The Holy Month and occasionally have pictures of the forms of celebration in Egypt.
Islam is a beautiful religion. And nothing saddens me more than seeing how the media has made it synonymous with extremism and terrorism.
Sometimes I wish I could bring people to meet my family, friends and neighbors to see the kind of people we really are.
The world is in dire need to mend its misconceptions and the right time to do so is now. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Young reporters snag international journalism awards

WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Students in eight countries on four continents captured awards in Youth Journalism International’s first worldwide journalism contest.
“We had a wealth of really good entries from many different students and schools. Picking the best proved much harder than we ever dreamed,” said Steve Collins, president of the board for YJI.
Earning top honors as the Student Journalist of the Year was Megan Mizuta of Boise, Idaho, whose stellar work for The Borah Senator showed off her courage, her nose for news and her range of talent.
“Megan is the epitome of student journalism: she is honest, communicates clearly, constantly experiments with journalistic forms, assists the staff with copy editing, vehemently practices journalism ethics and provides leadership,” wrote Michelle Harmon, her adviser at Borah High School.
Katie Jordan, a YJI editor, said Mizuta “impressed us with the scope of her writing. She's just as capable of writing hard news stories about budget cuts and student-teacher affairs as she is of writing opinion or sports stories.”
A high school journalism advisor in Darien, Conn., Stacey Wilkins, won Journalism Educator of the Year for her exemplary work with both her school’s paper, Neirad, and her efforts to create the Connecticut Academic Press Association.
One of her former students, Kimberly Michels, said Wilkins devotes countless hours to her students, champions free speech and makes journalism fun.
Wilkins “provides her students with 21st Century skills, challenges them to think critically, invites them to discover their gifts, expects them to share their talents and sees the best in each one of them,” wrote Karen Rezendes, her former principal.
Judges were especially impressed with the tremendous work done by journalism teachers, sometimes against long odds.
“With so many people talking about the decline of print journalism these days, we found it heartening to read students' letters about exceptional teachers who are doing everything they can to keep journalism alive,” Jordan said.
Genoa, Italy’s Eugenia Durante won the Jacinta Marie Bunnell Award for Commentary for writing the best piece giving voice to an important issue.
In her commentary about Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Durante wrote with sensitivity about the way ignorance and fear of those who are different hurts everyone, said Jackie Majerus, YJI’s executive director.
The Frank Keegan “Take No Prisoners” Award for News went to Caroline Nelissen of Ermelo, The Netherlands, for a piece examining the Dutch Christmas tradition of “Black Pete,” a black helper for Santa Claus who strongly resembles the Sambo character of old-time Dixie in the United States.
Majerus said Keegan, a longtime newsman whose love of journalism helped give birth to YJI, would no doubt appreciate a reporter like Nelissen, who tackled the subject without hesitation.
In each of the categories, judges found strong competition. The best were cited as finalists, including Maxine Frendel of Mahwah, New Jersey, the sole finalist in the Student Journalist of the Year category.
Awards were also handed out in 17 other categories, including features, sports, photography, cartooning, reviews and enterprise reporting.
Winners of the top four categories will receive crystal trophies. All finalists and other winners will receive custom made certificates.
“We hope all of those who entered will continue to use their writing, photography and art in a way that helps build bridges and makes the world they’ll inherit a better place for all of us,” Majerus said.
A complete list of winners is attached below.
“It's really exciting to be able to recognize deserving young journalists all over the world. I hope even more nations are represented in next year's contest,” Jordan said.
Youth Journalism International has been educating the next generation of news professionals and talented teens since 1994. Formally created in 2007, it is a 501(c)(3) educational non-profit public charity. Its website can be found at
The contest covered work published in English between Jan. 1, 2009 and March 31, 2010 in any format. Results were announced June 16, 2010.
For more information, please contact Jackie Majerus, Youth Journalism International’s executive director, at (860) 523-9632 in Connecticut or by writing to

The list of winners follows:

Winner, Megan Mizuta, The Borah Senator, Boise, Idaho
Finalist, Maxine Frendel, Mahwah, New Jersey


Winner, Stacey Wilkins, Darien High School, Darien, Connecticut
Finalist, Scott Dalton, Sacred Heart High School in Kingston, Massachusetts
Finalist, Sarah Platanitis, Holyoke High School, Holyoke, Massachusetts
Finalist, Mark Ionescu, The John Carroll School, Bel Air, Maryland

Honors an individual who gave voice to an important issue in a single opinion piece or a series of opinion pieces devoted to the same topic. Bunnell, who was severely disabled, died in 2009 at the age of 26. Among her legacies is a commitment by those whose lives she touched to focus on that most crucial question: “What do you think?” It is a fitting tribute to Jacinta to honor one of the many young people who have tried to answer that question during the past year.

Winner, Eugenia Durante, “In hope that we will kill no more mockingbirds,” Genoa, Italy
Finalist, Yumna Baloch, “IBSeriously Censored,” Warsaw, Poland
Finalist, Tasman Anderson, “Q Youth with Tasman Anderson,” Queensland, Australia
Finalist, Lim Zhi Quan, “Art vs. Graffiti - Paint vs. Scrawls,” Singapore
Finalist, Megan Harrigfeld, “Con: Ada County website violates privacy,” Boise, Idaho

Honors an individual who showed the nose for news exemplified by longtime newsman Frank Keegan, whose love of journalism and determination that it has a future helped give birth to Youth Journalism International.

Winner, Caroline Nelissen, “Dutch Debate Sinterklaas’ ‘Black Pete,’” Ermelo, The Netherlands
Finalist, Jackie Jin, “Plastic Bags Banned,” San Jose, California


News Team Reporting
First Place, Julia Lang and Kimberly Michels, “Students Moonstruck, The Mystery of the Middlesex Lagoon,” Darien, Connecticut
Second Place, Tiffany Chien and Michelle Deng, “Only school within 40 mile radius without performing arts center,” Saratoga, California


First Place, Suzanna Quiring, “Sexual content invades teen paradigms,” Fresno, California
Second Place, Tiffany Chien, “The end or the means: how much honor matters,” Saratoga, California
Honorable Mention, Jacqueline Wang, “Writing on Hands,” Los Altos Hills, California


Features Team Reporting
First Place, Shreya Nathan, Nayeon Kim and Alisha Mayor, “Five Families,” San Jose, California

Individual Reporting
First Place, Justin Kirkham, “Students experience foreign culture,” Boise, Idaho
Second Place, Alisha Mayor, “San Francisco gives Harrison Ford the red carpet treatment,” San Jose, California


First Place, Eroll Yabut, “Filipinos blend cultures for festive Christmas,” Castillejos, Zambales, Philipines
Second Place, Yelena Samofalova, “My first time trick-or-treating,” West Hartford, Connecticut


First Place, Andi Cara, “Santa’s in Town Early,” Darien, Connecticut
Second Place, Shreya Nathan, “Scuba diving,” San Jose, California
Honorable Mention, Samantha Whittaker, “Ellen Hopkins: Famous author visits school,” Boise, Idaho


First Place, Daniel Gallen, “Polar Bear Club strives to return to perfection,” Bel Air, Maryland
Second Place, Chris Janson, “Young Delivers Old Style on Owl City,” Darien, Connecticut
Honorable Mention, Justin Brown, “New Gaga Video Rings in Message for Viewers,” Hartford, Connecticut

First Place, Caroline Nelissen, “Love, shame and shattered lives in The Reader,” Ermelo, The Netherlands
Second Place, Jenna Potter, “Nine is impossible to forget,” Ontario, Canada
Honorable Mention, Samantha Hoffman, “Surrogates,” Palo Alto, California

General Reviews
First Place, Michelle Deng, “Windows 7: A remarkable change for the better,” Saratoga, California


Sports News
First Place, Emily Close, “Ivy Dreams Take Root in Squash Court,” Darien, Connecticut
Second Place, Ayla Washam, “No spots in weight class for regulars,” Boise, Idaho

Sports Opinion
First Place, Parker Simmons, “Team free falls into a 0-9 ring of fire,” Boise, Idaho
Second Place, Clare Hern, “A-Rod isn’t a ‘true Yankee,’” West Hartford, Connecticut

Sports Team Reporting
First Place, Clare Hern and Kiernan Majerus-Collins, “Behind the scenes at ESPN,” West Hartford, Connecticut


First Place, Lisa Garrard, “Prince, I’m Leaving You for Snow White,” Boise, Idaho
Second Place, Elahn Santiago, “Graduation Day,” Holyoke, Massachusetts
Honorable Mention, Michelle Deng, “The sea of causes,” Saratoga, California


News Photo
First Place, Caroline Nelissen, “Kurdish demonstrators take to the streets in Istanbul,” Ermelo, The Netherlands
Sports Photo
First Place, Megan Mizuta, “Borah High senior Adam Bunch,” Boise, Idaho

Feature Photo
First Place, Eugenia Durante, “Genoa's enchanting Christmas,” Genoa, Italy

Photo Illustration
First Place, Emily Brady, “Harassment,” Holyoke, Massachusetts