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Home / Articles / News / Features /  Brave Young World
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Brave Young World

Today’s youth recognize the global challenges of the future—and they’re ready to take them on  

March 25, 2009, 12:00 am

By Dave Maass and members of the United World College student body

Irresponsible multinational corporations in Costa Rica, corrupt officials in Tanzania, cultural clashes in the Netherlands, drought in Jordan, censorship in Vietnam: These are the greatest challenges around the globe as seen through the eyes of the next generation of leaders—the diverse, international student body of Armand Hammer United World College of the American West in Montezuma, NM.

This project began a year and a half ago with the school’s Beyond Borders club, a dozen or so students, from places such as Zimbabwe, Poland, Iraq and Hong Kong, who all have a common interest in human rights. Students interviewed each other—Costa Ricans spoke to Tanzanians, Americans surveyed Cambodians—and then shared their findings. The individual words were written and rewritten into a single voice to reflect a global youth vision of the melting pot of challenges and hopes for the future.

The final product is an almanac of issues that may serve as a guide to understanding the challenges the world will face over the next few decades. Not all the nations represented at UWC appear on these pages; we selected the entries with the intention of balancing both the regions and the issues. Each country’s listing is followed by the name of the student from that nation who provided the conceptual basis.

Politicians and other leaders always talk about leaving the planet better for future generations. At United World College, that future generation is already tackling the world’s interwoven crises—energy, environment, the economy. The students seem to have learned quite a lot from their forbearers’ mistakes. If all goes well, in a few years, we’ll be looking to them to lead the way. —Dave Maass

A Global Culture
United World College is both a microcosm and road map for resolving international conflicts.

Students at United World College in Montezuma represent 73 different countries with just 200 students. Naturally, the student body has conflicting views on just about every issue, yet the campus is one of the most understanding and open-minded places I have ever been.

At UWC, everyone learns about issues from all over the world. We gain perspectives on every conflict from nearly every point of view—conservative and liberal, Muslim and Christian, peaceful pacifist and violent activist.

When ideological conflicts do occur, they’re settled through structured, smart argument, rather than yelling and physical fighting.

So how does it all work? How do Palestinians interact with Israelis? How do Serbs interact with Bosnians? How do people of liberated countries interact with their colonizers?

We have a program here called Constructive Engagement of Conflict. One of its most important principles is that of accepting multiple truths. This manifested in full form during the height of the
Israel-Palestine conflict. We had all just returned from winter break, during which we sat with our families, watching the conflict escalate as we thought of our friends in the region.

Upon our return to school, tensions rose and something had to be done. We held two consecutive presentations: one by the Palestinian students and one by the Israeli students. Attendance was compulsory for all. Both groups presented their sides, during which even the most basic assumptions, such as who fired the first shot, were contested. There were certainly arguments about the legitimacy of each side but, in the end, we understood that everyone interprets an event through his or her own eyes. Perception is reality; this is truly the root of conflict. As the school began to realize this, we allowed about a week for the school to brainstorm solutions and then these also were discussed. Subsequently, in March, the Israeli and Palestinian students attended a conference in Seattle to discuss the same issues, and their presentations at the school certainly helped their abilities to communicate to larger audiences in Seattle.

As an American living on the American UWC campus (there are 12 schools around the world), I realize how much of our culture has taken root in other cultures, but also how much of our culture hardly makes sense in other parts of the world. We, the 50 Americans on campus, must introduce the other 75 percent to something new. For example, students on campus run dance parties periodically on the weekends. Many more conservative cultures do not have these types of parties back home, but nearly everyone comes to these parties anyway.

What we learn here at UWC is much larger than academia. Everyone here attempts to transcend his or her own culture and understand someone else. In the end, nothing is more important than understanding. (Tyler Fisher)

AFRICA

South Africa
While South Africa is more advanced than most of its neighbors, the country still faces numerous problems, not the least of which is a 36 percent unemployment rate. The country also has a severely high crime rate—second highest after Columbia in murders, with 1 per 2,000 people—which poses significant challenges for the 2010 World Cup. Newspapers have reported that behind-the-scenes officials are considering moving the games if South Africa can’t implement satisfactory security protocols.

Perhaps the biggest problem is corruption in South Africa’s government, best illustrated by African National Congress President Jacob Zuma. Even though Zuma faces charges of money laundering, racketeering and fraud tied to a $5 billion arms deal, he is still favored as the frontrunner for the 2009 presidential election.

Many South Africans are finding hope with the new political party, Congress of the People (COPE). The party splintered off the ANC in December 2008 in order to run candidates in the April 22 general election. Ethics reform tops the party’s platform, and COPE has introduced a member of the clergy, Bishop Hamilton Mvumelwano “Mvume” Dandala, as its main presidential delegate. It’s doubtful, though, that party will gain a majority.

In the meantime, pressure must be put on the National Prosecution Authority [similar to the US Department of Justice] to release evidence and prosecute leaders such as Zuma. (Gareth Smit)

Swaziland
With more than 40 percent of adults living with HIV, Swaziland has the most severe AIDS rate in the world.

The situation seems especially bleak because January 2009 numbers show 42 percent of pregnant women are HIV-positive, a 3 percent increase from 2006. Many consider ignorance the problem: Cultural myths about condoms leading to sterility are as common as the idea that AIDS stands for “American Ideas of Discouraging Sex.”

Traditional healers insist herbs can cure AIDS, but the techniques of applying the remedies can actually spread the disease. Furthermore, King Mswati III practices polygamy, leading many to believe that sex with multiple partners is healthy. Distributing condoms in bars or taping them to telephone polls has been effective, but the next step should be a shift from abstinence-only education to prevention in public schools. (Nelson Zwane)

Tanzania
In 2008, President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete dissolved his entire cabinet after details emerged that the members were involved in underhanded practices in awarding an $83 million contract to a US utility company.

While the president’s action was a major step forward in confronting government corruption, it did not address the widespread culture of corruption that has trickled down to lower government agencies.

A prime example are Tanzanian hospitals, which have developed an informal system of under-the-table payments—essentially bribes for doctors and nurses—in exchange for treatments, medicines and hospital beds, although they are supposed to be free to all citizens. Solutions to this situation aren’t simple, but the government can start by launching a public awareness campaign and re-evaluating the salaries of public servants. (Violet Rukambeiya)

Uganda
Refugees continue to flow into Uganda from several directions: In the north, Darfurians flee genocide from the Sudanese government, while refugees from the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo flow in from the west.

Uganda itself is still recovering from its own civil war and the influx of refugees has hampered the nation’s efforts to stabilize its economy.

Often the needs of refugees fall through the gaps, and so it is important the government accepts international assistance to develop a care system for refugees and considers implementing the reconciliation processes that have been successful in other African nations. (Alvin Mwijuka)

ASIA

Hong Kong
Hong Kong relies heavily on its financial and business service sectors—together, the industries account for more than 50 percent of the territory’s total economic activity. As a result, an extremely uneven income distribution has developed. As of 2007, the gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong continued to grow; last year the richest households earned on average $10,000 per month in US dollars; the poorest earned on average $300. This disparity continues today, even though Hong Kong’s GDP tops that of Japan, as well as Spain, England, Italy and Russia.

The Chinese government has stimulated much of Hong Kong’s recent economic development and greatly influenced its economic policies (the territory became an official “Special Administration Region” of China in 1997), but such dependence on mainland China has led to a gradual deterioration of Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and judiciary independence.

Rather than allow mainland China to influence Hong Kong’s course, the region should lead China toward policies of personal liberty, democracy and human rights. This may already be impossible as the communist government consolidates its control over Hong Kong’s economy and government. (Siu Ming)

Cambodia
Motorcycles and mopeds are the preferred mode of transportation for middle-class and working-class Cambodians, as well as students, mostly because they are affordable and use less gasoline.

For many years Cambodia lacked strong traffic laws. Between 2000 and 2007, motorcycle traffic deaths increased by 150 percent, costing the country more than $130 million in health care and productivity.

In response, the government passed new traffic laws, including a helmet law that went into effect in January 2009. Unfortunately, in March police reported that riders had begun ignoring the law. (Hokchhay Tann)

Nepal
Maoists with the Communist Party of Nepal came out of the 2008 election as the ruling party of the small Asian country. Non-Maoists worry the party’s goal of creating a “federal democratic republic” is only the first step toward a pure and potentially oppressive communist state.

Maoist rebels killed more than 14,000 people during the group’s 10-year “People’s War” against the previous monarchy, leading the US to label the ruling party a terrorist organization. Currently, the US is reviewing whether to lift the tag, which would significantly lend credibility to the leadership. (Gaurav Khanal)

Vietnam
One of the greatest problems in Vietnam is widespread censorship of the press and individual free expression. In 2006, for example, the government banned two newspapers from publishing for two months because the papers covered problems in the printing of new bank notes.

In 2007, students protested peacefully in support of Vietnam’s side of a territory dispute with China; even though they were on the government’s side, police broke up the protest. In the coming years, individuals must watch carefully how the government chooses to regulate the internet; already Amnesty International has documented systematic political censorship. (Hoang Khnah Tran)

MIDDLE EAST

Jordan
Next to no rainfall fell on Jordan in 2008, making the country’s greatest challenge its water scarcity, an environmental problem that is difficult to control or predict. Over the last few years, the problem has intensified; 90 percent of the country now receives only a few drops a year in precipitation. This presents a serious risk to Jordan’s olive trade; even after a recent 10-day rainfall, farmers will only receive between 45 and 55 percent of the water needed for irrigation due to rationing.

Jordan draws water from the Dead Sea, the body of water so salty that tourists come from around the world to buoy on its surface, but even that source is drying up.

In response, Jordan has announced a plan to pump water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea through a cross-country canal, which could raise the Dead Sea’s water level high enough to return the sea to homeostasis. But this plan presents political problems because the seas are shared by multiple nations, including Israel, which has had a strained relationship with Jordan for many years.

While training in water-sustainability techniques and technology may help some Jordanians on the local level, the greater national water shortage essentially hinges on regional stability and the ability of Middle East to put basic needs over ideological, religious and political differences. (Rayah Farah)

Afghanistan
In the 1970s, a civil war in Afghanistan led to the Soviet invasion, creating a power vacuum that led to the rise of the Taliban, which of course led to the US invasion of Afghanistan. That brings us to today, when Americans occupying Afghanistan have attempted to turn the tide in a nation overrun with warlords and corrupt government officials. With all the violence, Afghanistan has had little chance to consider the human rights of children (there is massive child labor and little education) and of women (cultural carryovers from the oppressive Taliban regime). Afghanis often blame their country’s instability on US foreign policy and believe the nation won’t be united until its government is seen as legitimately independent. (Mobeen Ludin)

Israel
The most important issue facing Israel’s upcoming leaders is the same issue facing the current one and the one before that and so forth: the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Broadly put, the disagreement is over land—who has a right to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and certain parts of Jerusalem. However, after a decade of disagreements over borders, polls by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes showed that in 2002 more than 70 percent of both sides support the solution first proposed in 1947: two states, with Jerusalem as an international city.

Violence from earlier in the year set back the process substantially and now 73 percent of Palestinians and 60 percent of Israelis think that there is next to no chance that an independent Palestinian state will exist next to Israel within the next five years. The next government may have a better shot if it accepts that there can be no peace without painful decisions. (Mia Tamarin)

Palestine
The Israeli offensive at the end of 2008 seriously damaged the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip: Many people lack access to clean water, several schools have been destroyed and families are struggling to cope with the trauma. Even now, external aid is often unable to get through the Israeli checkpoints. Meanwhile, in the West Bank, there are approximately 310 settlements, most of which were built after the Oslo Accord called for a halt to settlement expansion. Palestinians own only about 12 percent of their own land.

While a two-state solution is viewed by many as necessary, it seems impossible at this time. Palestinians must continue to work for human rights and dignity, and protect the most vulnerable by holding Israeli armed forces accountable for civilian deaths and injuries, and by challenging the US to play more of a peacemaking role. (Islam Qados)

EUROPE

Lithuania
Like many nations, Lithuania faces an energy crisis but, for the Eastern European nation, the problem is particularly acute because it agreed to shut down its Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant in 2009 in order to join the European Union. Nevertheless, many in Lithuania believe nuclear power is the only way the country can achieve energy independence. There is a cultural component to the issue of whether to build a new nuclear power plant: The memory of the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986 is still fresh in the minds of many Eastern Europeans, and the conservative politicians in Lithuania have capitalized on that fear.

Currently, Lithuania is negotiating with Latvia and Poland to share a new nuclear power plant, which would offer electricity to many states in the Baltic region. The project would take 10 years to build, so it’s crucial Lithuania begins to prepare youth now for scientific and high-tech jobs. (Aldona Kapacinskaite)

Germany
In both the government and in the streets, Germany faces a political atmosphere of increasingly divergent extremes. In parliament, the socialist Die Linke [“The Left”] and the far-right National Democratic Party are gaining support and picking up votes, resulting in stalemates over social programs—particularly those affecting immigrants.

On the ground, the tension manifests in terms of increased racial violence between Neo-Nazis and immigrant youth, who are often from Muslim nations. To an extent, the government can alleviate the situation by broadening integration efforts and promoting tolerance but, in the end, there may be an economic solution: If Germany can create more jobs, frustration over class may dissipate. (Claudia Nagel)

Netherlands
In the Netherlands, hostilities between immigrants and “native” Dutch people continue to escalate, and political leaders, such as parliamentarian Geert Wilder, are stoking the flame. In 2008, Wilder released the inflammatory documentary film Fitna about Muslim fundamentalists.

Although the international community condemned the film, Wilder cultivated an enthusiastic fan base, indicative of growing intolerance toward immigrants. At the same time, Muslim extremist groups countered with a call for the director’s assassination. There really isn’t any solution other than a popular effort to focus on unity and mutual understanding. (Jorien Loots)

Poland
In 1989, Poland abandoned communism and embraced democracy but, 20 years later, many in power have trouble letting go and forgetting the previous system. Through a process called “lustration,” the government has used the Institute of National Remembrance (otherwise known as the Commission for the Prosecution of Crimes against the Polish Nation) to “clean” Poland of former Communists. At best, lustration is a distraction from more important issues, such as the economy; at worst it’s political persecution of the most dangerous order. In order to move on and let go of 20-year-old vendettas, the next generation of political leaders must be drawn from those without ties to either the former socialist bloc or the pro-democracy “solidarity” movements of the 1980s. (Lukasz Niparko)

Portugal
Portugal’s Gross National Product is 20 percent lower than its Gross Domestic Product, which means foreign companies, particularly Spanish ones, have secured a large portion of the national economy. The Portuguese government’s ongoing economic policy of aggressive privatization, too often to foreign-owned companies, has only made the situation worse because profits flow out of the country. With the influx of foreign workers during the global economic crisis, Portugal’s unemployment tops 7 percent. One effective solution would be for the government to reverse its policies and encourage investment in domestic companies and corporations. (Isabel Camacho)

THE AMERICAS

Costa Rica
Initially, Costa Rica refused to ratify the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) because it feared risks to its economy. When, as a result, Costa Rica lost major US investments, the nation’s leaders swung around and ratified CAFTA earlier this year.

While CAFTA may benefit other countries, the evidence thus far indicates Costa Rica was better off without it. The country’s economy is dependent on two commodities, coffee and bananas, which make up 57 percent of the national exports. However, as a result of CAFTA, 40 tons of Colombian coffee were “dumped” in Costa Rica, wreaking havoc in the market.

Another central part of Costa Rica’s economy is tourism, but many hotels are owned by international companies, which bring in their own staff, thus crowding out the local population. Hotels that do employ Costa Ricans offer only menial jobs, without any promise of promotion. The situation is similar with high-tech corporations such as Intel or Verizon, which choose to employ outside experts while filling lower “technician” positions with Costa Ricans who hold doctorate degrees.

One solution would be for the Costa Rican government to re-evaluate the requirements for multinational corporations that do business in Costa Rica and consider employment quotas for locals in all levels of the company structure. (Maria Perez)

Bahamas
Illegal immigrants, mostly from Haiti, flock to the Bahamas seeking safe working conditions and a stronger currency. Haitians now comprise the largest population living on the 700 islands that make up the Bahamas. The government has attempted to jail these immigrants, creating humanitarian crises in the county’s overcrowded jails.

It also has tried to expand its coast guard, but scandals emerged involving exploitation—financial and sexual—of captured immigrants. While the Bahamas will likely continue experimenting with these measures, it is important for the islands to promote tolerance and fund education programs for immigrant students. (Elle Newbold)

Ecuador
Oil companies, competing for the rich oil reserves hidden beneath the Ecuadorian rainforest, have pitted indigenous tribes against each other in order to destabilize the region and seize oil-rich land. Public awareness campaigns, such as the global Live Earth concerts, have raised money to save certain rainforests, including Yasuní, a national park in Ecuador.

The government, however, needs to take a more active role. Already the government is indicating a switch in policy; instead of taking commissions from oil companies, it is considering a plan to sell carbon emission credits to preserve the forests while supporting the economy.
(Sebastian Gallardo Coral)

Jamaica
Jamaica’s national security is threatened by an unusual form of gang warfare: Teenage supporters of rival political parties form “political gangs,” which often clash violently in public schools. The two major parties involved are the People’s National Party, represented by orange shirts, and the Jamaica Labor Party, whose members wear green shirts.

According to Jamaican police, these gangs have a great interest in stockpiling weapons; one search of a 140-student school turned up more than 40 weapons, including knives and razors. Political representatives from the parties need to step forward and lead their followers in productive, rather than destructive, activities. (Nara Anderson-Figueroa)

 

 

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