Youth in Action

October 1, 2004

Profiles of Youth Leading Change Around the WorldVOLUME IIIOCTOBER 2004Youth in Action
About YouthActionNetLaunched in 2001 by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia, YouthActionNet fosters the development of leadership skills among young social entrepreneurs around the world. Through YouthActionNet programs and activities, young leaders develop personal leadership skills (e.g., decision-making, conflict resolution), as well as organizational skills (e.g., managing a budget, fundraising, and working with the media). A critical component of YouthActionNet is a youth-led website ( that supports young people in their efforts to lead positive social change. The YouthActionNet awards, given out annually to 20 outstanding youth leaders, provide additional support and recognition to this growing movement. About IYF The International Youth Foundation (IYF) is working in more than 60 countries and territories to improve the conditions and prospects for young people where they live, learn, work, and play. Established in 1990, IYF works with hundreds of companies, foundations, and civil society organizations to strengthen and ?scale up? existing programs that are making a positive and lasting difference in young lives. Since its founding, IYF and its global network of in-country Partners have helped millions of young people gain access to the life skills, education, job training, and opportunities critical to their success. Visit us at: About the Authors Sheila Kinkade is a writer and communications consultant working to help nonprofit organizations ?tell their stories.? With a passion for storytelling and the documentary tradition, she communicates the essence of nonprofit organizations? work through capturing the voices of those they serve. A graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, she has spent much of the last decade documenting programs for young people internationally and working to raise awareness of their needs. Christy Macy, the Director of Publications for the International Youth Foundation (IYF), has written widely about children and youth, education reform, and development issues. For nearly 30 years, she has worked in the communications field on behalf of non-profit advocacy organizations promoting human rights, religious tolerance, non-violence, and improved outcomes for children and families. From 1998-1999, she served in the White House as senior speechwriter for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. ?2004. International Youth Foundation. All rights reserved. Parts of this report may be quoted as long as the authors and IYF are duly recognized. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted for commercial purposes without prior permission from the International Youth Foundation.
energytalentidealism This publication is dedicated to young people around the world who take a stand on issues they care about and engage others as part of the solution. Your energy, talent, and idealism make our world a better place. ? YouthActionNet

Table of ContentsArgentinaMarcelo Ber.........................................8Promoting youth volunteerismMaria D?Ovidio....................................9 Helping low-income families launch small businessesArmeniaLilit Simonyan....................................10 Engaging youth as active citizensAustraliaSylvie Ellsmore..................................11 Uniting young people in efforts to combat racism CambodiaRaj Ridvan Singh..............................12 Providing educational opportunities to
out-of-school youth CameroonErnest Mbandi...................................13 Working to put an end to child slaveryChinaTang Kun............................................14A peer-to-peer approach to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS Czech RepublicDavid Riman......................................15 Instilling social and ethical values among young peopleGeorgiaKhatuna Tsintsadze.........................16Advocating for the rights of street children HungaryZoltan Prekopcsak...........................17 Celebrating culture through radioIndiaJyotirmayee Mohapatra.................18 Defending the rights of women and children KenyaStella Amojong..................................19 Preventing teenage pregnancyForeword..............................................................6
United StatesMaya Bianca Enista...........................................25 Empowering young people to make a
difference in their communitiesCourtney Spence..............................26 Enabling college students to take action in an inter-connected worldJennifer Staple..................................27 Mobilizing students to prevent blindness worldwide KenyaJoseph Njuguna...............................20 Helping students to become
peace buildersPhilippinesDavid Requejo Bercasio.................21Encouraging young people to play an active role in societySerbia and MontenegroAna Popovic......................................22Educating young people about healthy decision-makingSouth AfricaLucky Mlambo..................................23 Equipping youth with livelihood skills UkraineYevgen Bezvushko..........................24 Nurturing a sense of social responsibility among businesses and citizensTable of Contents
?It?s not me who will decide if I am a leader or an effective one, but those who trust in me and follow.? ? Lilit Simonyan, President, Stepanavan Youth Center, Stepanavan, Armenia?I consider myself a great team player instead of a leader because achieving objectives for others requires a team and lots of love and unity.? ? Raj Ridvan Singh, Co-founder and International Director, Leadership Character Development Institute, Phnom Penh, Cambodia?I don?t think I?m a leader. I prefer to be called a server. I think a leader is one who sends out commands. I don?t. I?m just making a connection between those who want to help others and those who need help.? ? Tang Kun, HIV/AIDS activist, Beijing, China?Because I am a person who is active in my community, I would describe myself as one who leads; but societies never shift and change because of one person. Nearly all the time change happens because of a group of dedicated people who work together to achieve change.?
? Sylvie Ellsmore, Founder, ReconciliACTION Network, Sydney, Australia?I lead by example. I learn from others and others? mistakes? I am a good leader because I am a servant. I don?t have to be the best or be the strongest. I help others first and put them before my own needs. That way I can be a role model for them.? ? Lucky Mlambo, founder, Vuk?Uzimele Msogwaba Youth at Work Project, Msogwaba, South Africa
ForewordWhat motivated Ernest Mbandi, at 21, to launch a campaign to end child slavery in Cameroon? What prompted Maria D?Ovidio, at 22, to seek ways of helping poor families in Argentina to develop their own small businesses? Both were driven by an urgent need in their community; both possess a profound commitment to social justice. Here in these pages, you?ll meet twenty outstanding youth leaders who, like Ernest and Maria, took a stand for what they believe in. You?ll learn of youth-led efforts to address a host of urgent global challenges, ranging from the spread of HIV/AIDS and child trafficking to violence, racism, and unemployment. In a world where poverty and lack of opportunity fuel apathy and despair, these young people offer hope that positive change is not only possible, but is happening every day in communities around the globe. Each of the young leaders profiled here are winners of YouthActionNet awards. Launched by the International Youth Foundation (IYF) and Nokia in 2001, YouthActionNet works to recognize and promote the role of youth in leading positive change. The YouthActionNet awards, given out to twenty youth leaders annually, spotlight the far-reaching accomplishments of today?s young social entrepreneurs. To date, more than 50 youth from 32 countries have received awards. Together, they represent a growing global movement of committed youth striving to meet urgent social needs. While their pathways of civic action may differ, today?s young social entrepreneurs are united by a passionate commitment to contribute to the world around them. Most face very real obstacles?lack of money, time, expertise, and formal training, to name only a few. Yet they choose to focus not on limits, but on possibilities. They choose not to accept what is, but to imagine what might be. Take 21-year-old Lilit Simonyan of Armenia. Says Lilit, ?If everyone escapes from problems instead of facing and overcoming them, no progress will be made.? While she admits her efforts to provide youth in her community with opportunities is like a ?drop in the ocean,? she?s driven by a vision of ?the kind of world I want to have and live in.?6
7South African Lucky Mlambo shares a similar passion. Lucky grew up in a poor rural community ravaged by HIV/AIDS. Rather than resign himself to his circumstances, Lucky is equipping his younger peers, many of them orphans, with livelihood skills. Rather than give up when he encounters obstacles, Lucky uses his ?stumbling blocks as a ladder.?As impressive as such efforts sound, there?s an unfortunate tendency to view youth-led activities as small in scale and short-lived. In fact, many of today?s young social entrepreneurs are taking calculated steps toward achieving long-term systemic change. In her work to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in Kenya, for example, Stella Amojong is sensitizing her entire community and education officials to the importance of reproductive health education. Equally impressive is how several of these youth-led initiatives have been ?scaled up? to achieve greater impact. Take, for example, Jennifer Staple, an American college student who, over the course of three years, developed an idea for combating blindness into a global organization operating in more than a dozen countries. Similarly, in Cambodia, 21-year-old Raj Ridvan Singh co-founded an organization which today provides more than 5,000 out-of-school youth with the education and skills training they need to succeed. Such efforts are not just ?good works,? they?re making a profound and lasting difference in people?s lives. Looking ahead, we hope to provide young people such as those profiled here with the knowledge and skills they need to strengthen and expand their efforts. At a time when daily headlines are rife with negative news, these stories of hope and courage prompt each of us to rethink what is possible in our lives.David W. Hornbeck Martin SandelinPresident & CEO Senior Vice President MarketingInternational Youth Foundation Customer and Market Relations Nokia
Promoting youth volunteerismMarcelo BerBuenos Aires, ArgentinaMarcelo Ber was a 19-year-old student at St. Andr? University, the most prestigious business school in Argentina, in 2001 when his nation experienced the worst economic and social crisis in its history. More than half of the population was living below the poverty line and in just one week, the country went through five presidents. Many people felt disillusioned in the political system and apathetic about the future, recalls Marcelo, who knew he had to do something to improve the situation. His strategy: mobilize young people themselves to be part of the solution. Along with a handful of his peers, Marcelo founded Compromiso Joven (Youth Commitment) with the goal of promoting volunteerism among university students. Through the program, students at St. Andr? volunteer their time at local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Since the program began, 150 students have participated as volunteers, with 1,200 children and 30 NGOs benefiting
as a result. ?The most fulfilling part of my work is the feeling at the end
of the day that you and your
co-workers have been working as a team to make another world possible.?The volunteers offer leadership courses to children and adolescents, train teachers, and help NGOs conduct research. With many nonprofit leaders lacking formal training in management, the student volunteers provide assistance in such areas as strategic planning, communications, and fundraising. Students may choose from a menu of voluntary activities depending on their interests and time available. In 2003, Compromiso Joven organized internships for 85 students within 19 NGOs. Those looking to simply explore service activities spend one to five weeks volunteering at a community center. Not only do the nonprofit organizations benefit, but the volunteers do too. Through their service work, they?re able to gain practical experience and translate learning into action. At the same time, they learn that through applying their knowledge, they can help others pursue a brighter future. Much of Compromiso Joven?s success can be attributed to the drive and business savvy of its young leaders, most of whom are studying economics and business. Most will eventually pursue jobs in the private sector, although many volunteers admit that working in the social sector is far more interesting than they previously thought. Some graduates of the program have even assumed leadership roles within NGOs or are now working in the area of corporate social responsibility. Funding for Compromiso Joven?s efforts comes mainly from the University and foundations, including a start-up grant of US $275,000 given by the Antorchas Foundation. Compromiso Joven also receives support from individuals, companies, and the government. Marcelo hopes to contribute to changed attitudes and behaviors in his country, whereby greater numbers of young people reach out and contribute to those in need. The most satisfying part of his work, says Marcelo, is ?the feeling at the end of the day that you and your coworkers have been working as a team to make another world possible.?Contact Marcelo at: Marcelo meets with students at a local school.8
Helping low-income families launch small businessesMaria D?OvidioArgentinaOften common problems give rise to common solutions, which is how Maria D?Ovidio, a 22-year-old college graduate from Buenos Aires, Argentina, ended up working in a small rural village in Bangladesh. Frustrated by her country?s lack of progress in addressing the root causes of poverty, Maria chose to learn from the experiences of one of her heroes: Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. After reading Yunus? book, Creating a World Without Poverty, Maria recognized that the strategy of providing small loans to poor women to launch their own businesses was just the kind of economic model her country needed.Almost half the people of Argentina live in poverty, and nearly a quarter are without jobs. Determined to change those statistics, Maria spent four months in rural villages in Bangladesh, studying how the Grameen Bank works in poor communities to enable individuals?primarily women? to start small enterprises and gain stature in their communities. Upon her return to Argentina, Maria founded Intepay, a small business development program that targets people living in some of Buenos Aires? poorest neighborhoods. Intepay works with families to produce goods and services that are competitive within the local marketplace. ?In this way,? explains Maria, ?individual dignity and the value of work are restored and the impact in the community is big.? The program offers participants management training, seed money, and advice given by young professionals. Since 2002, Maria has replicated the model in three slum neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, where families are now producing candles and clothing, and providing silk screen services. Today, her program directly impacts 150 people, and indirectly benefits another 300. ?This is not only an alternative way of employing vulnerable populations. It?s rebuilding social capital in the poorest communities.?Intepay is a project of Interrupci?, a youth-led organization that was founded in Argentina as a way to ?interrupt the current state of economic irresponsibility? and create ?models for development that are fair and progressive.? Interrupci? has established an office in New York City, which, in addition to publishing a magazine and promoting for-profit businesses, sells the candles produced by the women participating in Maria?s projects. In Buenos Aires, Maria draws on the experience and expertise of others in the field. Her board of directors includes a Maria?s program helps families start their own businesses, such as this candle making shop. bank vice president, an economist, and government and community leaders. While Intepay received initial funding from a private philanthropy, each project is now working to become self sustainable. Maria admits, however, that she faces ongoing challenges in her efforts to build stronger Intepay indirectly benefits 300 people through its small business ventures.links between her work and other NGOs and to create a solid relationship with the government. Now 27, Maria feels an urgency to scale up her efforts in light of the ongoing hardships facing the poor in her country. She has established a ?Replication Fund,? and plans to work with the government to reach three million people through her social enterprise model. Maria?s inspirational experience in the poor villages of Bangladesh continues to fuel her passion for transforming people?s lives. Just recently, she purchased a new fabric cutting machine for a family to begin their own clothing business. ?This is not only an alternative way of employing vulnerable populations,? she says. ?It?s rebuilding social capital in the poorest communities.? Contact Maria at: 9
Engaging youth as active citizens Lilit SimonyanArmeniaAt a time when many young people in the northern Armenian city of Stepanavan dream of moving to the nation?s capital or abroad in search of opportunity, 21-year-old Lilit Simonyan is steadfast in her desire to stay. Despite a local unemployment rate of more than 20 percent and a pervasive sense of hopelessness among youth about the future, Lilit is a passionate idealist in search of solutions. ?If everyone escapes from problems instead of facing and overcoming them,? she says, ?no progress will be made and no development will be possible.? In 2001, Lilit founded the Stepanavan Youth Center (SYC) to engage young people in efforts to invigorate local youth. As its first project, SYC undertook a survey of young people, ages 6 to 30, in which they were asked to identify the most pressing issues they face. The results came as no surprise. Respondents underscored a growing sense of apathy and disengagement. Not only did they face dim job prospects, but few felt they could envision positive dreams for the future, let alone realize them. Young peoples? insecurity about the future in Armenia is rooted in some harsh realities. More than a decade after the nation?s transition from communism to democracy and a market economy, its citizens have yet to realize much of an improvement in their quality of life. The average Armenian?s income remains just US$3,900 a year, with half the population currently living in poverty. To empower young people to serve as agents of positive change, SYC engages youth in efforts to address social, legal, educational, and environmental challenges. Among its recent achievements, SYC mobilized youth to clean up the region?s waterways, published a book featuring young people?s poems and stories, provided disadvantaged youth with language instruction and computer training, and established a ?psychology club,? where young people can openly express themselves. Over the past three years, SYC has engaged more than 100 youth volunteers in carrying out 19 projects, which have benefited more than 3,000 young people.A mountain climber in her spare time, Lilit recognizes that reaching one?s goals requires vision and perseverance. After climbing Mt. Aragats, the nation?s highest peak, Lilit says she closed her eyes and saw ?my world. The kind of world I want to have and live in.? While she admits that the projects SYC has undertaken ?are like drops of water in a big ocean,? she remains full of hope for the future. Contact Lilit at: lilit_simonyan@yahoo.com10An SYC volunteer reads to children at a local kindergarten.?If everyone escapes from problems instead of facing and overcoming them, no progress will be made and no development will be possible.? SYC representatives at the World Peace Summit in Sarajevo, May 2004. Lilit leads a field trip for local youth.
Uniting young people in efforts to combat racism Sylvie EllsmoreAustraliaWhen you?re working to fight racism and injustice, words
and their meaning become especially important. In Australia,
for example, the term ?reconciliation? is often used to refer
to attempts to overcome historic divisions between
Indigenous, or first Australians, and immigrant Australians, who are predominantly white. Yet such efforts are often symbolic, says 25-year-old Sylvie Ellsmore, Co-founder of the ReconciliACTION Network, a nationwide alliance of Indigenous and non-Indigenous young Australians. The Network empha-sizes action because it?s serious about mobilizing young people to play an active role in ending discrimination in the country. Says Sylvie, ?I became active in my community because, as a young person, I grew increasingly aware that there are large parts of Australia where the Aboriginal people suffer from direct discrimination. Many people, including those in power, continue to promote a version of history and a view of Aboriginal Australians that is racist and outdated.?Founded by Sylvie and a handful of her peers in 2002, the Network conducts advocacy campaigns, hosts awareness? raising events, conducts leadership training, and creates opportunities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth to share ideas and strategies for bridging the nation?s racial divide. Much of the group?s work, says Sylvie, focuses on dispelling contemporary myths that exist about Aboriginal people (e.g., that they get disproportionate amounts of welfare), and increasing awareness of Aboriginal culture and contributions to the community. In the past, the Network has sponsored hip hop concerts featuring Indigenous bands and conferences that enable youth to exchange ideas on how to combat racism and build stronger communities. At the school level, members have invited Aboriginal elders to speak before student gatherings. Currently more than 200 young people across the country are engaged in the Network?s activities. With 70 percent of the Aboriginal population under the age of 25, the ReconciliACTION Network sees broad-Sylvie recognizes that the nation has a long way to go to redress the injustices of the past. ?On all the major indicators such as health, housing, education, employment, and contact with the justice system, Indigenous people are significantly worse off than other Australians,? she explains. based youth involvement as essential to achieving long-term solutions. Major decisions about its projects are made with strong input from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members. Financial support for the Network?s activities is provided mostly through modest foundation grants, with local NGOs, student unions, and faith groups providing in-kind support. One of the Network?s biggest challenges is the sheer size of the country, and engaging its regional members on a regular basis, given the high cost of phone calls and travel. Still, it?s getting to know those living in more remote parts of the country that has been one of the most rewarding aspects of her work, says Sylvie. ?It has been truly inspiring to find so many people I didn?t know and be able to work with them. I never cease to be amazed by the energy, creativity, and goodwill of the young people I have met.?Contact Sylvie at: ?I became active in my community because, as a young person, I grew increasingly aware that there are large parts of Australia where the Aboriginal people suffer from direct discrimination.?Participants at a Youth Forum sponsored by the ReconciliACTION Network.Sylvie speaks before a gathering of youth in
April 2003.11
12Providing educational opportunities to out-of-school youth Raj Ridvan SinghCambodiaAround the world, more than 100 million children are
not in school. Most either don?t enroll or drop out because they?re poor and must work to help support their families. In Cambodia, for example, 63 percent of those children who enroll in primary school drop out before reaching grade 7. With more than a third of the nation?s people struggling to survive on less than $1 a day, poverty is the leading contributor to
young people leaving school. Most vulnerable are children, especially girls, living in isolated rural areas. ?Such children suffer from all kinds of problems because they were born to parents who were malnourished and unhealthy due to the side effects of the Khmer Rouge period,? says 21-year-old Raj Ridvan Singh, recalling the bloody rule of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces from 1975-1979 and the civil war that followed. With little chance to improve their circumstances, such children are far more likely to fall victim to the threats of HIV/AIDS, prostitution, child trafficking, domestic violence, and alcohol and drug abuse, he explains. To help improve the situation facing rural youth, Raj?along with his father and brother?founded the Leadership Character Development Institute (L-CDI) in 2000. Over the past four years, L-CDI has established a network of boarding schools in 23 poor rural provinces throughout the country. At the schools, trained youth teach their younger peers. The curriculum includes English and math instruction, along with ?life skills? training aimed at developing young people?s self-confidence, critical thinking, and leadership abilities. Equipped with such skills, the students are far better able Striving for gender balance isn?t easy, says Raj, given that parents are reluctant to pay even a modest fee to have their female children attend school. With young girls half as likely as boys to enroll in primary school, L-CDI places a premium on engaging girls in its programs. Yet striving for gender balance isn?t easy, says Raj, given that parents are reluctant to pay even a modest fee to have their female children attend school. Today, L-CDI is the nation?s largest provider of non-formal education and has received positive endorsements from both the Ministry of Education and the nation?s King. In the future, Raj hopes to extend the program to all 184 districts within the country and to expand the model to other nations in the region, beginning with East Timor and Laos. Given his family?s recent move to Malaysia, Raj and his father have transferred management of the program to individuals within the country, while continuing to oversee its efforts to expand internationally. For Raj, working well with others is essential to being a good leader. ?I consider myself a great team player instead of a leader,? he says, ?because achieving objectives, especially for others, requires a team and lots of love and unity.? Contact Raj at: to negotiate life?s challenges and make positive decisions, says Raj. Participating youth, all above the age of 16, undertake a two-year program. In addition to receiving academic instruction, each is given practical skills in teaching, with those who excel serving as teacher trainers. Those looking to gain practical management skills become full-time volunteers once they?ve ?graduated.? Toward the end of the program, participants also receive job preparedness training and learn computer and other vocational skills. L-CDI graduates are given preference in the job market because of their English skills, positive values, and self-confidence, says Raj.Currently, L-CDI schools reach 2,000 full-time and 3,000 part-time students. While initially L-CDI relied on financial support from individuals within the country and international organizations, now it?s practically self-sustaining. Each student studying in the provinces pays US$1 per month; those attending the training center in Phnom Penh pay US$3. L-CDI?s emphasis on cost-effectiveness?each Center operates on roughly US$150/month?has enabled it to expand rapidly and reduce its reliance on external funding. L-CDI focuses particular attention on educating young girls, who are half as likely as boys in Cambodia to enroll in primary school. AP Photo/Andy Eames
Working to put an end to child slavery 13Ernest Mbandi CameroonAn estimated 2,000 young people in Cameroon are lured into slavery and forced to work every year?in factories, on farms, in homes as domestic laborers, or in the sex trade. An equal number are engaged in various forms of child labor as domestic servants, sales girls, and sex workers. Some are as young as five. ?Many poor parents in my community send their children to work for wealthy families in the cities with the wrong belief that they will improve their living conditions,? says Ernest Mbandi, 25, adding that often these families never see their children again. Having lost relatives of his own this way, Ernest was personally moved to take action. In 1999, he founded the Anti Child Slavery Network, engaging a number of his peers as volunteers. Today, the an adoption program for children who are unable to locate their biological parents. ?The government has failed to pass legislation specifically prohibiting trafficking and child labor and has done little to train officials in the complexities surrounding this type of abuse.?For Ernest, who himself became an orphan at the age of 14, the most satisfying part of his work is ?knowing that you are at the service of dozens of children you don?t even know and are actually making their lives better.?Contact Ernest at: Network consists of 50 clubs across the nation, with close to 1,000 high school and college students as members. Its goal: to raise awareness of child slavery and advocate for government policies to protect children?s rights and punish child traffickers. ?Many parents are poor and uneducated and believe that the best thing to do is send their kids to work as early as possible,? Ernest explains. ?The government has failed to pass legislation specifically prohibiting trafficking and child labor and has done little to train officials in the complexities surrounding this type of abuse.? To address these issues, the Anti Child Slavery Network works to educate parents about the importance of sending their children to school, while lobbying for the enforcement of child protection laws. It also investigates and exposes existing cases of abuse and helps victims document their experiences for use against traffickers. Says Ernest, ?We work to put a constant stream of pressure around the issue to stimulate change.?Operating out of a small office in Buea, with five volunteer staff, the Network is supported through donations from its volunteer members and from the general public. Ernest?s income is derived largely from his work as a schoolteacher.In addition to its advocacy efforts and poster campaigns in schools, the Network helps former child slaves to find their families and raises funds to place rescued children in schools. In the future, Ernest hopes to start AP Photo/Erick Christian Ahounou
A peer-to-peer approach to preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS Tang KunChinaTang Kun was just beginning his medical studies at Peking University when he met a young author with HIV, who had spent months traveling throughout China writing a book about those with the disease. While many authors hope to be celebrated for their work, Tang knew that his new friend felt only shame. ?I want more people, especially the young, to realize that those with AIDS are part of our society and have the same rights as we have. Stigma and discrimination won?t help cure the disease.?From that day on, Tang committed himself to helping to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and reducing the stigma and discrimination experienced by those with the disease. Says Tang, ?I want more people, especially the young, to realize that those with AIDS are part of our society and have the same rights as we have. Stigma and discrimination won?t help cure the disease.? Tapping the resources he had close at hand, Tang enlisted his fellow medical students in an effort to educate young people in Beijing about the disease and preventive measures. In 2002, he organized a series of events at five local universities in which well-known AIDS activists were invited to give lectures. A year later, he received support from the Ford Foundation to initiate a peer-to-peer HIV/AIDS awareness program among high school and university students.The peer educators, all medical students, received professional AIDS
education training from several organiza-
tions supporting Tang?s efforts, including
Marie Stopes International, the International
Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent
Societies, and the China Planned Parent-
hood Association. In a little over a year, the number of peer educators participating in the program has nearly doubled, from 22 to 41.With nearly a million people in China
infected with HIV/AIDS, the efforts of individuals like Tang to educate the nation?s youth are viewed as critical to curbing the spread of the disease, which experts claim is approaching a crucial ?tipping point.? At that point, so many people will have contracted the disease that its spread will be difficult to control, let alone reverse. Already, Tang and his peers have reached out to more than 600 high school seniors and 1,200 university students. While such students are eager for information about reproductive health, schools often lack appropriate curricula and teaching methods to deliver such messages effectively. The peer-to-peer approach not only helps communicate sensitive messages, but fills an important vacuum in the educational system, Tang explains. Recognizing the urgency of the present situation in China, Tang hopes to extend the peer educator training to high school students. Asked whether he sees himself as a leader, Tang says he prefers to be viewed as a server. ?I think a leader is someone who sends out commands, but I don?t,? he says. ?I?m just making a connection between those who want to help and those who need help.?Contact Tang at: Tang conducts an HIV/AIDS awareness-raising session at a local school. 14
15David RimanCzech RepublicAt a classmate?s encouragement, David came to embrace the Christian faith and started to experience the inner rewards of reaching out to others. ?I experienced peace,? he recalls and ?realized I could use my abilities to help people.? After carrying out various community projects through a Christian youth group, David founded Zabava, Informace, Poradenstvi a pomac (Entertainment, Information, Counseling, and help, or ZIP), a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting young people?s needs for recreational activities, skill-building, counseling, and support. Based on his own experience, David recognized that young people growing up in his hometown of Havirov had few places to turn in dealing with a host of challenges, including alcoholism within families, violence at home, crime, and racism. While Havirov was considered a model community during the communist era, it has since succumbed to high rates of unemployment, fueling feelings of hopelessness and despair. Says David, ?I wanted to show these young people that they are important
and to give them love they don?t always
get from their families. I wanted them
to see that they could be a source of positive change.?At 17, David Riman was hailed as the karate champion of the Czech Republic. Yet as he came to realize, being famous is no guarantee of happiness. ?All of the things I had achieved up to that point meant nothing,? he says, recalling the sense of emptiness and sadness he felt. Excelling at karate had enabled him to escape problems in his family life but could do little to heal his emotional pain. Instilling social and ethical values among young people?I wanted to show
these young people that they are important
and to give them love they don?t always
get from their families.
I wanted them to
see that they could be a source of positive change.?Over the past six years, ZIP has launched a series of activities aimed at curbing youth violence and encouraging a spirit of volunteerism. Through school lectures, interactive camps, and counseling services, ZIP works to enhance young people?s self-esteem and respect for others. For youth experiencing feelings of loneliness and alienation, ZIP offers meaningful connections with others. A ZIP-sponsored student club, ?Hydrant,? provides youth with a safe space for sharing their feelings and ideas for contributing to the community. Its web portal,, is the second most visited website in the area, attracting nearly 100 youth each day. Now 26 and a husband and father, David is blending his passion for sports with his desire to help others. Through studying outdoor education, he plans to expand ZIP?s activities to enhance young people?s connection to nature, while strengthening their self-confidence and teamwork skills. While there are some who question why this former economics major is now running a nonprofit organization, David is clear that money?like fame?offers no guarantee of happiness. ?Many people never feel the things that I feel every day,? he says. ?To be filled without money is better than to be an empty rich man.? Contact David at:
Advocating for the rights of street children Khatuna TsintsadzeGeorgiaWith a Master?s degree in Journalism, Khatuna Tsintsadze, age 27, could have devoted her career to working for a newspaper or broadcast outlet. Instead, she?s advocating for the most voiceless members of Georgian society: children who live and work on the streets. An estimated 3,000 children currently struggle to survive on the streets of the nation?s capital of Tblisi. Many grew up in poor families where they were either not cared for or mistreated. Others ran away from state-run orphanages where conditions can be deplorable. ?Dormitories are freezing cold and the children survive on bread and water,? says Khatuna. Once on the streets, many children turn to begging, criminal behavior, or prostitution to survive. ?Almost all have become totally alienated from society and live according to their own moral code,? she explains. Even more troublesome is the fact that society has become hardened to the existence of these children. ?The fact that people see them being buried in cardboard boxes and do not have an appropriate reaction means that the problem is out of control,? says Khatuna.?We, the young people of different countries, can?t just be bystanders of the processes around us. We must be actively involved and strive together to improve the situation.?the International Center of Youth Initiative for Peace and Development (ICIPD) in 2003. As ICIPD?s President, she oversees its efforts to educate street children about their rights, provide them with non-formal educational opportunities and counseling services, and connect them to existing social services. To date, the program has reached out to more than fifty children and has enlisted the support of nearly forty youth volunteers. Khatuna believes that the only real way to change society is to influence the young generation. ?We, the young people of different countries, can?t just be bystanders of the processes around us. We must be actively involved and strive together to improve the situation.?ICIPD is also networking with other nongovernmental organizations and international groups in creating a more unified support system for street children, The emergence of street children is an unfortunate byproduct of the country?s transition from communism to a market economy and democratic form of government. Increasing poverty and a severely strapped government mean that poor children are virtually left to fend for themselves. To help meet their needs?and advocate for their rights?Khatuna founded while lobbying government authorities on their behalf. Funding for ICIPD?s efforts comes from individuals and international organizations. In addition, ICIPD has received financial and technical assistance from Union ?Century 21st,? a human rights organization where Khatuna also plays a leadership role. Her work wouldn?t be possible, however, without the encouragement and support of her cherished mentor, Paata Gachechiladze, a lawyer with a commitment to defending human rights, especially those of street children. While Khatuna opted out of the world of professional journalism, she continues to put her media skills to work in sensitizing Georgian society and policymakers to the needs of the country?s poorest children. Contact Khatuna at: AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
In the late 1990s, when Zoltan first started exploring the idea of creating his own radio outlet, three quarters of the music broadcast over Hungarian radio stations was American pop. As a music aficionado with diverse tastes, Zoltan grew tired of the steady diet of predictable sounds. ?We were not able to get to know other cultures because there were only a few radio stations out there, most of them fighting for funding, living day to day,? says Zoltan, who recognizes now that money rules much of who and what gets on the air. ?An artist?s success depends on his or her label or manager,? he explains. Talented artists who are unknown or not well connected are likely to be overlooked, he says. Zoltan recognizes he?s not alone in seeking greater access to lesser known artists. In conversations with underground musicians at foreign music festivals and concerts, Zoltan came to understand how much such artists love music and seek to contribute to culture. ?I really respect them for living for this culture, and wanted to do something for them,? he says. Seeking to widen the spectrum of radio offerings, at the age of 16, Zoltan and two of his friends created their own modest source of alternative music: Stations Radios. Broadcast via the Internet (, Stations Radios offers nearly 20 radio streams running 24 hours a day. Users need only download the Stations Radio software to begin listening. Today, the site?s more than 4,000 monthly visitors make selections from a musical menu including hip hop, reggae, the Blues, and Hungarian rock. The site?s music library contains a host of Celebrating culture through radioZoltan PrekopcsakHungaryIn the face of increasing cultural homogenization, what can you do to preserve and celebrate the richness and diversity of cultures around the world? If you?re 20-year-old Zoltan Prekopcsak, you launch your own radio station via the Internet. lesser known musicians, with names like Elephant Man, Bounty Killer, and Drowsy Maggie Bald Pate. One station features Hungarian authors reading their works.For Zoltan, a college student studying computer science, one of the greatest rewards of the project has been the letters of gratitude he?s received from Hungarians living as far away as Brazil and Australia, saying, ?You gave me back my national identity.?Encouraged by the success of Stations Radios, Zoltan launched the International Radio Project in 2003. Its goal: to increase access to music from around the world. A discussion forum enables musicians and music fans to connect with one another. Zoltan?s vision is that i-radios serve as a celebration of international culture and as a vehicle for fostering greater community among those with an appreciation for the cultural richness of music. Contact Zoltan at: 17?We were not able to get to know other cultures because there were only a few radio stations out there, most of them fighting for funding, living day to day.?
In India, 35 million girls do not attend school and 20 percent of young women between 15 and 19 years of age are teenage mothers. As a young girl being raised in the isolated village of Mantapada, Jyotirmayee (?Jyoti?) Mohapatra felt the harsh imprint of gender discrimination both within her own family and in her community. Defending the rights of women and children Jyotirmayee MohapatraKendrapara, India the entire community. Our goal is to create a child-friendly society.? Jyoti chose the name Meena from a well-known cartoon character?a young
girl who was the subject of a widely distributed animated TV series developed by UNICEF and broadcast in 1998 across South Asia. Meena has since become a beloved role model in India?a powerful symbol of the movement to end discrimination against women and girls. Today, more than 300 Meena Clubs operate as an informal village-level network in five districts across India. The Club?s ambitious goals include helping to reduce ?We believe that unity is our strength so we try to involve the entire community. Our goal is to create a child-friendly society.? infant and maternal mortality, abolish child labor, ensure quality educational opportunities for all children, improve women?s welfare, promote good parenting, encourage youth participation, and reinforce community-wide support services for children. In Jyoti?s district alone, there are more than 11,000 volunteers engaged in community-based activities. Meena volunteers work locally to promote greater understanding and appreciation of children?s rights. While children spark the activity by expressing their feelings and aspirations?whether it?s the need for clean water, immunization programs, or better nutrition?it is the elders who ultimately carry out the projects. Meena Clubs invite girls and women of every age to join, and no formal membership is required. Jyoti underscores that the ultimate goal of the Meena Clubs is to create ?an understanding, a way of thinking. There is no ?I?? she explains. ?There is always ?we.? You can feel the change within yourself and outside of yourself.? Jyoti, now 24, still lives in a remote farming village with her four sisters and younger brother. Yet her efforts have spurred real progress across the region. Meena Clubs have had an impact on such critical issues as infant and maternal mortality, sexual abuse cases, and school enrollment and retention. Her life-long passion, however, is to empower those around her. ?I would like to see more and more young people as youth leaders, working for a caring and friendly society.? Contact Jyoti at: Eliminating child labor is one of the goals of the village-based Meena Clubs. 18?My growing up was no different from other girls and women?unprotected and suppressed,? she recalls. Living in a region of the world where young girls and women are often relegated to second class status, she recalls: ?Children were invisible, and women were not treated properly.?As a teenager, Jyoti learned more about her basic rights, and became involved in the work of Nature?s Club, an NGO focused on improving the conditions for women and girls in the community. At 19, she and a few friends developed the Meena Club concept?which mobilizes citizens, primarily young women, to raise public awareness about children and youth and improve the conditions under which they live. ?We believe that unity is our strength,? says Jyoti, ?so we try to involve AP Photo/Saurabh Das
In Kenya, more than a thousand teenage girls become
pregnant every day. Most received little education at home
or school concerning their reproductive health
and issues involving sexuality. More than half undergo illegal abortions. Many are expelled from school and never offered a chance to resume
their education. Preventing teenage pregnancy
Stella Amojong KenyaAlarmed by the lack of basic information about sexuality available to her and her friends while growing up, Stella Amojong founded the Advocates for Teenage Mothers Youth Group. At the time, she was 13.?Many girls were in a dilemma when it came to understanding their bodies,? recalls Stella, now 27. ?It turned out they were more receptive and comfortable talking among themselves about so-called ?sensitive? issues than waiting for parents and teachers to provide answers.?In an atmosphere in which discussing sexuality with adults was taboo, Stella learned that most youth received information largely from their peers, magazines, popular films, and pornographic videos. In addition to lacking knowledge, youth also lacked the skills needed to discuss sex-related topics with health care providers and assert themselves with partners. Her answer? Engage youth themselves and the community as a whole in efforts to educate young people about their bodies and the risks of too early and unprotected sexual activity. ?Our strategies are multi-pronged, youth-led, and interactive,? explains Stella, who learned at any early age the importance of persistence and self-reliance. The oldest of five children, Stella cared for her siblings following the death of her parents. Now a wife and mother of three children, she devotes up to forty hours each week to coordinating the Teen Mothers Groups? activities. One project, ?Wind of HOPE: Education for All Teen Mothers,? offers young mothers academic tutoring, career counseling, and assistance completing their secondary school educations. As a result of the project?s advocacy efforts, school administrators have started inviting expelled students to return to school. Another project, ?Your Life, Your Choice,? targets students, ages 10 to 19, and teachers through providing schools with a reproductive health curriculum covering topics such as relationships, disease prevention, sexual abuse, and effective communication. Through the project, youth, trained as peer educators, visit schools where they lead discussions on sexuality issues, and perform songs, skits, and role plays. Materials are also made available on reproductive health issues and information provided to students on where to go for checkups. To create a more supportive environment overall, the Teen Mothers Group launched the ?Let?s Talk About It? project to engage parents, religious leaders, and the media in efforts to ?It turned out they (teenage girls) were more receptive and comfortable talking among themselves about so-called ?sensitive? issues than waiting for parents and teachers to provide answers.?provide young people with the education they need to make positive decisions
about their health.Currently, the Teen Mothers Group has 9 staff and 10 volunteers?all youth. A Board of Directors, comprised of medical practitioners, teachers, elders, religious leaders, and journalists, provides assistance based on their respective fields. Local organizations have helped train the peer educators, and the Center for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) assisted in developing the Group?s school-based curriculum. 19Stella holds a baby delivered by one of the mother?s receiving support from the Group.A teen mother is accepted back to school with help from the Teenage Mothers Youth Group. In the future, Stella hopes to establish a network of slum-based resource centers that will provide at-risk youth with reproductive health information and training. Her ultimate goal: to one day expand the Group?s efforts nationwide. ?I dream of an organization whose social message will have permeated all sectors
of society in offering solutions to the plethora of problems facing young people,? she says. Contact Stella at: amostella2002@
20Joseph Kimani NjugunaKenyaOn the evening of March 26, 2001, a small group of disgruntled students set fire to a dormitory at the Kyanguli Secondary School in Machackos, Kenya, unwittingly killing 67 of their peers. The perpetrators of the blaze were protesting their maltreatment at the school. While such extreme forms of violent behavior are far from the norm in Kenya, conflicts within schools?and in particular between students and school administrators?have been increasing. Concerned about growing violence within schools, at the age of 17, Joseph Njuguna founded the National Students Council for Peace (NSCP). ?I was inspired to get involved because I was appalled by rising levels of violence in schools that resulted in physical and psychological injury to students, destruction of school property, and in some cases, loss of life.?Increasing school violence can be attributed to a number of factors, says Joseph, now 24. Chief among these is a basic lack of communication between students and teachers resulting from a military style approach to education in which students are generally expected to follow orders. While corporal punishment of students who act up in class is now Helping students to become peace buildersJoseph meets with members of a Student Council for Peace. banned, the practice continues and is largely overlooked. Poor facilities and conditions of overcrowding at the nation?s 3,500 government-run boarding schools are also to blame. Compounding such issues is increased access among students to drugs and alcohol. Run by and for youth, NSCP works to prepare young people for responsible adulthood through training students and teachers in conflict resolution, enhancing communication between students and teachers, and establishing Student Councils for Peace (SCPs) within schools. SCPs are elective student bodies that represent the interests of students in issues related to governance and school policy. To date, SCPs have been established in more than 40 schools in six out of the nation?s eight administrative provinces. The SCPs provide students with a forum through which to express themselves and offer solutions to problems within schools. For Joseph, reducing conflict within schools is only part of the goal. NSCP?s ultimate mission is to contribute to the development of an emerging generation of Kenyan youth who are actively engaged in community life, committed to nurturing a culture of peace, and equipped with the leadership skills to serve as role models for those around them. In the future, Joseph hopes to work with relevant government ministries in Kenya to coordinate and strengthen peace-building efforts within schools. He?d also like to expand the NSCP model to other East African nations and to reduce the ?appalling conflict that has engulfed far too many parts of the world, especially Africa.?Contact Joseph at: Joseph (second from right) presents a certificate of completion to a student graduate of NSCP?s conflict and peace training. ?I was inspired to get involved because I was appalled by rising levels of violence in schools that resulted in physical and psychological injury to students, destruction of school property, and in some cases, loss of life.?
stakeholders?including children, youth, women, the elderly, workers, and the urban poor?in the political process. His goal: to increase youth involvement in the Council?s programs and activities, and to create ?a more responsive and inclusive government.? Put simply, he wants to help develop the country?s future political leaders who will represent the poor and marginalized in society. NCPC?s youth empowerment program places a premium on fostering youth leadership skills as a way to counter what David sees as the apathy and indifference of so many Filipino youth. ?Young people need to be able to appreciate the system of partnership between the people and the government, so they can maintain and even build upon it when their time comes as future leaders.? He dreams of a time when ?the youth of Naga City are well organized and are taking an active role in defining their future and also contributing to the city?s and the country?s development.? To bring that dream closer to reality, NCPC seeks to strengthen the youth sector, through capacity building and technical assistance to youth groups. NCPC also assists youth organizations in their efforts to work together for a common cause. A Congress convened by NCPC in 2001 for the different sectors?including youth?brought people together to set their action agendas. As a result, a resolution was passed that requested the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), made up of elected youth leaders in the government, to give an accounting of its accomplishments and programs. The resolution, which was endorsed by the entire membership of the NCPC, was 21As a 17-year-old college student, David Bercasio grew concerned about events taking place far beyond his campus walls. After hearing reports of poor farmers losing ownership of their lands as the result of a failed government agrarian reform program in the Philippines, David mobilized his fellow students in support of farmers? rights.Encouraging young people to play an active role in societyDavid R. Bercasio Naga City, the Philippines ?At my young age, I?m directing programs that respond to the needs of marginalized people
in our society?not only youth. I get to do what I really want
to do, to make a difference in my own time, and in my own small ways.? ?When I learned about the details of their struggle,? says David, ?I felt driven to take part.? David joined a special task force, and he and other students conducted educational sessions both inside and outside the university. They also organized prayer rallies and distributed leaflets to raise greater public awareness around the farmers? plight. While the farmers lost their cause in the Supreme Court, David says the issue pushed the cause of reform to a higher level, and mobilized people from all sectors of society. ?The outcome was quite frustrating, since we were certain we were fighting on the right side, yet we lost. But the experience made me happy, as I realized that as long as you fight for what is right, more people will join your cause.? Thus inspired by his first experience as a youth leader, David opted to leave the university before graduation to become a full-time community organizer. At 23, he was appointed Executive Director of the Naga City People?s Council (NCPC), a network of nongovernmental organizations that seeks to engage a broad range of then forwarded to the city government. The Council eventually provided that accounting to the outside groups, and as a result, the elected youth leaders became more engaged with and responsive to their counterparts in the community. NCPC, which has a small staff that includes five regular youth volunteers, is currently implementing programs with the Peace and Equity Foundation, a local NGO; the World Bank; and city government agencies. It is also developing a website and regular newsletter. While he faces many challenges, David finds his work deeply rewarding. ?I?m able to contribute to the development of our city. At my young age, I?m directing programs that respond to the needs of marginalized people in our society?not only youth. I get to do what I really want to do, to make a difference in my own time, and in my own small ways.? Contact David at: David and
a co-worker stand before the advocacy flag for the local elections, which reads, ?Vote for my future.?
Growing up in the town of Nish in southeastern Serbia, Ana Popovic witnessed the devastating impact of years of inter-ethnic violence in nearby Croatia and Bosnia on the lives of her family, friends, and neighbors. ?People who used to live together in peace became mortal enemies,
and the wounds they caused one another are
not forgotten.? Ana PopovicSerbia and MontenegroEducating young people about healthy decision-makingAna has painful memories of seeing scenes of violence on TV when she was nine, and suffered through the ensuing years of economic and political instability in her country. At one point, members of her family were evacuated from their homes and 14 people lived in her two-room apartment. Her most powerful memories, however, are of young people demonstrating in the streets for their rights. ?I became one of them,? Ana
says simply. Today, young people in the region are grappling with new challenges, including the trafficking of women and girls, forced prostitution, unemployment, and social and economic exclusion. And while progress is being made, some human rights abuses, including human trafficking, are on the rise. Yet in the midst of these difficult and often discouraging times, Ana, now 22, has found a way to promote the best in human nature, and in the process, help rebuild a spirit of hope in her country. Since 1997, she has served as a leader in the Scouting movement in Serbia and Montenegro, working to empower young people ?to help build a better world in which people are fulfilled as individuals, and have a constructive role in society.? After she joined the Scouts Association, Ana became increasingly aware of the lack of basic understanding of human rights in her community. Fearing that such rights were still being threatened, she mobilized her colleagues and friends to help educate children and young people themselves around issues of child rights, tolerance, conflict resolution, and democracy building. ?I was hoping that these activities would bring about changes in their immediate surroundings, and later, if we succeeded, in the larger society.? Seeking greater impact, Ana has joined a number of other youth organizations from around Serbia and Montenegro and across the Balkans to work more collaboratively at the regional level. Their biggest project: a National Scout Jamboree in 2002 where they educated 500 children from all over the country about their rights. She has also launched a project to educate elementary school students about their rights, including such issues as child abuse, the recruitment of child soldiers, and child labor. These young trainees then return to their schools, share their newly acquired knowledge with their peers, and encourage them to get more actively involved in their communities. As a result of this effort, Ana has worked with a number of young people to develop a ?call to action? for the government to better address youth issues, including improved conditions for handicapped children in school, and the creation of a children?s radio program and newspaper. The children came up with a few of their own solutions, such as organizing school plays and creative workshops to raise funds for institutions that help children with special needs. As a result of the petition, the government has become more receptive to youth issues, and has already agreed to assist Ana and the children in some of their activities. Her next step is to establish a Youth Information Center in her home town of Nish that would inform young people about the many activities and opportunities available to them?from mentoring opportunities in the schools to seminars, jobs, and scholarships.?I was hoping that these activities would bring about changes in their [children?s] immediate surroundings, and later, if we succeeded, in the larger society.? Now chief of staff for her squad, which numbers about 100 participants, Ana helps organize marches, summer camps, and workshops. Yet she recognizes that change doesn?t happen overnight. ?I take great satisfaction in working with young people and feeling that I have succeeded in making a difference, knowing that small steps, taken every day, can lead us all to a better society.? 22Children participate in an exercise called the ?human knot,? which emphasizes the importance of building strong human relationships.
?Change and success are only possible when you have roots and wings to stand firmly and fly above your problems.?Considering the circumstances in which he grew up, most people wouldn?t think of 20-year-old Lucky Mlambo as all that lucky. Lucky was born in Msogwaba Township, an extremely poor, rural community in northeastern South Africa. Hit heavily by the HIV/AIDS crisis, Msogwaba is home to a growing number of AIDS orphans, ranging from infants to teenagers, all struggling for survival. Jobs are hard to come by, especially if you have limited education and few marketable skills. With little hope for the future, more and more youth are turning to violence and drug use.Equipping youth with livelihood skills Lucky MlamboSouth AfricaYet despite the obstacles inherent in his surroundings, Lucky feels very fortunate indeed. He managed to finish secondary school and has studied business administration at the college level. He has a wealth of friendships and a passion for helping others. Far from regretting his circumstances, Lucky feels fortunate for his faith?in God and in every individual?s ability to help his or herself. ?I use my stumbling blocks as a ladder,? says Lucky, adding that, ?Change and success are only possible when you have roots and wings to stand firmly and fly above your problems.? Lucky attributes his roots and wings to his involvement in Scripture Union, a local voluntary organization working to equip young people with basic life skills such as confidence, self-discipline, and personal responsibility.Lucky recognizes that his generation is ?being destroyed by a lack of knowledge??both in terms of basic education and an overall understanding of how to navigate life?s challenges. To help reduce this knowledge gap, over the past two years, he?s worked to empower young people to take responsibility for their lives. In seeking to combat the spread of AIDS, Lucky has become an outspoken advocate of abstinence. Postponing sexual activity ?challenges us to develop character and personality without finding fulfillment only via our genitals,? he says. ?It allows us to pursue our dreams without fear of unwanted outcomes.?Lucky?s message to young people is one of self-reliance. Recognizing that local youth need concrete skills to support themselves, he and a group of peers founded the Vuk?Uzimele Msogwaba Youth at Work Project, a skills training and income-generating initiative. Translated from Swazi, Vuk?Uzimele means to ?get up and stand up for yourself.? Through the project, which has received in-kind support from Lucky?s church, young people develop business, management, and employment skills. Among the products the teens are learning how to produce are silk and wool yarns, beads and beaded necklaces, and paper mach?picture frames. Currently 26 young people are involved. Many are orphans. Most are out-of-school or unemployed. The Project is now selling its products to a local business, with hopes of expanding its market locally and even abroad. Beyond its limited commercial success, Lucky says the Project?s greatest achievement has been ?a change in the attitudes and behaviors of youth, many of whom have come to realize they can rise above their problems, and make something of their lives.?Lucky, who lives with his grandmother, two uncles, and three sisters, is extremely grateful for the opportunity he has to contribute to others and his community. He considers himself a leader by example. ?I help others first and put them before my own needs,? he says. ?That way I can be a role model for them.?Contact Lucky at: A young participant in the Vuk?Uzimele Msogwaba Youth at
Work Project.
Yevgen currently divides his time between two jobs. As Director of the Center for Strategic Initiatives, he oversees its efforts to prepare young people for the world of work and increase the competitiveness of small businesses. More than 2,000 students have benefited from the Center?s career resources which include job and internship listings, as well as training in how to conduct a successful interview, write a r?um? and search for a job.In addition, he serves as Executive Director of Podillya Pershyi, a local NGO working to stimulate economic growth through providing research, marketing, legal consulting, and other information and services to budding businesses. Nurturing a sense of social responsibility among businesses and citizensYevgen BezvushkoUkraineYevgen Bezvushko takes his work and limited leisure time seriously. Among the hobbies listed on his r?um?is policy research. And while he enjoys reading, playing chess, and rock-climbing, this 22-year-old social entrepreneur is committed to increasing civic responsibility among individuals and businesses in Ukraine. ?Money will never be a substitute for the feeling of satisfaction when you do something for others.?It was through his work for Podillya Pershyi that he happened to spend a day in an orphanage in early 2003. While the children were healthy and well-treated, Yevgen noticed even among the youngest, a tendency to look longingly at visitors for presents, and to even beg for hand-outs. Says Yevgen, ?Even at that little age, the kids learn that most of the scanty material comforts they get come from individuals that use their donations for advertising purposes.? What?s more, the kids were being programmed to rely on charity, thereby eroding their chances of being self-reliant in the future, he explains. Shortly after leaving the orphanage, Yevgen hatched a plan to supply orphaned children with their very own clothing, toys, and books. His idea was simple: establish a sewing enterprise, under the auspices of an NGO, which would engage students preparing for careers in the apparel industry in making clothes from donated fabric. The clothing would then be sold, with half the profits used to supply goods to orphanages. Not only did the orphans benefit, but the students had a chance to develop their skills.Experienced at building relationships with businesses, Yevgen managed to get two dozen local companies to donate sewing machines and received a grant from the Swiss Bureau of Cooperation to launch the project. Another company agreed to provide work space and technical support. Currently, the Social Sewing Enterprise, as it is now known, donates items to ten orphanages in the Khmelnisky region. In the future, Yevgen hopes to expand its reach to 14 more orphanages, and potentially replicate the concept in other parts of the country. Implicit in the project is the importance of giving back to society, a relatively new concept in Ukraine, where people continue to adjust to a capitalist system which has yet to produce long-awaited for improvements in their quality of life. ?One rarely sees business with a human face,? says Yevgen. ?Typically workers receive low wages and businessmen are concerned with the viability of their businesses.? Through forging relationships between businesses and local NGOs, Yevgen is working to change that, for in his words, ?money will never be a substitute for the feeling of satisfaction when you do something
for others.?Contact Yevgen at: 24Yevgen and the staff of the Center for Strategic Initiatives.
Maya Bianca Enista has a passion for politics and, in particular, getting young people to exercise their voting rights. In 2002, at the age of 19, Maya registered some 10,000 young voters in Philadelphia and over 500 volunteers. Empowering young people to make a difference in their communitiesMaya Bianca EnistaUnited StatesSays Maya, ?It [voting] is really fundamental to changing anything in society, in your life, in your neighborhood, in your community.? Yet despite the relative ease of voting in the United States, less than 30 percent of those youth who are eligible to vote actually register and make it to the polls.Maya?s commitment to youth engagement as a vital force for promoting social change doesn?t stop with voting. Through the Inspiring Passion Project, which she and three friends launched in 2003, Maya?s working to empower low-income students in New Jersey to take action for what they believe in. The motivation for the project came to Maya one night when she stumbled upon a quote on the Internet: ?Tell me and I?ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I?ll understand.??I knew about his quote,? she says. ?I lived it. I was an activist telling people, showing people, and involving people in the projects I was working on, every day.?Maya recognizes that while young people may have a desire to contribute to their communities, often they don?t know how to launch a service project, raise money, or access other tools and resources they may need. ?We gained so much through our work,? says Maya of she and her co-founders? experience as youth activists. ?We wanted to turn other kids on since many don?t have the opportunity to put their ideas into action.?Each of the girls selected a low-income community they were unfamiliar with in which to launch the Project. Maya chose New Brunswick, a racially diverse city with a largely Hispanic population.To get students thinking about the type of volunteer activity they?d like to carry out, the Project sponsors an essay contest. Interested students in grades 5 to 12, are asked to submit a two-page essay describing the issue they?d like to address and their strategy for making a difference. Winning essayists receive a $100 prize to use in launching their projects. One 11-year-old boy chose homelessness as a topic because his uncle once lived on the streets. Upon winning the contest, he assembled a group of his peers to serve food at a soup kitchen.Much of Maya?s own motivation comes from her parents? experiences as Romanian immigrants to the United States. Her mother, once a highly respected journalist working for a Communist newspaper in Romania, came to the U.S. so her children could experience democratic freedoms. Maya recalls her mother, who now holds as Ph.D. in psychology, once working as a cleaning lady to support the family in their new country. It?s realizing how much her parents sacrificed for her to live in a democratic society that makes Maya want to give something back.Having recently been accepted as a master?s degree candidate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Maya?s now exploring ways of getting schools to embrace the Inspiring Passion Project more fully into their formal curriculum. In the future, she hopes to continue to work both politically and socially to empower young people and ensure that their voices are heard, and the impact of their efforts is recognized.Contact Maya at: inspiringpassionproject@ 25Less than 30 percent of youth in the U.S. who are eligible to vote actually
register and make it to the polls. ?It [voting] is really fundamental to changing anything in society, in your life, in your neighborhood, in your community.? AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
Courtney SpenceUnited StatesEnabling college students to take action in an inter-connected worldHow well prepared are American college students to cope with the demands of a fast-changing, increasingly inter-connected world? Not very, according to Courtney Spence, founder of Students of the World (SOW), a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for American college students to volunteer abroad. The students not only learn about other cultures, but produce documentaries to share with their peers at home. 26In underscoring the need for greater global understanding in the U.S., Courtney cites a 2002 National Geographic survey of 3,250 young adults in Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States. The survey placed Americans second to last in their knowledge of global geography and international affairs. Through SOW, Courtney seeks to cultivate emerging leaders that have the ability to understand people and cultures vastly different from their own.?We have seen drastic changes in the past decade,? says Courtney, ?from the emerging global economy and the Information Age to the events of September 11th. We need to be prepared for this new global reality, which includes cultivating curiosity, cultural understanding, and a desire and capacity to work with people all around the world.?Courtney, now 24 and a Texas native, admits that she, like many American youth, led a relatively sheltered life before beginning her college studies at Duke University and gaining exposure to a world On a 2003 visit to Uganda, SOW members document the lives of children. SOW team members conduct an interview during a 2004 visit to Havana, Cuba. ?We have seen drastic changes in the past decade from the emerging global economy and the Information Age to the events of September 11th. We need to be prepared for this new global reality, which includes cultivating curiosity, cultural understanding, and a desire and capacity to work with people all around the world.?of new ideas. Through meeting students from around the globe and working abroad in the summer of her freshman year, she came to see the tremendous value of interacting with, and seeking to understand, other cultures. Motivated by her own personal experience, she and a friend founded SOW in 1999. Over the past five years, SOW has sent teams of students to Russia, Cuba, India, Peru, Mexico, Uganda, Guatemala, South Africa, and Swaziland. Students spend three to four weeks in the host country, undertaking a documentary project using photography, video, writing, and/or audio recording. In 2004, for example, a SOW team traveled to Havana, Cuba to learn more about the effects of the U.S. trade embargo. On an earlier trip to Uganda, students worked with NGOs, communities, and the Ugandan government to produce a documentary film about how Uganda has succeeded in reducing the rate of HIV/AIDS infection.Upon their return to the U.S., SOW participants develop their documentary projects and a plan for sharing what they?ve learned with fellow students and community members. To date, more than seventy students have served as SOW volunteers. The program is now active on three college campuses, including Duke and the Universities of Texas and Michigan. In the future, Courtney plans to expand its reach to additional campuses throughout the country. Contact Courtney at:
27Mobilizing students to prevent blindness worldwideJennifer StapleUnited StatesOnce in a while, an experience changes your life. That?s what happened to Jennifer Staple, a Yale University freshman, during a summer job at an eye doctor?s office near her hometown in Connecticut. Through interacting with dozens of low-income patients, she learned about eye diseases?and even blindness ?that might have been prevented had such patients received regular eye exams. The truth was that few of these patients knew about the importance of regular checkups and how to access affordable eye care. ?People tend to think that because they can see okay, their eyes must be fine,? says Jennifer, now 22. ?The truth is many eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma occur gradually, but can be diagnosed and treated if caught early enough.?From that summer on, Jennifer dedicated herself to finding and implementing solutions to urgent eye health needs in the U.S. and internationally. She began by mobilizing her fellow students as volunteers who conducted educational outreach in poor communities around the university. She also enlisted the advice and support of college professors and health care professionals. Eventually, in 2000, Jennifer founded Unite for Sight, a global, nonprofit, humanitarian organization. Today, as President and CEO, Jennifer volunteers up to 50 hours a week to designing, coordinating, and managing Unite for Sight?s programs, while at the same time juggling the responsibilities of working full-time as a high school science teacher. Central to Unite for Sight?s mission is providing eye care to those who can?t afford it or don?t have access to it. In the west African country of Benin, for example, only five ophthalmologists serve the entire population?a ratio of 1 to 1.3 million. In Benin and other countries in Africa and Asia, Unite for Sight distributes educational tools and places volunteers from colleges and medical schools in the U.S. The volunteers help to prevent vitamin A deficiency and diseases like river blindness and trachoma, the leading cause of blindness in the world. In addition, the volunteers prescribe eyeglasses, screen for cataracts, and arrange for cataract surgeries in eye clinics. In the U.S. and Canada, Unite for Sight volunteers include elementary school students who collect eyeglasses; high school students who educate their peers about proper eye health; and college ?The truth is many eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma occur gradually, but can be diagnosed and treated if caught early enough.?students who conduct educational outreach and vision screenings at soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and libraries. Jennifer attributes much of her success to the guidance she has received from Unite for Sight?s Advisory Board, comprised of six ophthalmologists. The Internet has also played a key role in the organization?s expansion. Individuals and organizations around the world are able to access information and tools through Unite for Sight?s website ( The site also offers an online eye health curriculum. Today, Jennifer continues to coordinate much of the group?s networking and volunteer activities via email. In the future, Jennifer hopes to become an eye doctor herself and has deferred admission to Stanford University Medical School as she works to ensure the sustainability and success of Unite for Sight?s work. No matter what, her plans include staying closely involved with the work of the organization she developed from an idea into an institution spanning the globe.Contact Jennifer at: Patients following cataract surgery provided through Unite
for Sight. A young girl plays ?Pin the Carrot on the Pupil,? an educational game developed by Unite for Sight.
About the YouthActionNet Awards ProgramThose young people profiled in this publication are each recipients of YouthActionNet Awards. Launched in 2002, the awards recognize outstanding youth leadership and are given to 20 young people annually. If you?re a young person leading positive social change efforts in your community, we encourage you to learn more about the awards. Projects should have clearly defined goals and the potential for growth and further replication. Award recipients receive US$500 and are eligible to participate in international activities and training workshops. Awards are made every six months. Visit to access proposal guidelines, submission deadlines, and an application form. 28
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