Sunday, May 29, 2011

YJI's 2011 Excellence in Journalism Contest Honors Students In 16 Countries

WEST HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. - Youth Journalism International's annual awards contest honored students in 16 countries this year, including an Egyptian teen tapped for the nonprofit's first Courage in Journalism Award.

Photo provided
Meghan Morris

"Students’ work is so often overlooked that we’re thrilled to highlight some of the best young journalists across the globe,” said Steve Collins, YJI’s board president. “Those who say journalism is dying should take a look at what we see day in and day out. They’d feel a lot better about the prospects for this crucial profession.”
Judges picked Meghan Morris of Wayne, Penn. as the Student Journalist of the Year for her dedication to press freedom and high quality work.
“Journalism allows me to tell stories that might otherwise not be told,” Morris said after learning of her selection. “I get to learn about so many different areas and so many different people.”
Morris graduated this month from Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Penn., where she served as co-editor of The Spoke. She is attending Medill School at Northwestern University in the fall, where she plans to study journalism.
In the always difficult category of Journalism Educator of the Year, which had many strong contenders, judges picked Jill Cook, the advisor for Tyro at Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wis.
Called “a motivator and mentor like none other” by her students, Cook won praise for creating “a safe haven, an oasis in the desert that is high school.”
Brookfield students Kriya Patel, Jack Peterson and Michael Pan said their paper is like a second home.
As its dedicated advisor for two decades, Cook “has helped countless students find their true calling and inspired many of us to consider writing and journalism as a valuable asset to our lives,” Patel said.
Cook, a long-time board member of the Kettle Moraine Press Association, said she had no idea her students had nominated her.
The new Courage in Journalism Award went to Jessica Elsayed, a high school senior in Alexandria, Egypt who provided firsthand reporting on the Egyptian uprising from its beginning.
Elsayed kept a worldwide audience informed of the fast-moving events that transformed her country despite the risk that journalists faced as government-supported thugs took aim at protestors. She provided a face and a voice for the revolution.
Cresonia Hsieh of Knoxville, Tenn. won the Jacinta Marie Bunnell Award for Commentary for writing the best piece giving voice to an important issue.
Her piece about the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge, recalled her time with Clementi in a church youth group and a lament that she had failed to reach out more.
The Frank Keegan “Take No Prisoners” Award for News went to Jenny Hottle, a senior at John Carroll High School in Bel Air, Md.
Hottle, who plans to study journalism at the University of Maryland in the fall, wrote about student drinking at her small high school, always a touchy subject.
“I just liked being able to investigate a story and let people know what’s going on in the school or the community. I like being the voice for that,” she said.
Award-winning journalists from Europe, Africa and North America helped judge the yearly contest, including a media professional from ESPN.
Winners of the five major categories receive crystal trophies while others are honored with custom made certificates.
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, 2010 and February 1, 2011. Those eligible must be 19 or under and not working professionally. Results were announced on May 29, 2011.
For more information, please contact Jackie Majerus, Youth Journalism International’s executive director, at (860) 523-9632 in Connecticut or by writing to
A complete list of winners follows.

2011 Excellence in Journalism Contest Winners


Meghan Morris of Wayne, Penn., attending Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Penn., co-editor, The Spoke

WINNER – Jill Cook, of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin who is the Tyro advisor at Brookfield Central High School in Brookfield, Wisconsin
FINALIST – Michelle Harmon, advisor at The Borah Senator, Borah High School, Boise, Idaho
FINALIST – Mark Ionescu, advisor at The Patriot, The John Carroll School, Bel Air, Maryland

WINNER – Jessica Elsayed of Alexandria, Egypt, attending the Egyptian American School, for her coverage of the Egyptian Revolution
FINALIST – Tasman Anderson, of Brisbane, Australia, attending the University of Queensland, for her coverage of gay and lesbian issues

Jenny Hottle of Bel Air, Maryland, attending The John Carroll School and writes for The Patriot, for “Admin addresses campus drinking”

WINNER – Cresonia Hsieh of Knoxville, Tennessee, attending Farragut High School, for “Remembering Tyler Clementi”
FINALIST – Pushkal Shivam of Mumbai, India, attending Kendriya Vidyalaya school, for “Book ban should be an anathema to a knowledge economy”
FINALIST – Eroll Yabut of Zambales, the Philippines, attending Regional Science High School, for “Church and State Cordon”
FINALIST – Soo Ji Lee of Cresskill, New Jersey, attending Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, N.Y., for “Outside Cities, Haiti Still Suffers”


FIRST PLACE – Justin Skaradosky of Bristol, Connecticut, attending Southern Connecticut State University, for a series of cartoons called “A Look At…”

FIRST PLACE – Tasman Anderson of Brisbane, Australia, attending the University of Queensland, for “Q Youth: With Tasman Anderson”
SECOND PLACE – Rebecca Shaw, of New York, N.Y., attending Horace Mann School, for “Facebook: Controlling Our Guilty-Sweet Pleasure”
HONORABLE MENTION – Noah Kidron-Style of London, England, attending City of London School, for “Police brutality in keeping with government’s anti-student agenda.”
HONORABLE MENTION – Soo Ji Lee of Cresskill, New Jersey, attending Riverdale Country School in Bronx, N.Y., for “Haiti, Far From Remedy.”

EDITORIAL (unsigned; award goes to publication)
FIRST PLACE – The Borah Senator, Borah High School, Boise, Idaho, for “Cell phone technology”
SECOND PLACE – The Patriot, The John Carroll School, Bel Air, Maryland, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell repeal viewed as essential to American society”

ENTERPRISE – Individual
FIRST PLACE – Nancy Hsu of Brisbane, Australia, attending University of Queensland, for coverage of the Brisbane floods

ENTERPRISE – Team reporting (multiple byline)
FIRST PLACE – Soo Ji Lee & Lovia Gyarkye, who attend Riverdale Country School in Bronx, NY, for “Concussions on the Rise”

FEATURES – Individual reporting
FIRST PLACE – Kim Nayeon of Saratoga, California, attending The Harker School, for “Quidditch: Muggles bring magic sport to life”
SECOND PLACE – Ishmael Streever, of Anchorage, Alaska, attending Dimond High School, for “Singing in the Shower”
HONORABLE MENTION – Max Jungreis, of Anchorage, Alaska, attending Steller Secondary School, for “The power of plastic!”
HONORABLE MENTION – Cara Reilly, of Bel Air, Maryland, attending The John Carroll School, for “JC alum drums to success.”

FEATURES — Team reporting
FIRST PLACE – Jessica Elsayed of Alexandria, Egypt, attending the Egyptian American School, Luke Pearson of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, attending Hastings High School; Mary Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Bristow Middle School; Alma Macbride of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hall High School and Kiernan Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hall High School, for their collaborative work on “King Tut in New York & Egypt”
SECOND PLACE – Monica Blaze of Wixom, Michigan, attending Walled Lake Western; Nicole Megan Gounder of Durban, South Africa, attending University of KwaZulu Natal; Katie Grosser of Meschede, Germany, attending Westfälische Willhelms Universität Münster; Robert Guthrie of Dumfries, Scotland, attending Wallace Hall Academy; Evangeline Han of Melaka, Malaysia, who is homeschooled; Nancy Hsu of Brisbane, Australia, attending the University of Queensland; Mary Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Bristow Middle School; Kiernan Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hall High School; Caroline Nelissen of Ermelo, the Netherlands, attending Amsterdam University College; Mariechen Puchert of Cape Town, South Africa, attending Stellenbosch University; Mehran Shamit of Toronto, Canada, attending William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute; and Waleed Tariq of Karachi, Pakistan, who attended SZABIST, for their collaborative coverage of worldwide New Year’s Eve celebrations.

FIRST PLACE – Monica Blaze of Wixom, Michigan, attending Walled Lake Western, for “I’ll take you to Wixom”
SECOND PLACE – Eroll Yabut of Zambales, the Philippines, attending Regional Science High School, for “Confessions of a Not-So-Dangerous Mind”
HONORABLE MENTION – Justina Liu of Schenectady, NY, attending Guilderland High School, for “A ‘Taste’ of Chinese Culture”

NEWS – Individual reporting
FIRST PLACE – Justina Liu of Schenectady, N.Y., attending Guilderland High School in Guilderland Ctr., New York, for “Department cuts at UAlbany cause controversy, have rippling effects”
SECOND PLACE – Clare Hern of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hall High School, for “Pickens Patriotic Push For Natural Gas”
HONORABLE MENTION – Nikki Navio of Fairbanks, Alaska, attending the University of Alaska, for “Rejected”
HONORABLE MENTION – Matthew Bray of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Students Disillusioned After Possessions Stolen, Violated”
HONORABLE MENTION – Grace Kim of Bel Air, Maryland, attending The John Carroll School, for “Faculty discusses cutting computer distractions”
HONORABLE MENTION – Yelena Samofalova of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Bristow Middle School, for “Connecticut To Host First Youth Peace Summit”

NEWS – Team reporting
FIRST PLACE – Led by Nicole Megan Gounder of Durban, South Africa, attending University of KwaZulu Natal; with supporting work by Becca Lazarus of Windsor, Conn., attending Windsor High School; Laquandria Fenn, of Hartford, Conn., attending Hartford High School; Kiernan Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Conn., attending Hall High School; Mariechen Puchert of Cape Town, South Africa, attending Stellenbosch University; Mariah Pulver of Tuscon, Arizona, attending Texas Christian University; Eugenia Durante of Genoa, Italy, attending Libera Universita di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM; Cara Nelissen of Ermelo, the Netherlands attending Amsterdam University College and Geraldine Soon of Singapore, attending the National University of Singapore, for their coverage of the World Cup.


News Photo
FIRST PLACE – Mehran Shamit of Toronto, Canada, attending William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute, for “Showcasing Canada’s diversity at York”
SECOND PLACE – Pushkal Shivam of Mumbai, India, attending Kendriya Vidyalaya school, for “Anti-Government Protesters in Mumbai”
HONORABLE MENTION – Kaley Willis of Sulphur, Louisiana, attending Sulphur High School, for “Louisiana marshland threatened”

Sports Photo
FIRST PLACE – Megan Mizuta of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Basketball photo”
SECOND PLACE – Nicole Megan of Durban, South Africa, attending University of KwaZulu Natal; for “World Cup photos”

Feature Photo
FIRST PLACE – Katie Helm of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Talent Show”
SECOND PLACE – Ashley Rice of Nampa, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Spirit Week”
HONORABLE MENTION – Kristin Bracewell of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Capitol Building”

Photo Illustration
FIRST PLACE – Narine Daneghyan of Yerevan, Armenia, attending Yerevan State University, for “Armenia celebrates Christmas”

FIRST PLACE – Yeona Choi of Rancho Cucamonga, California, attending Los Osos High School, for “Binna Kim: One girl’s story of bravery and forgiveness.”
HONORABLE MENTION – Aviva Hirsch, of Anchorage, Alaska, attending West Anchorage High School, for “A cold freezing night.”


General Reviews
FIRST PLACE – Megan Mizuta of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “Chef’s Hut is definitely lunch worthy”
SECOND PLACE – Samantha Nelson of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “The Hunger Games trilogy offers something for everyone”

FIRST PLACE – Kiernan Majerus-Collins of West Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hall High School, for “Higdon displays ‘magic as a composer’”
SECOND PLACE – Cara Reilly of Bel Air, Maryland, attending The John Carroll School, for “‘Showroom of Compassion’ reveals more strange lyrics, upbeat tunes”

Theater / Film
FIRST PLACE – Vipasha Sajid Shaikh of Toronto, Canada, attending Woburn Collegiate Institute, for “Black Swan No Ugly Duckling”
SECOND PLACE – Eroll Yabut of Zambales, the Philippines, attending Regional Science High School, for “Learning Something From ‘An Education’”
HONORABLE MENTION – Laquandria Fenn of Hartford, Connecticut, attending Hartford High School and Celeste Kurz of West Hartford, attending Conard High School and Mary Majerus-Collins, Stephanie Reyes and Yelena Samafalova, all of West Hartford, Connecticut, all attending Bristow Middle School, for “Band Geeks!”
HONORABLE MENTION – Eugenia Durante of Genoa, Italy, attending Libera Universita di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM; for “‘The Tourist’ takes a disappointing trip to Venice”


Sports News – Individual reporting
FIRST PLACE – Megan Mizuta of Boise, Idaho, attending Borah High School, for “On track: Pre-season attendance improves, varsity letter point system begins”

Sports News – Team reporting (multiple bylines)
FIRST PLACE – Mehran Shamit of Toronto, Canada, attending William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute, for “Canadian hockey star gets goals” and Jenna Potter of Ottawa, Canada, attending St. Joseph Catholic High School, for “Gold medal coach advises hard work, tough skin”

Sports Opinion
FIRST PLACE – Narine Daneghyan of Yerevan, Armenia, attending Yerevan State University, for “Girls play it, too”
SECOND PLACE – Eugenia Durante of Genoa, Italy, attending Libera Universita di Lingue e Comunicazione IULM; for “When the thrill of winning is gone”

Sports Feature
FIRST PLACE – Ben Clatworthy of Bristol, England, attending Clifton College Upper School, for a series of sports feature stories

Saturday, May 28, 2011

YJI Alum Joe Bun Keo At His Hammered + Nailed Show

Here are some photos from tonight's Hammered + Nailed art exhibit at the ArtSpace in Hartford, organized in part by Youth Journalism International alum Joe Bunk Keo, pictured above with Jacke Majerus, executive director of YJI.
The show proved a spectacular success, drawing a large crowd and showing off some of the terrific art produced in the region.

Friday, May 27, 2011

YJI Alum, Artist Joe Bun Keo, Gets More Notice

The Hartford Courant's Dan Haar, who took the picture above, has a gem of a piece tonight on beloved YJI alum Joe Bun Keo, a University of Hartford graduate who majored in art and is struggling to help create an art scene in Central Connecticut. Take a look at Haar's story:

Like the owners of any new enterprise, Ashleigh Kay and Joe Bun Keo shared a nervous moment of truth when the doors opened Wednesday at 5 p.m. Their venture was off the ground.

They had used Facebook, free media outlets and word of mouth, but you never know if anyone will show up. It's a tough economy out there.

They didn't have to wait long. Quickly, artists flooded the ArtSpace Gallery at 555 Asylum Street in downtown Hartford, hauling in paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture and installations. The patrons, an army of Hartford's young and youthful creative class, filled the walls of the spacious venue with hundreds of works.

And so Hammered & Nailed explodes on the Hartford scene, simple in concept: a salon-style art exhibition in rent-free space, open to anyone, unjuried, uncensored, at no cost to the artists. Saturday is the opening from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with music, performance art and food — with no charge to guests, no collection for a charity and no organization pushing an agenda. Click here to read the whole story.

From The Archives: Senioritis Strikes

This one, from 2003, was written by Mike Nguyen. It captures the annual affliction that plagues many students approaching graduation: senioritis. The cartoon was done by Amanda Lehmert in 1999.
Forget SARS. Senioritis is killing us seniors, and the epidemic is only
getting worse as the days dwindle down.
I can’t remember how I caught it, or who I caught it from, but I think somewhere after the AP testing and before the prom was when I felt the symptoms creep in.
The virus slowly crept into my body as the days continued. My eyes are constantly drowsy and closed in the middle of class, my feet have a hard time moving to yet another class, I have night terrors of never getting my diploma, hallucinations that I’m already in college, and I got teared up about the 2-for-1 taco day during a lunch period.
My fingers have a hard time typing another paper (or senior journal), too, but it might be senior-arthritis. I think there’s a difference. Now, I’m almost completely bedridden with laziness and lack of motivation.
I was surprised how quickly the disease spread after Senior Skip Day, the Monday after the prom in which most of the senior class calls themselves out of school and gathers at the beaches and other recreational areas. Lying on the soft sand of Misquamicut State Park , I began to wonder how pointless it is to wait through another month of lectures, videos, and finals before I could get my diploma.
Could this school system graduate their kids any later? I want to start my internship, attend grad parties, and have a few months of peace and solitude before I go to college.
Obviously, my illness is severe. But I’m slowly and surely fighting what seems to be a losing battle. It’s not like they make medication to help alleviate the pain, although a cup of coffee or those Dunkin’ Donuts’ Coolattas provide three-hour relief.
I’m fortunate enough to still have the willpower to attend all my classes, although I’ve been known for random third-period lunch runs to various buffets and restaurants during study hall.
In fact, I’ve even taken this opportunity to raise my GPA and class rank a little. While my fellow classmates slowly weaken from senioritis, I muster up some strength and study, just a little, and outdo them in our last few high school quizzes.
This disease, however, really takes a toll on my punctuality. I can’t keep down a deadline for the life of me. Between repaying debts, returning locks and books, handing in homework, and mailing in college paperwork, my school planner is just too small to keep track of everything.
I nearly forgot to attend every one of my banquets I was invited to, and when I remembered, I was usually late.
With less than two weeks left before freedom, I count the minutes.
Give me another 24 hours, and I’ll start counting seconds on my watch before senioritis cures itself and I’m stuck with trying to burn off the "freshman 15" I’ll probably gain once I’m off to college.

Rapper Tinie Tempah Is Defeating The Label

Monica Blaze / Youth Journalism International
British rapper Tinie Tempah on a recent visit to Michigan, U.S.A.

By Monica Blaze
Junior Reporter
Youth Journalism International
WIXOM, Michigan, U.S.A. – British rapper Tinie Tempah raps that “everyone’s the kid that no one cares about” in his song, “Written in the Stars.”
His lyrics show his determination and diligence to keep on keepin’ on, even through the worst of adversities.
Bullying is an enormous, recent issue and Tempah knows what it’s like to have been bullied.
Together, Tempah and the Defeat the Label Program in West Bloomfield, Mich., are empowered through the strength of music and friendship to put an end to bullying.
With such a popular song out, it was surprising to find that Tempah is a lot like any other young adult.
Only 22 years old, yet topping the charts of the music industry, he isn’t much older and definitely not much different than my friends, companions or me.
I quickly found myself playing a game of basketball with him and engaging in casual conversation.
He said that while he hasn’t been bullied recently, he was bullied when he was younger, as most of us were.
He was called things like “goof” because of his so called “silly teeth.” He claimed to have teeth going every which way. We all know we have flaws, but being ridiculed for them is never the answer.
The Friendship Circle of Michigan knows exactly what the answer is to end this sort of mockery.
They have created a campaign called Defeat the Label, which is a program designed to partner with youth and celebrities, like Tempah, to promote a “no label” message.
Labels like “nerd,” “goth,” “jock,” “prep,” “teacher’s pet,” “weirdo,” and a list that could continue on much longer, have been built up too high. This program works to stunt their growth and stop the usage of these words as labels on others. Allowing celebrities to join this program inspires teenagers to follow in footsteps created by great role models and generates a greater worldwide awareness for peace and love among everyone.
Tempah is a great role model for all teenagers. He encourages them to follow their dreams and abstain from bullying. To say that he is just a rapper would be to put a label on him and that is exactly what he hopes to avoid.
He wants to break away from the stereotypical ideas generally associated with rappers.
A little bit of “Tinie” shows his compassionate, soft side and a little bit of “Tempah” shows his strong, bold, rap side. 
Raised in the modern society that the 21st century provides, he recommends that teens promote a positive message and get their names out into the world by using the internet.
Social media has discovering a lot of talent, he said, and he’s thankful for that.
You can learn more about the Defeat the Label campaign online at
Be a part of the movement just like Tinie Tempah.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All Alone At 16

Here's a story from the archives, a 1994 piece by Bryan Pena about a pregnant 16-year-old:

Two days before school started this year, Lori, a 16-year-old student at Bristol Eastern High School, discovered she was pregnant.
She remembers the emotional day when she cried, and cried, and cried some more.
That day was the day she found out she was pregnant. Her parents still don't know, and that is what she says scares her the most. Her brother, she said, is the only one who knows her secret.
When she told the baby's father about her pregnancy, he said he wanted nothing to do with her or the child.
Suddenly, Lori's thoughts are shifting away from those of other teenagers in town.
Like her classmates, Lori should be happily thinking about the mere two years left before graduation, or browsing through piles of college and scholarship application forms, but instead she is found trying to figure out how to tell her parents the terrible truth.
Unfortunately, it doesn't take much to break the high expectations of a college hopeful. One night of irresponsibility could do it all and result in the girl becoming pregnant.
Lori only blames herself for half the problem.
The other half she blames on unawareness about the consequences of having premarital sex. She claims that she was never educated in or out of school about teenagers having sex or anything related to the topic.
She says that young kids now should be more open with their parents and talk to them about sex and protection, because she never did.
To other teenagers, she says, "You should wait to have sex until you are mature and ready to have kids."
But Lori also said she sees nothing wrong with having premarital sex.
Lori admits that she thought about having an abortion, but decided not to do it because she doesn't believe in it unless the woman was either raped or in a life or death situation.
Young, pregnant and alone, Lori is not sure what her next move will be.
When asked where she planned to live and how she planned to support herself and her child, she just shrugged her shoulders.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

These Times That Have Shaped Me

Lama Tawakkol

By Lama Tawakkol
Youth Journalism International
CAIRO, Egypt – Twelve years have gone by incredibly fast.
It seems like only yesterday when we were in our caps and gowns, graduating kindergarten. Now, we’re again in caps and gowns, ready to leave the place where we’ve grown up, the place that feels more like home than home.
Looking back at all the memories, I don’t want it to end. It is natural that one feels reluctant to change, but it is not the change that irks me – it is the thought of leaving this place forever.
Classes have ended and we only have a few days of finals left to go through together.
Can it really be over? I don’t think I even realize what that means.
It feels like we’re just ending a school year and we’ll be back again next fall. But the thing is: we won’t.
This truth will gradually sink in, and it is not until we’re actually getting our diplomas and throwing our caps in the air that we will be forced to face the fact that there is no going back.
Of course, with every end comes a new beginning and college will start and immerse us all into its life. Then, we will become accustomed to new places, new people and a new world with its own charm and magic.
Sooner than we realize, it, too, will be coming to a close and even though we won’t want it to as well, we will be embarking upon yet another chapter of our lives, one where we truly enter the world.
In a blink of an eye, we will find ourselves holding jobs, building families and maturing. It is the inevitable cycle of life. However, one thing remains certain through all of that: I will never forget the school days and the fun we’ve had together.
They are these times that have shaped me, and the people I’ve grown up with who have taught me more than I could ever have hoped to learn from a textbook.
So, to the people leaving with me and the people I’m leaving behind, to my friends and my mentors, to my childhood sanctuary, I say that goodbye doesn’t mean the end, because in every step of the way, I will remember you and I will always cherish memories and thoughts of you close to my heart.

Armenian Youth Find Nirvana At Guitar Party

Narine Daneghyan / Youth Journalism International
Saro Hassasian, who plays in the rock band 4 Elements,
performs in Yerevan, Armenia last week. 
By Narine Daneghyan
Junior Reporter
Youth Journalism International
YEREVAN, Armenia – A group of young people gathered in Sundukyan Park of Yerevan one sunny day last week and had a great time listening to guitar music.
Open Minded Generation, a non-governmental organization, organized the party in the park.
Narine Daneghyan / Youth Journalism International
“The aim of this event is to help youth to eliminate its complexes,” said Open Minded Generation Vice President Shoghine Soghomonyan.
“It’s an opportunity for them to express their feelings with the help of guitar," Soghomonyan said. "There are young people who play guitar very well, but they are shy to show their talent. We are trying to help them with organizing such events.”
Narine Daneghyan /
 Youth Journalism International

During the party, the young people played songs in Armenian, Russian and English on the guitar.
Most of the songs were famous, but some of the participants introduced their own music compositions.
One of the participants of the party was the rock band 4 Elements.

Narine Daneghyan / Youth Journalism International

Narine Daneghyan / Youth Journalism International

Saro Hassasian, a member of 4 Elements, said that their band often sings in different clubs of Yerevan.
"We are impressed and really delighted to participate in this event," said Hassasian. "I hope that such events will be organized often."
Hassasian’s band played some songs by The Beatles, and the public was very happy to hear the Nirvana song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”

Narine Daneghyan / Youth Journalism International

Monday, May 23, 2011

Obama's Mideast Speech Disappoints

By Jessica Elsayed
Senior Reporter
Youth Journalism International
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – Though I’d prefer not to be cynical, it’s the only way I can explain some of the things that went on in the heads of the people in the Arab world recently when Barack Obama made his speech on the Middle East and North Africa.
For the U.S. president to say things like, “Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow,” can actually make an old man in a coffee shop in downtown Cairo really upset, thinking, they didn’t step aside, they were forced to.
Now for some economic wisdom.
In a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground,” Obama said.
As brilliant as that sounds, many will argue that without money, there is no space for innovation.
Then Obama adds, “Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.”
Hmm, I hope he understands that people who support Palestine and its freedom criticize and “antagonize” Israel because they understand the truth about the occupation.
People support Palestine all over the world and not just in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s an example that has become redundant, but it’s simple enough for non-political human minds like mine to understand.  Someone comes in your home, forces you to leave, treats you badly and imposes himself on you, then asks you not to defend yourself against him and love him. Think about it.
Now for the dense and disappointing.
The United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.”
It’s all very contradictory. Now I understand why these dictatorships have been thriving for so long – they have support in the form of silence.
Clearly if free, democratic and independent Arab nations feel like a threat in some way to Israel’s “security,” then that so-called security is illegitimate.
Is it fair that the U.S. will only stand for Israeli security and yet want Arab-Israeli peace? Who stands up and secures Palestine?
Why is it that Israel is exempt from stopping nuclear weapons? Are they above international law?
These are the kind of questions many in the Arab region were thinking as Obama stated his core interests.
The president then added, “America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them.
The way I see it, the region seems to be limited to a small list of hopes that must comply with U.S. foreign policy. If they are anything like Gaza’s hopes for freedom, I doubt U.S. interests are “essential to them.”
Once again, Obama’s words fall on cynical ears.
“But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” he said.
Philosophically speaking, what is one government to say how the world “should be?” Of course there are some staples such as peace and tolerance that we all want to achieve, but when it comes to politics, if every country went out to make the world the way it thinks it should be, we’d have a problem.
Scratch that. We already do.
In an example of how the U.S. supports reform in the region, the speech continues, “Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”
But thousands already have been killed – 30,000, according to the U.S.-based CBS television network.
Now for the good stuff.
Obama mentioned the rights of access to information and free journalism. Then he spoke about women’s rights.
This part of his speech I found very precise and inspiring, “For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.”
It would be a great advantage if Obama’s administration followed through on their wish to aid the women’s rights movement in the region.
Then the big finale.
Something I did admire about the speech was Obama’s honesty.
Egypt’s government can learn a thing or two about transparency from the president. Many of the statements made were clear and straightforward, which I find respectable.
But what I and my fellows in the Arab world find insulting is this statement he made about the Arab-Israeli Conflict: “For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.”
The first reason this statement is incorrect is that Palestinians already have a nation of their own. Many of them are living in it, while others, who are refugees, have no right to return home.
Secondly, Israelis, who have an army and weapons, are living in fear while Palestinians feel safe? How?
It is a fact that the last Gaza raid in late 2008 and early 2009 took more than 1,200 lives.
The region thinks “hateful children? You mean, children who live with the constant fear of having their homes taken, who are born into a world of barbed wire and foreign army men wherever they look. Children who are brought up scared and angry, not knowing who from their family will be detained or killed next for defending himself with rocks against tanks.
Next Obama talked about how deeply rooted the friendship between Israel and the U.S. is. He said it as if people in the Middle East and North Africa didn’t already know the U.S. supported an oppressor and acted blind and deaf while Israel continues to build new settlements.
Then he proposed the two state solution. What wasn’t expected was Obama’s mention of the B word. No, not that one, B for border. The agreed 1967 borders, to be exact.
As expected, different mindsets in the region had a variety of reactions to that proposal.
The president’s expectations for Israelis and Palestinians were contradictory.
He said, “As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”
Apparently Palestine doesn’t have to be secure; security is for friends only.  Palestine should be a peaceful, sovereign non-militarized state the way we and Israel tell it to be, because we pretty much have complete power over Palestine.
These are the kind of vibes the Arab region is picking up, so if you really do “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” then you must mean all.
An Israeli soul, its security and right to prosper, is equal to the soul of a Palestinian, or of a person of any nationality, for that matter.
Personally, I feel let down, like I expected American foreign policy to rise up to the occasion with nations like Tunisia and Egypt who have soared in the past six months more than any nations in history.
I actually feel embarrassed by my U.S. passport. Reaction here is as if Obama said, ‘Great job, Egypt. Here’s some money and debt relief, but Israel comes first and everyone else can rot.’
Simply put, Obama’s speech only added to the disappointment the Middle East and North Africa felt after the Cairo speech in 2009.
After the speech I felt confused, disappointed and hungry. Good thing Twitter had a “why Obama is late” hashtag that kept me laughing.
A final note:
Dear US Government,
Democracy and freedom isn’t a tree house you own and let only your friends in. And, yes, the status quo isn’t sustainable when it comes to you, too.