Thursday, July 31, 2014

Stunning Sunset At The Egyptian Shore

Dina El Halawany /
A view of the setting sun and rising moon from the Aida private Mediterranean beach in Montazah, Alexandria, Egypt. Calm waves were hitting the shore, the golden sand sparkled under the fading sun and a boat sailed away in the distance.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Photo Essay: Hartford Circus Fire Memorial

Youth Journalism International reporter Tom Vaughn visited the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial recently and captured these images. Seventy years ago this month, 168 people, many of them children, perished in that terrible fire under the Big Top. Vaughn and other YJI reporters wrote about some of the survivors in this story. The memorial is behind the Wish School at 350 Barbour St. in Hartford, Connecticut.

Tom Vaughn /
A marker at the entrance to the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial.

Tom Vaughn /
Brick pavers leave memorial messages in a large circle at the focal point of the memorial. The bricks in this photo remember Emmett Kelly, a famous circus clown who was there that day and survived the fire, and author Stewart O'Nan, who wrote a definitive book about it, The Circus Fire: A True Story of an American Tragedy. 

Tom Vaughn /
People visiting the memorial study the focal point of the memorial, which marks the spot of the center circus ring, while others read the messages on the bricks and remember those lost in the terrible blaze.

Tom Vaughn /
The entrance to the center ring area at the memorial.

Tom Vaughn /
Carnations arranged over the focal point of the memorial on the 70th anniversary of the fire honor the memory of those lost that day.

Tom Vaughn /
Some of the bricks in the center ring area are painful to read, even 70 years later.

Tom Vaughn /
A site orientation marker at the Hartford Circus Fire Memorial shows the location of the Big Top tent, the entrances and other important places on the grounds.
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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Seeing The World Through Google Glass
YJI Senior Reporter Mary Majerus-Collins wearing Google Glass

By Mary Majerus-Collins
Senior Reporter
NEW YORK, N.Y., U.S.A. – Google’s new piece of famous tech, Google Glass, allows the user to browse the internet, take pictures and video, share on social media and more, all while remaining relatively hands-free.
At the Google for Media Summit in Manhattan on Monday, I got to try it.
Google Glass fits and feels just like a normal pair of glasses. The sample pair I tried on had no lenses – they looked a little weird to me, but it made them fit right over my regular glasses. so I wasn’t blind while wearing them
The screen for Google Glass is in the top right-hand corner of your vision and is a little bigger than a thumbnail. When I looked up at it, I had a little double vision of the screen, but I suspect that it would go away with use (or less caffeine).
Google Glass functions on a combination of voice, touch and motion sensors.
You turn it on and go back by touching the side piece and scroll by raising and lowering your head. Speaking activates controls like camera and video.
The woman showing me the Glass said the data is stored in the cloud.
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At New York Media Summit, Google Touts Fusion As New Visual Storytelling Tool
Daniel Sieberg, Head of Outreach, Google for Media, spoke at the Google for Media Summit about changes in the way news is presented and consumed.
By Mary Majerus-Collins,
Yelena Samofalova and Mugdha Gurram
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y., U.S.A. – Ordinary data can be presented in a more interesting, visual way on a map or graph by using a new Google Drive application called Fusion.
Journalists got a lesson on the application, which is still in the testing stage, and how to utilize it in their work at the Google for Media Summit Monday in Manhattan.
Anyone who wants to share their data on a map can now do so with relative ease by using Fusion, according to Vanessa Schneider, Geo Media Program Manager for Google. At the media summit, Schneider led a workshop on creating custom maps using Google Fusion Tables.
Fusion combines spreadsheets with the familiar Google Maps technology and database to generate unique maps for each data set.
In the workshop, participants used Google Fusion to map insects in Costa Rica and to add color-coded gradients to show the number of workplace deaths in varying U.S. states.
With various customizable features and complementary tools, journalists and others can use these visuals to engage their audience and enhance user experience.
Using Fusion, people can upload a spreadsheet with a location in one column and other pieces of information in other columns. Fusion then creates a map with points at the specified locations. Users can add tabs with information associated with each particular place.
When collecting information for Fusion on a spreadsheet, for example, there could be columns with latitudes and longitudes or just the names of cities. In other columns, users could put in any kind of information associated with those locations that they need for their company, news story or research. 
Fusion then creates an organized, interactive array of information from what had been just writing in a spreadsheet.
With more people accessing news through mobile devices, it's becomingly increasingly more important for journalists to take advantage of technological tools like Google Fusion in order to keep their viewers' attention. Visuals like maps help add to the audience's understanding of a story.
"Journalism still matters," said Daniel Sieberg, who is head of outreach for Google for Media. He said Fusion tables can help represent data effectively in a visual way.
At Google’s Media Summit, presenters from The New York Times, ABC News, and Time joined Google executives in talking about new tools journalists can use as well as other innovations that can help them tell stories. 
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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Teen In Gaza: I Lost All Of The Hopes I Had

Salama S. Salama /
A street in Khanyounis, a city in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

By Ahmad Zaqout
Junior Reporter
KHANYOUNIS, Gaza Strip – I used to think I suffered a lot compared to other teenagers across the world. Lately, though, I realized I didn't fully know the true meaning of suffering.
At first, it was a siege. Because Gaza is confined by a closed border with Egypt on one end and Israel on the other, there is no way to get out and no way to bring necessities in.
Since 2007, we’ve had a shortage of life needs, from electricity to water to food, but that is all nothing. Literally nothing.
But the past couple of weeks, the more than 1.5 million people here in Gaza have lived in an endless nightmare.
I can only talk about mine.
The first few days it all seemed to be like any other day of fighting: they bomb a couple of empty pieces of land and it all ends.
Salama S. Salama /
Abedulruhman El Najjar, 5 and Ahmed Taha,
6, fill a bottle with water in Khanyounis, Gaza.
But then, I started to see people falling all around me, houses turned to ashes, schools becoming as flat as the ground and body parts all over the place.
And then the unstopping, heart-stabbing sound of ambulances that get your mind wilder than you could have ever imagined, picturing all your loved ones while hearing only two voices in your head – one that says, Yes it is him or her while the other one denies it. And in my mind, I hear the cries of heartbroken mothers and the silence of helpless fathers.
This kept on going endlessly. I thought nothing could be worse, but the military assaults never cease to amaze me. On the 20th of July, it took them one hour, only 60 minutes, to take 65 souls and cause more than 250 injuries in the same place.
No human can bear such a thing. No human can do such a thing.
My phone never stopped ringing that day. I found more than 30 missed calls from my sister in the United States. When I talked to her, after a while I could hear the sadness in her voice. She denied it, but I could tell she had been crying for weeks. I wished I could do something, but nothing in my reach could ever change any of this.
Salama S. Salama /
Displaced people who fled their homes, or
whose homes were destroyed in the bombings,
shelter here in a school in Khanyounis.
I lost all of the hopes I had in the world that day.
I thought I had become numb from all of the slaughter happening around me. I only wish I had.
Our daily routine has become more like a preparation for our deaths, trying to grab whatever we can and just run. Run to a safe place, run to nowhere.
I envy those who went to God’s mercy in the first couple of days. At least they haven't seen their own mothers, fathers and children heartlessly murdered and blown to pieces.
There are no more words to say, only the pictures of dead and wounded can describe what is really happening.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Bitterness In The Land Of Milk And Honey

Eli Winter /
The sun rises over the ancient fort of Masada.

By Eli Winter
Senior Reporter
ISRAEL – Israel is a country at once captivating and challenging, truly devastating in its beauty. Everywhere you look, there’s a view that looks like it was made to be put on the front side of a postcard.  There’s the sunrise at the ancient fort of Masada, the sun’s reflection off of the Sea of Galilee, the gorgeous Baha’i Gardens in Haifa.
But there also exists a tension in Israel, an unfortunate byproduct of confusion, chaos and conflict regarding which group of people deserves to live there more: Israelis or Arabs.
Forty-three Jewish high school students from Congregation Emanu El’s Helfman Religious School journeyed from Houston, Texas, to Israel this month, arriving at the center of this tension, which is currently the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

The day of their arrival, students learned the names of the three Israeli teens – Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach – who were murdered in June. Israelis, already distraught and distressed by their deaths and the ongoing search for their bodies, were made only more so by the death of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was murdered a day after the three Israeli teens’ funeral.
Friction between Gaza and Israel grew to the point that Hamas began firing rockets into Israel. Israel responded with airstrikes and a ground invasion. The conflict continues.
But the Texas students, like many other religious groups touring Israel at the time, stayed in the country. They stayed out of harm’s way their entire time in Israel, experiencing a different side of Israel than the one tourists always talk about, seeing the parts of Israel they would otherwise never see.
First, Poland
Before arriving in Israel, 17 of the students went to Poland to visit mass graves, Holocaust memorial sites, synagogues, and concentration camps to more fully grasp the significance of the Holocaust and the existence of the state of Israel.
In Poland, students toured the New Synagogue in Tarnow. Only its bimah, or altar, survived a Nazi bombing assault years ago.
In Lublin, Poland, they saw the concentration camp Majdanek, where tour guide Mark Lazar told the visiting Texans the horrifying story of a German soldier who raped a Jewish boy. After that trauma, the boy turned into a sort of special assistant to German officials, who forced him to hang his own parents, the guide said, adding that the boy often spat on Jewish prisoners.

Eli Winter /
The entrance to the concentration camp Majdanek.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Oświęcim, Poland – site of the notorious concentration camp where more than 1.1 million people lost their lives to the Nazi extermination program – resembles a tin of sardines upon entry. It’s stuffed to the gills with tour groups representing students of a variety of religions, races and creeds. Its historical significance lends a certain authority that other historical sites lack – from the infamous sign telling workers that work would free them and the world leaders who visit it, to its presence in popular culture.
And yet, perhaps because of this significance, the museum at times appeared to be more of a tourist trap than a memorial. Hot dogs, hamburgers and snack foods are available for purchase on the grounds. Group tours, so large that visitors need headsets just to hear their guide, envelop the exhibits, which are often behind imposing glass windows. Thus these very real artifacts are forbidden from receiving the warmth of human touch that they deserve.
Thousands of prisoners’ shoes are shoved into an exhibit that is at once direct but distant. Another exhibit that contains the artificial limbs of disabled prisoners, feels nothing but artificial in its presentation. The museum attempts to welcome visitors onto the grounds to remember the most difficult time in Jewish history, and then keeps them an arm’s length away.
Despite this, the museum left a lasting impression on many of the Texas youth.
Aaron Feldstein, a junior at the Emery/Weiner School in Houston, described his visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau as the most meaningful experience of his trip.
“Seeing where so many people were murdered,” said Feldstein, brought on “very raw emotions… So many people’s lives were cut short at that location, and it just struck me that we were standing where [that] happened.”
Feldstein said the museum’s ‘Yad Vashem’ exhibit stood out. The exhibit, officially referred to as the Book of Names, consists of an enormous book – compiled in conjunction with Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial – which filled a whole room and spilled out into another. Its 8,120 pages hold the names and birth and death dates of Holocaust victims, and more names are added as they are found.

Holocaust Memorial and the Wailing Wall
Yad Vashem itself resonated with students. Matthew Baker, a junior at Bellaire High School in Bellaire, Texas, said his visit to the Holocaust memorial was his most significant experience in Israel. He described its Children’s Memorial as being especially meaningful. The Children’s Memorial, hollowed out from an underground cavern, pays tribute to children who died in the Holocaust by reflecting Yahrtzeit candles against many mirrors, creating the impression that there are millions of stars shining in its space. The flames of the candles, which in the Jewish tradition are lit on the anniversary of someone’s death, are the only thing preventing the room from becoming pitch black. Throughout the Children’s Memorial, visitors can hear a muted recording of someone reading a long list of the names of murdered children.
At the Wailing Wall, one of Judaism’s most sacred sites, Jews from across the world flock to pray. They slip little prayers of their own inside the worn Wall’s many cracks, in the hopes that their prayers will be heard. There’s a stark separation along gender lines at the Wall. Women are afforded a fraction of the space given to men.
For some Texas travelers, the Wailing Wall lived up to its name, moving them to tears.
Ely Eastman, a senior at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, described his experience at the Wall as an “ordeal.”
A Haredi, or Orthodox Jew supervising the area told Eastman that he wasn’t allowed to wrap tefillin (a special ritual with parchment scrolls from the Torah wrapped on the arms and head) as part of praying at the Wall. The man, who told Eastman that he wasn’t allowed the ritual because his mother isn’t Jewish, proceeded to remove the tefillin from Eastman’s body. At the same time, another Haredi Jew unsuccessfully tried to put it back on the teen.
The exchange shocked Eastman, who walked away upset, unable to make his prayers the way he had hoped.
Eastman said he wondered “why I had come so far, why I had experienced all the horrors of the Holocaust,” in the visit to Poland, and why he had “assumed all that collective guilt and mourning. If I was good enough to go to a concentration camp, then how come I wasn't good enough to perform mitzvot as a Jew?”
On reflection, Eastman said he felt that his difficult time at the Wall gave him a “theme for my trip, one about discovering my religious identity and how I could impact my community.”
Other students, however, felt reassured by visiting the Wall.
Feldstein admitted that before leaving Texas, he wasn’t sure he would get very much out of his time in Poland and Israel.
“I just thought that Israel was just ... the home of the Jewish people, you know, ‘Whatever, I’m gonna see a wall, I’m gonna see lots of old buildings, whoop dee doo…’” But he described feeling a “strong connection to my faith” when praying at the Wall.
“When I prayed at the Western Wall,” said Feldstein, “I was praying for the health, well-being of my family, and that felt a connection to it, like it was gonna matter, it was gonna happen, it was gonna come true.”

Can Two Cultures Coexist?
Hope for a better future has remained constant in Israel since the state’s inception in 1948, in large part because of the consistent conflicts it has faced from air, land, and sea, and, some say, from the media. This time was no different. Students expressed empathy for Israelis and a desire to experience the things they did during such conflicts. While he was “frustrated” by the group’s itinerary changing frequently because of the conflict, Eastman said he “[didn’t] think I would mind hearing sirens, seeing as many Israeli citizens go through that experience hourly.” Baker described the conflict as “very disappointing.” Feldstein said that the conflict created “a very difficult situation” for Israelis and Arabs alike.
Students saw positive interactions between Jews and Arabs firsthand when they visited the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Jerusalem School, which educates Jews and Arabs together. Most Israeli schools only educate one ethnicity or religious group, and there are only a few other schools like the Max Rayne School in Israel. Affiliated with the Center for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel, Hand in Hand’s mission is “to create a strong and inclusive shared society in Israel” through a network of integrated, bilingual schools.
Despite the school’s efforts, Baker said he saw more intolerance of different ideas in Israeli society than acceptance.
“Israel, being a mostly Jewish state, brings to rise ... problems ... when trying to assimilate two completely different cultures” like Jews and Arabs, Baker said. “You can’t make them get along.”
Indeed, the conflict between those two cultures escalated while the students were in Israel. Cities where the two cultures coexist are rare: Acre, in the north of Israel, Haifa, on the Mediterranean Sea, and Jerusalem, in the center. But it is often possible to determine whether a village or town is predominantly Jewish or Arab by looking at the rooftops of buildings. Arab houses will have black cylinders on their roofs.
Eli Winter /
The Israeli flag flies over Masada.
To Baker, the conflict is extremely one-sided. “Israel cannot do anything to protect itself without hurting Palestinian civilians,” he said. “You can see that Israel is trying to help the Palestinian civilians by trying to instigate cease-fires. They’ve been sending in humanitarian aid.” Although he chose not to visit Poland before going to Israel, Baker offered its Jewish history as “living proof that the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust did not die in vain. Their deaths opened the door to the creation of the state of Israel, and [for] that I am forever grateful."
Students who had witnessed evidence of the horrors of the Holocaust in Poland before arriving in Israel felt an especially strong desire to help Israel in the future. Both Eastman and Feldstein said visiting Poland put their time in Israel into a different light. Poland “put the entire Israel trip into context for me,” said Eastman. “By experiencing the sadness in Poland, I was able to see why Israel's existence is so important.”
Feldstein said Poland gave him a different perspective on what he saw in Israel and a different view of the history of the Jewish people. Poland offers a chance to remember the lowest point in Jewish history, he said, while Israel celebrates the Jewish people.
“It’s a different kind of remembrance,” Feldstein said, adding that Israel’s existence says, “We made it, we have arrived, we are the Jewish people.”
The Texas students described themselves as feeling more sure in their support for Israel after their visit.  Baker said he felt “extremely informed and ready to teach the truth about what’s going on.” Eastman and Feldstein both expressed support for Israel’s army, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and Eastman said the trip “made me interested in joining the IDF.” Students felt a personal connection to the IDF after their security guard, Ben Balmas, was recalled to join his army unit as a medic.

Introspection in the Desert
Although Israel has felt the need to defend itself since its inception, there is still a place where one can be at peace within the country, the Negev, Israel’s largest desert. The student travelers stayed in the Negev for a large part of their time in Israel because of the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza.
Eli Winter /
The Negev Desert in southern Israel.

One night, they went to the sand dunes, first sliding down them as if they were on a hill, then scurrying back up the dunes in a frenzy to slide back down again. Then they were asked to sit down in a quiet space, alone, to take time for introspection and reflect on the demands the desert made. They remembered how they could only go through the sand so fast, or else their fatigue would make them move even slower. They let their eyes set on the darkness of the sand dune’s shadows in contrast to the bright yellow bomb of the sun against their faces, and they stepped their way like tin soldiers over red rusty rocks and tried not to tumble. They found how quickly the sand slipped through their fingers with the wind.
Here, the students were not alone, and yet they felt completely alone. But it was not like the loneliness that everyone has experienced. It was instead a state of solitude, of being at peace with the world and oneself. And here, the students were at peace, and they knew that peace would come, peace would most definitely come. If only the world would know where to look.

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Antarctica: Peace, Cold And Penguins

Antonina Machado /
Giant icebergs are part of the beauty of Antarctica

By Antonina Machado
Junior Reporter
ANTARCTICA – A few months ago, my parents invited me to go on an expedition to Antarctica – it was my mom’s dream.
Antonina Machado /
Whales were the first animals encountered
on a journey to Antarctica.
To get me interested, my father gave me a book about the discovery of the seventh continent, explaining the expeditions of Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who was the first to reach the South Pole, and an earlier Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton. Both traveled more than a century ago.
The vessel we traveled in had the same name the Amundsen’s, MV FRAM.
I’m glad I decided to go, because the journey never stopped surprising me.

Antonina Machado /
A view of our ship from the shore, where
we spent our days.
One of my first experiences there were the three whales. They were right in front of the ship, but no one saw them at first.
Only when the captain started talking did we passengers realize the whales were sleeping, just there, floating in the water. 
All of us rushed to take pictures out on the frosty deck.

The captain whispered, so as not to wake them, but continued to tell us curiosities. 
Between the splashes from the penguins swimming around, and the clicks from the cameras of the astonished tourists, I didn’t know how they could be sleeping.

Beyond Expectations
Antonina Machado in Antarctica
with the ship in the background.
Usually, when you go on a trip, you have expectations in mind and ideas about what it’s going to be like.
Antarctica exceeded all of mine.
When I started telling people where I was going for vacation the expression that filled the faces of every single one of them was surprise.
They asked me questions like, “How are you getting there?” or, “Where are you going to stay?” and finally, “Why are you going?”
This last one was definitely the winner, but I can’t blame people for wondering. It’s not every day you talk to someone who is going to such a place.
When I think back, the three words that pop into my head are peace, cold and penguins. Well, maybe whales, too.
Antonina Machado /
A penguin at rest.

Harmony and Adventure
What really caught me off-guard, though, was the harmony between all the animals, and in the place itself.
Antonina Machado after making camp
on Cuverville Island, Antarctica. 
There was no sound pollution, no cars, no malls, just pure nature. Even city lovers may find themselves delighted with the white quiet experienced there.
During the 11 days I spent going from island to island on the continent, I found myself faced with the opportunity to do something special: spend one night camping at Cuverville Island with some of the expedition leaders, a few other people from the boat and the gentoo penguins as neighbors.
We called it the Amundsen experience, but with thermic sleeping bags and tents.
Fortunately for us, that day was the warmest one. It was summer there then, so we got lucky enough to have two degrees Celsius above zero, and sun!
To celebrate the rare event, we went kayaking around the island, alongside the joyous penguins and sleepy wales. Some people even thought it was warm enough to go for a swim – in totally normal, non-thermic bathing suits – a crazy idea.
YJI reporter Antonina Machado, in the front seat of the nearest kayak, takes to the icy water on a warm day in Antarctica.
At dusk, we started setting up camp, followed by some free time to explore.

Penguins are curious animals. If you just sit on a rock and wait a couple of minutes, you will find yourself surrounded by those cute, fat, cold-loving creatures, coming to check you out and bite your boots, like they were asking you to play.
Antonina Machado /
Penguins are curious, friendly animals who interact with visitors to Antarctica.
Nevertheless, an interesting fact about penguins is their strict bedtime. About 11 o’clock they start gathering and heading into the land.
Then the calm, quiet environment gets a negative feel and you finally perceive you are in the middle of nowhere and even the animals are gone.
Antonina Machado /
From their camp on Cuverville Island, travelers - and penguins - can see the lights of their ship as darkness descends on Antarctica.
It’s a moment of sad loneliness but it goes away as soon as you look up and realize you’ve never actually seen the sky. There are no lights whatsoever and yet it blinds you.
It’s impossible to notice the darkness behind when you can’t take your eyes of all the stars, shining so bright, looking like thousands of fireflies, dancing in front of you, bringing back the magic feel that the place had before.
Unfortunately, the mornings aren’t as wondrous as the nights. There is no need to set your alarm clock there, since you have penguins trying to invade your tent at the first glances of sunlight.
Antonina Machado /
Penguins on Cuverville Island, Antarctica
Antonina Machado /
Three gentoo penguins in Antarctica

Global Science Presence
Antonina Machado /
After leaving the camp, we set off to a place where all the scientific bases were. There were bases belonging to Chile and Argentina and I even got a stamp on my passport from the Russian one. 
We were able to go inside them, but not allowed to see any of the special equipment they keep.
Another really amazing place we saw was a Russian Catholic Orthodox church on the top of a hill, there, in Antarctica.
Antonina Machado /
Antarctica is home to scientific bases from many
countries. This island hosted bases 
for Chile, 
Argentina and Russia.
It may be a remote continent, but it’s definitely not forgotten. The scientists and workers there run their own little village. There is a schedule for visitations and souvenirs shops, so you can actually buy a postcard from Antarctica to send to your friends.It may be a remote continent, but it’s definitely not forgotten. 
Our next destination was a place they called the whales bay, and what a big surprise it was when the captain told us it was actually a volcano.
Antonina Machado /
An abandoned building from an old whale
oil factory in Antarctica.
Many decades ago, in its last eruption, the walls collapsed, leaving only a narrow passage to allow ships to go inside it.
There, besides the dazzling surroundings, we were still able to see ancient constructions – whale oil factories and houses and a ghost town, still preserved after all those years.
My journey to Antarctica gave me a roller coaster of emotions. With breathtaking views as our constant scenery, we stopped in places only seen in films. I got to climb a mountain and roll back down, kayak in the frozen sea and now, share this unique experiences with people from all over the world.
My advice to anyone who is planning a trip is to go to Antarctica. It will blow your mind.
Antonina Machado /
One gentoo penguin, alone on the ice of Antarctica

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