Thursday, October 31, 2013

Celebrating Halloween In Uganda
Ugandan youth decked out for Halloween
Gilbert Bwette, a Youth Journalism International student in Kampala, Uganda, sent in some photos from last year's Halloween. He's the guy in the blue shirt on the left in the photo above and in the center in the photo below.
How spooky was Halloween for you this year?
Celebrating Halloween in Uganda

Monday, October 21, 2013

Afghans Worry About What Will Happen To Their Country After Troops Leave

By Edrees Kakar
KABUL, Afghanistan – The withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and the upcoming Afghan presidential election in 2014 makes it a challenging year for the country.
While there is some level of optimism with the Afghan government for taking responsibility for the security of the country and running a transparent election, there is public concern over the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan and the consequences that will follow.
 These concerns are mainly on the economic and security aspects of the country as thousands of jobs will be lost with the draw-down of international troops and the security responsibility will be transferred to Afghan security forces, who are less equipped to handle it.
Youth Journalism International asked five young adult Afghans what 2014 means to them. The respondents expressed expectations, worries, optimism and offered suggestions for the challenges ahead. Their written responses follow their identifying information.

Nasrat Khalid is a 24-year-old Afghan social activist with more than six years of professional experience in the field of technology, communications and development. Khalid has worked in government, education and charitable organizations. In recent years he’s given extensive IT training to more than 300 students in Kabul at various vocational and private educational centers.
The year 2014 is anticipated to bring two different changes to Afghanistan. First, international troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan. This will lead the people of Afghanistan, the region and the international community to ask serious questions, including the most important one: "Are we going to be safe?"
Nasrat Khalid
Second, the issue of elections, which leads to a new president and changes in the core management of the country. Like troop withdrawal, this also brings up different questions and concerns in our minds. People will be wondering about the election process, security management, international relations and many other things.
Since Afghanistan has been a warzone for approximately 25 years, the people don’t have any practical knowledge of successful governance.  This does raise an alarm in the minds of political personalities and within the societies of the region and international community. It isn’t certain that Afghanistan will soon be able to grow into a peaceful and developed country. Furthermore, the people of Afghanistan are very reluctant to contribute to the development of the country. It's our duty as the citizens of the Afghanistan to help remove corruption, report security threats, stand for our rights and fight poverty together.
On the bright side, we have had the support of the international community, the United Nations, donors and organizations throughout the years with training our army, social development, governance, economic growth, finance, technology and much more. Alongside their continued support, it does give us a hope of a better future – or if not better, the hope of sustaining what we have achieved over the last 12 years.
With the presidential election coming parallel to the withdrawal, the new, energetic president will have a chance to make change a priority.
The issue of 2014 is not very serious to me. The love and security one should have for their country should never be doubted by the change of the president or by the nation taking over its own self-protection. I count the withdrawal of the international security forces as a win-win situation for both Afghanistan and the international community. It's time we take over and handle our country ourselves.

Meena Alokozai is a 23-year-old Afghan woman studying at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
Like every other Afghan youth, I am concerned about 2014. The international troops are leaving Afghanistan without fulfilling their main goal – eliminating Al- Qaeda and other insurgents in the region. On the contrary, the suicide attacks by the Taliban in Kabul and other provinces shows that the Taliban are stronger and more active than before and the peace process is a failure.
Additionally, Afghanistan is ranked as the most corrupt country in the world, and the warlords are still as powerful and influential as they were during the civil war in the 1990s. They have their personal militia groups, own lands and wealth through which they get the support of the people in their provinces. On the other hand, the 2014 elections and the rivalry for the presidency among the political parties have already started.
 There are two different beliefs among the people about 2014. One is the optimistic approach, that if international forces leave Afghanistan, the Taliban will also stop fighting and our dream of having peace will come true. The second one is the realistic approach that assumes the history will repeat itself in 2014, and we may return to the era of civil war of the Mujahedin or the totalitarianism of the Taliban.
It is impossible for me to be optimistic because I know that peace-building is a long-term process that cannot happen in only one year. It needs fundamental work at the grassroots level and has some pre-requisites: education, enlightening the people, the creation of a feeling of nationalism, and building the economy, none of which exists in Afghanistan yet.
So I look to 2014 realistically and feel worried. I see the nightmares about the conquering of my country by regional powers or their proxies, and being obliged to sit at home once more.  I am afraid of the day that hundreds of people may die or be injured in a civil war, and that women will be tortured, houses will be robbed and buildings will be destroyed again.

Jamshid Nazari of Takhar Taluqan, 35, works in Kabul at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and studies political science at Kateb University in Kabul.
As far as I know, some of the educated people (Political Analysts), senior staff of government, those who work for International political missions and civil societies, they have their different views about the above mentioned years. From my point of view, 2014, with the upcoming presidential election in April, could be a bit challenging year for Afghanistan. Corruption has become a big concern for people and that is likely to continue in 2014 and beyond.
Jamshid Nazari
No doubt even Taliban is getting prepared for managing further organized attacks in different provinces, mostly in the capital, Kabul, intending to disorder preparations for the election and particularly the day of polling. Hence, the people will feel threatened and may not go to the polls to vote.
According to my perception, the level of optimism is higher than the level of concern, now it seems the world understands that a small threat in Afghanistan if it’s not prevented and addressed timely can affect the region and even the entire world.
Therefore, I believe that by the mercy of Allah and through our national military forces, together with presence of international troops, especially the U.S. Army supporting us, we hope to pass the election successfully without too much difficulties.
As for what happens after 2014, I think we shouldn’t have much concerns about this issue, because even a crazy man knows his advantage and disadvantage in the current situation. The United States of America won’t be so foolish to spend billions of dollars in this poor country where our yearly incomes still cannot meet six months expenditures of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. So it shows that the U.S.A. is interested in having access and taking control of the region. Therefore, I believe Afghanistan will be used only as a base to fulfill America’s aims against another country, such as Iran, China, Russia and Pakistan.
Despite the opposition of regional powers against the continued presence of U.S. forces, it seems that the U.S. will stay longer.
As a result, we will benefit from the presence of the United States in Afghanistan. Having the U.S. here stabilizes the situation and prevents harmful interferences by neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran.
But I have worries about one thing: that we won’t be able to have an independent country in the future. This is really annoying to those real Afghan patriots who love their country and never will be ready to sell their country for political positions or dollars.

Sayed Ihsanuddin Taheri is director of the Government Monitoring and Evaluation Authority in the Office of Administrative Affairs and Cabinet Secretariat for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.
My view as an Afghan citizen living and working in Afghanistan is positive towards my country in post-2014. We have capable National Security Forces beside the established government. On the other side, concerns are always everywhere in the world. 
Problems occur everywhere; we will be taking part in the upcoming presidential elections as responsible Afghans to elect a new government with free, fair and transparent elections. Peace and stability  are important goals and everyone is hopeful for a peaceful Afghanistan. For that, negotiation is a must, as instructed by Islamic Shariah law. 
So, by 2014, Afghanistan will be safe, peaceful, and three aspects of it – peace, elections and transition – will be the most vital issues that may keep Afghanistan’s prestigious status in the world.

Ahmad Samir Bayat, a former newscaster from Kabul with the Ariana International Television Network, now works in Ukraine.
Ahmad Samir Bayat
Afghanistan after 2014 will be the start of new opportunities for Afghans. A nation that tasted democracy after 2001, with some accomplishment and with the presence of international forces, will hopefully continue to remain stable and preserve the achievements of the last 12 years.
Of course, Afghans are worried about after 2014, when many of the job opportunities associated with international troops or organizations will be lost when they depart. But at the same time, Afghanistan will be building up its own economy and gradually moving towards economic independence.
Another opportunity will be the transfer of security responsibilities back to the Afghans. When that happens, the Afghan people will not witness further night air raid killings by international forces. The withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in general will support the self-sufficiency of the country.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Nairobi Football Team's Biggest Loss Was When Terrorists Killed An Exceptional Girl

Photo provided
Nuriana Merali, 15, a rising soccer star at her school, was killed in the terrorist attack on the Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya last month.

By Nandi Blanchard
Junior Reporter
NAIROBI, Kenya – The girls’ football team at the International School of Kenya faced many challenges this season, but the worst opponent wasn’t on the field – the Lions lost a rising star player to the terrorist attack at the Westgate mall.
Freshman Nuriana Merali, who was 15, was killed in the Sept. 21 attack by al-Shabab terrorists.
Her friends and teammates remembered an impressive girl.
“She never stopped smiling,” said Naheeda Madhani, an eighth grade student.
Nuriana died at the mall alongside her mother, Selima Merali. Her nine-year-old brother, Aliyaaz, survived two gunshot wounds.
Football coach Sagar Lakhani – called “Coach Sags” by the team – said the girls lost a vital member who would have greatly enriched the group over the next four years.
“With the whole team, there is a lot of fear and anger towards what happened,” Lakhani said. “We feel she had tremendous potential and that was obvious in other areas. The key for us is to look forward. We must realize the unpredictable nature in life.
The only freshman on the team, Nurian’s athletic prowess and work ethic made her a standout. Among the fastest on the team, she came with an impressive pedigree.
Nuriana was elected female athlete of the year in middle school last June.
“Nuriana was an exceptional person and athlete, but above and beyond her athletic ability, she had the power to inspire her teammates,” said Derrick Quinet, athletic director.

Photo provided 

Nuriana Merali, in the light blue jersey,
handles the ball during a football game.
When asked about Nuriana winning the female athlete award, Quinet said, “as much support as she received to be the female athlete, she received equal support for the sportsmanship award.”
The loss went beyond sport for many players.
Ella Blanchard, an eighth grade student, had a bond of friendship with Nuriana.
They played together on football and basketball teams in middle school, and Nuriana provided support and encouragement for Blanchard, who felt pushed aside by the senior girls.
“I felt Nuriana was the only girl that listened to me when I spoke,” she said. “I will never forget Nuriana and her kindness. We had so many laughs together.”
The girls planned to share a home in Ethiopia at the International Schools of South and East Africa sports tournament next month, one of two yearly ISSEA competitions  in football, volleyball and basketball.

Photo provided

The 2012 International School of Kenya girls middle school football team included good friends Ella Blanchard, who is in the front row on the far left, and Nuriana Merali, in the front, third from left.

The International School of Kenya’s girls ISSEA football team was struggling even before the attacks.
Just nine girls showed up for tryouts. This hit the team hard as they had already lost at least five athletes who graduated or left the school. The team currently has 10 players – one player short of an ideal team.
The girls are trying to stay strong despite the loss of a key player.
“We should take all opportunities in life whole heartedly, “ the coach said.
The girls know when they take the field Nuriana will be there.
“Although her body is not here playing alongside us, we know her soul is still with us,” Blanchard said.

Reporter Nandi Blanchard is the older sister of Ella Blanchard, who is quoted in this story.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

To Nairobi Student, The Westgate Mall Attack In Kenya Is 'The Scariest Thing In The World'

Live as Though Today is the Last Day You Have

By Britta Fischer  
Junior Reporter
NAIROBI, Kenya – It’s hard to explain what it feels like, what goes through your head, when a popular mall you visit every weekend is under a terrorist attack.
The first thing that hits you is the confusion, the why. Why are people doing this? Why is this happening? Why, why, why?

And then, it’s denial, the no. This isn’t happening. People can’t be so terrible. This cannot have occurred in a place I’ve walked, eaten, shopped. No, no, no.
After denial comes mourning, the how. How are we meant to get though this? How should we handle it? How will we ever move on? How, how, how?
Lastly, we get to acceptance, the okay. Some achieve this faster than others, most take quite a while to come to terms with the facts, the events, the losses.
Okay, we’re going to be okay. Those people lost their lives, but we’ll get through this. We were so lucky, we’re okay, we’re all right, and we’re alive.
Nuriana Merali
On Sept. 21 at 11:30 a.m., terrorists from the Somalia-based group al-Shabab attacked people at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people, including 15-year-old Nuriana Merali, a girl from my school, and her mom, Selima Merali.
That morning, I was supposed to have breakfast at Artcaffe, a popular restaurant in the mall.
But my school had an event that morning, a back to school picnic that started at noon. There were soccer games going on around the same time, as well as a swim meet.
Almost the entire school population was on campus. We’ve all been saying how grateful we are for having to attend a school event on a Saturday, because if we hadn’t, my school could have had a lot more tragedies than we did.
Besides Nuriana – whose eight-year-old brother Alyaz was shot, but survived – another girl, in the same freshman class, was also shot in the arm. She was hospitalized, but is recovering from her injuries.
I keep telling myself that this sort of thing happens every day, all over the world. There have been school shootings in the United States and bombs going off in Syria, but it’s not the same thing.
When something like this happens somewhere so familiar, it’s the scariest thing in the world. There have been pictures all over the news with dead bodies lying in places I’ve walked, places I’ve eaten, and places I’ve shopped.
Britta Fischer
I used to live my life as though nothing would happen, as though I was untouchable. I went to go to school in the morning and would not think about road mines, or AK-47s or terrorists wiring up a building.
My hair, makeup, and clothes used to be of the utmost importance. But then this happened, and I realized how fragile human life is, how important it really is to live each day to the fullest.
I know it’s cheesy and cliché. I know it’s something people say to make you enjoy the little things life has to offer, but it’s the most accurate thing in the world.
I’m scared all the time. I can’t sleep at night and eating makes me feel sick. Every morning when I get up and go to school, I’m scared that there’s going to be a shooting.
I never used to think about dying, but now, that’s all I do. I think about my family dying, my friends dying, me dying. And it scares me, but it also makes me realize that life is so precious.
Nuriana, with whom I had personally exchanged fun-filled conversations, tragically lost her life. She hadn’t even started living yet. She has a family that will never be the same because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And I feel so incredibly terrible for them, but it also makes me realize how lucky I was, how lucky I am. What if my school wasn’t having the event that Saturday? What if I didn’t have to be there to take shifts at different booths at the school picnic until later?
What if my schedule had allowed me to go to Westgate for breakfast that morning? What if, what if, what if?
But those “what ifs” didn’t happen.
I wasn’t at Westgate that morning because I had to take an early shift selling calendars and couldn’t go to breakfast somewhere that far away, so I went to a restaurant that was closer to my house. I wasn’t there that morning.
The attackers didn’t decide to shoot up the mall the previous weekend, or the one before that, they decided on Sept. 21 during a school event that every single student at my school is now grateful for.
I wasn’t there. But others were, and they will always be remembered.
Life is a gift – it really is. Appreciate it. Hug your friends every day. Kiss your family members and tell them one thing that you love about them every single day.

Live as though today is the last day you have. Live with hopes and dreams. Live with ambition. But most of all, live with love for the life you are blessed to be living.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Portraits Of Portugal's Ancient Windmills

Tom Vaughn /
An abandoned windmill on a mountainous road in the Portugese village of Rio Maior.

By Tom Vaughn
Junior Reporter
CORTICAL, Portugal – Critical to every village, the windmills in Portugal ground corn and wheat to make bread and grain.
Each town has or had at least one mill, all of which were operating until about 1970.
While spending the summer in Portugal, I tried to visit at least one windmill every day. I learned a lot about them by talking with neighbors and village elders about these fascinating, ancient machines.
Cortical, my grandparents’ village and my home when I am in Portugal, has two mills.
One, built in 1100 by a Roman student who loved the area, is called Moinho Estudante and it operated until the 1970s.
The windmills in Portugal are different from those in other countries – they’re musical.
Each sail of the mill had clay jars called buzios that were strapped to the wood so they howled in the wind like blowing into a bottle.

Tom Vaughn /
Finding a working windmill in Portugal is nearly impossible. This is a miniature model of a working mill. It's not real, but it spins, howls in the wind and the model stones inside it spin and grind like a real windmill.

Moinho Estudante was known in the area as the loudest mill around, and that’s saying a lot. The immediate area, measuring about four miles or six kilometers, includes more than 10 villages.

Tom Vaughn /
Mohino Estudante, one of the oldest windmills in Portugal, was built in the village of Cortical about 1100 by a Roman student who loved the area.

The walls of the mill are coated in broken jars. When laborers built the windmill long ago, they used the jars in a cement mixture to hold the ancient stones together. Nothing was wasted.
Today the jars of this mill are shattered on the ground, littering the entire area.
The sails of the mill have been missing since before 1987.
The other mill in my village has walls one meter thick, with no cement. This mill’s westernmost wall collapsed in the 1980s, and fire destroyed the remaining wood.

Tom Vaughn /
A mill in the village of Cortical, with walls that are a meter thick.

In Carvalheiro, the next town over, there is a mill hidden behind an olive grove that belonged to my great-grandfather. My grandfather’s cousin discovered it and refurbished the interior as a living space.

Tom Vaughn /
An old windmill in Carvalheiro that once belonged to the author's great-grandfather, it has since been restored and converted into a home.

The windmills in the towns of Vale Da Trave and Fontainha have also been restored and are used as homes.
Porto de Mos, a town 10 miles to the north (it’s named ‘mos’ because mos is the stone of a mill), has more than 12 mills spanning three mountains that circle the town
In 2009, the last mill of Porto de Mos stopped working.
Mendiga is a town with three mills, each of them abandoned. One of them, however, is being refurbished back into working condition.

Tom Vaughn /
A windmill chain in the village of Mendiga. Sometimes mills were built in groups, with as many as a dozen on one mountaintop.

Amais de Cima, a village south of mine, even had a water-powered grind mill, called Moinho da Agua. This water mill was abandoned in the 1960s, and a house built on its foundation.

Tom Vaughn /
Inside of a mill in Mendiga, the 1,000 pounds of weight from the grind stones is still supported by the ancient cork trees, which are used as flooring. 

Over time, the windmills of Portugal gave way to modern factories and electricity, though until the 1950s, some mill owners actually took wind-powered mills, and attached engines to them, rather than use natural wind power.
A half century ago, the horrendous economy in Portugal prompted thousands of people to leave the country, abandoning houses, farms, and its beautiful, musical windmills.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Pakistani College Women Study Heart Health

Arooj Khalid /
Students from Kinnaird College for Women marched on Monday in celebration of World Heart Day.
By Arooj Khalid
Senior Reporter
LAHORE, Pakistan – A healthy heart is a top priority to everyone. But does everyone really work for it? Or does everyone know how to keep a healthy heart?
Students at Kinnaird College for Women in Lahore got a crash course in heart health in the campus observation of World Heart Day on Monday.
World Heart Day focuses on teaching the global population about heart diseases, preventions, precautions and spreading other important heart-related information.
At Kinnaird College, the college’s Science Society led the student body in observing World Heart Day with a lecture by Dr. Muhammad Ali Awan, a skit that focused on practices that can lead to cardiovascular diseases – such as smoking and eating fatty foods.
Arooj Khalid /
A skit explored the activities that can be hazardous to the heart.
In his talk, Awan emphasized the importance of awareness about these diseases and engaged listeners by posing questions to the audience allowing them to participate.
Awan stressed five major preventions for  heart disease: control over food intake, exercise, quitting smoking, control of ongoing diseases, and stress release. He said it is important for people of all ages to check their blood pressure and sugar levels because studies show that heart diseases can start at ages as young as 20 years.
Arooj Khalid /
Dr. Muhammad Ali Awan talks with Kinnaird College students about the importance of good heart health.
“When we talk about controlling the food intake, we usually say that oily foods like Siri paye or Nihari musn’t be eaten frequently. But the fast food is also quite harmful for your heart,” Awan said. “When a patient is diagnosed with heart disease, the first question he would ask is, ‘Doctor, what should I eat now?’ whereas the one he should be asking is, ‘Doctor, what shouldn’t I eat now?’”
Arooj Khalid /
Students filled the room where 
Muhammad Ali
on heart 
Awan said it is important to visit health care providers regularly and drew connections between heart disease and diabetes.
“If you have one of these diseases, the other is knocking at the door,” Awan said.
Explaining the influence of exercise on our health, he said, “A 30-minute walk in the morning is better than one in the evening.”
Awan offered counsel for individuals from all walks of life.
“Eat less, eat healthy. Start meditating,” he said.
Following Awan’s lecture, students of the college took part in a World Heart Day walk.