Student Ambassadors 2012-2013


Last Friday night, my Student Ambassador group hosted an event in support of education for women in Afghanistan at the World Affairs Council. From 5:oo -7:oo PM, people managed to eat, mingle as well educate themselves on the importance of educating women in Afghanistan. Approximately 60 people came  to hear what our evening’s speaker, Budd Mackenzie,  had to say about the issue. Mr. Mackenzie was a very charismatic speaker and as one audience member described, “brought a personable touch” to the topic.

Mr. Mackenzie is the founder of Trust in Education, which dedicates itself to educating children in Afghanistan  as well as providing economic and health care assistance to villages. Trust in Education is a U.S. based grassroots organization that focuses its employment in Afghanistan; employing only one person in the U.S., Trust in Education is able to direct almost all of its funds directly to the Afghan people. This close connection allows the organization to work to empower local women to educate themselves and in turn educate their community. Trust in Education focuses on empowering these women take control of education in their community, instead of outsiders telling them what to do. This makes the local population invested in the  education of their community and allows for a sustainable organization.

As girls are often denied education due to traditional values of gender separation, women play a vital role in educating the next generation of Afghan women. This is why, although seeking to provide education to everyone, the organization focuses mostly on the education of women. Mr. MacKenzie corroborated this fact and the importance of educating women in this troubled country through his numerous personal interactions with Afghans. He noted that women have been found to be one of the greatest economic investments there.

The turn out for the event was great and the total money raised, over $800, was beyond our expectations. Being a group of young women, our student ambassador group felt very impassioned about the issue and inspired about  contributing to the fight for gender equality. Overall the group had a great learning experience not only about the issue but also about ourselves and Trust in Education.

A class supported by Trust In Education

By Sofia Vala, Student Ambassador, Waldorf High School

Donations are still being accepted online, please visit our crowdrise page. 

 

Each year, Student Ambassadors work together in groups to take action on an issue of global importance. We are proud to present to you their projects.

The average human can survive weeks without food, but only three to five days without water. The survival of the kidneys, heart, and the purity of the blood depend on the adequate intake of water. Water is essential for life and one might argue that access to clean water is an unalienable right. Yet, 780 million people worldwide lack access to clean water; that’s more than twice the population of the United States. More than 3.4 million people die each year from water related disease and 99% of these deaths occur in the developing world. Water is not an endless resource, we must work to preserve it and fairly allocate it throughout the world.

Life cannot exist without water, and for this reason, our group “Hunger and Water in Africa”  decided to focus specifically on the water aspect. We chose to address the issue from two perspectives: local and international.

We brainstormed ideas we could implement locally to raise awareness about water wastage and minimize our “water footprint”. On an international scale, we decided to partner with ‘Drop in the Bucket’, an organization that builds wells and sanitation systems at schools throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, enabling youth to fully harness the life-changing power of an education. clip_image002

On a local level, we are organizing watershed awareness events and beach cleanups.

The topic of access to clean water is slowly becoming an internationally recognized priority. In September 2010, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution recognizing that the human right to water and sanitation are a part of the right to an adequate standard of living. Target 7C of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), aims to reduce, by half, the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water by 2015. Water scarcity and water quality are two important issues to address in order to move forward and escape the grips of poverty.

By Nina Krishnan, Student Ambassador, Mission San Jose High School

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 “Parents pore over them. Teachers protest about them. Politicians preen when they are positive—and blame their predecessors if they are not. International league tables have acquired a central role in debates about education policy.”

At a recent Council meeting, we discussed the diverse education systems of various countries: Finland, South Korea, the United States, Brazil and India. We learned a great deal about the differing approaches to education. For example, did you know that elementary students in Finland get 75 minutes of recess a day versus an average of 27 minutes in the US?

A a recent article in  The Economist analyzes different countries and discusses the importance of education systems to parents, teachers, and politicians. The success of educational systems is measured by various international league tables[1] such as the OECD’s PISA, TIMSS, and PIRLS. However, these statistics do not explain why what is happening is happening. Newer assessments like “The Learning Curve” are trying to explain these varying results by adding more criteria such as graduation rates, adult literacy and the effect of years in school on productivity.

Since all of the top countries use different methods for their education systems, what is the most important element for their success? Just as we concluded in our discussions, a national culture with a desire to learn and to be educated is the most important part of a “good” educational system. This culture change can impact a country’s education system very quickly, like in Asia, where but a few generations ago the majority of the population was barely literate or such as in Israel where math and reading levels have shot up. This also shows why it is so hard to improve the education systems because you can’t only change the infrastructure: you have to change the culture of an entire nation.

By Marc Robert Wong, Student Ambassador, International High School


[1] “a set of statistics used to compare the performance of a number of individuals, groups, or institutions”, dictionary.com

Last week Student Ambassadors briefly unpacked the issue of drug policy, comparing the United States’ policy to that of Portugal and Thailand , to see which might have the best systematic approach against narcotics. Typically governments take four approaches to creating policy: treatment, law enforcement, eradication and interdiction.

Harking back to 1971 when President Nixon formally declared a “war on drugs,” the U.S. has since enacted onerous statutes criminalizing drug possession and sales. The hard-line approach has resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate, surpassing every nation in terms of its number of prisoners and prisons, according to Department of Justice data. As Washington and Colorado legalized the use of marijuana in 2012, the country will be looking to see how federal and state laws reconcile conflicting methods of law enforcement.  Although it may be politically unfeasible for the federal government to take the lead on drug policy, states seem poised to try different methods.

Treatment, which Portugal , is focused more on providing health services to drug addicts and views the issue through a medical lens rather than a criminal one. Critics skeptical of Portugal’s policy position have argued that a treatment-centric approach would create unmitigated consequences by allowing drugs to run rampant, inviting the wrong type of tourist to the country. On the contrary, once having the highest levels of hard-drug use in Europe, Portugal has remarkably seen illegal drug use among teens decline and rates of new HIV infections caused by the sharing of dirty needles drop, according to a CATO Institute report.

Turning to Southeast Asia, Thailand has taken a doctrinaire approach on the war on drugs that has resulted in nearly 3000 extra-judicial killings. The zero-tolerance, military crackdown, has elicited condemnation from the international community for Thailand’s disregard to human rights. Drug prosecutions and related illnesses are on the rise as the government continues to exert aggressive force, according to the Transnational Institute for Drug Law Reform; an evidence that a draconian approach is perhaps not the best way to stem illegal drug use.

Student Ambassadors made impassioned arguments for why a variety of approaches, encompassing mental health and mandatory education programs, would be more successful in combating the use of illicit drugs. With many compelling ideas on the table, Ambassadors were able to take part in a substantive debate on such an urgent issue- raising questions about the efficacy of current policies and how we can carry on the conversation in our communities.

By Ben Pacho, Student Ambassador, De Anza College

On December 13, Editor in Chief of Foreign Policy Magazine Susan Glasser spoke to a combined audience of World Affairs Council and Marine’s Memorial Association members about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for President Obama during his second term.  With the inauguration less than a week away, this is a perfect opportunity to revisit Ms. Glasser’s talk.

Susan Glasser

Susan Glasser

As we gaze towards another four years of uncertainty and diminished hope for something better, the American people are becoming increasingly less confident about our nation’s future. While most are worried about the economic problems here in the US, Susan Glasser notes foreign policy may end up dominating President Obama’s agenda for the much of his final term. How will America remain atop the economic power ladder? Will another country, such as North Korea or Iran, pressure the Commander-in-Chief into a nuclear war? Will 2014 actually mark the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan? One can only guess right now. If President Obama hopes to go into the history books as a successful president, he will be expected to answer these questions clearly and promptly.

While many see this term as President Obama’s final chance, I see it as America’s final chance. Even if we remain “the most powerful country” or if we are able to help stabilize the problems in the Middle East and Asia, this may be our last opportunity to stand up for a worldwide awakening. We can no longer afford to send  troops to fight unnecessary battles, the world cannot withstand another World War and our planet earth only has so much more time before the recognition of  environmental crisis will be too late. Thus, the time to literally save the world is now.

In order to save the world and for this worldwide awakening to actually take place, we must direct our attention towards society’s most significant institution, its very foundation—education. In an era where education exists merely as a means to get a stable and profitable job, the decline of  conscience is inevitable. Education is not meant to produce specialists and elitists; it is meant to create questioners and challengers—thinkers. If the American people truly wish to be conscientious and disseminate it throughout the world, then we must revolutionize the goals of our education system. The outcome next four years will not be governed by what President Obama decides to do about the economy or to the world; what we, the people, do for true education will determine the fate of humanity.

By Jacky To, Student Ambassador, Galileo Academy

You can watch Susan Glasser’s  full speech online at worldaffairs.org.

Months after the tragedies in Oregon, Wisconsin and Colorado, the United States once again saw a mass shooting take place on Friday December 14, 2012.  Adam Lanza, the identified gunman, murdered 20 children and 6 staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As devastation struck, President Obama made a sympathetic statement that reflected the feelings of the nation.

Our country has seen repeated mass shootings in 2012, which have brought up the controversial idea of enforcing stricter gun laws. We can note that the past tragedies have not brought into effect stricter gun laws because immediately after the shootings, we found it too early to focus on reformation and instead diverted our attention to sympathizing with the families of the victims. The problem in doing so has resulted in politicians failing to step up to continue conversations about prevention after mourning.

However, this time could prove to be different. President Obama’s administration hopes that by January they will be able to introduce new laws which will restrict the selling of guns to criminals as well as those with mental health problems. The agenda will also include easier access to mental health care. With the president introducing stricter gun laws, and supporting Senator Dianne Feinstein’s idea to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the 52% of Americans who favor new restrictions may see the change occur under President Obama’s second term.

Despite the fact that many see these laws as a violation of rights, we must acknowledge these tragedies and take steps to prevent such occurrences from happening in the future. The time to confront the issue of gun laws is now, and the Obama administration is on the right path to secure a better future for the citizens of this country.

By Natasha Luther, Student Ambassador, Diablo Valley College

The Huffington Post has an interesting article and slide show about gun control laws around the world. Additionally, you may find the National Rifle Association’s response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting here.

Governor Chris Christie and President Barack Obama tour the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.

This was one of the questions discussed during the last Student Ambassador meeting regarding Hurricane Sandy and the presidential election. Although a lot of good points were made, ultimately human needs and relief should take precedence over the political advantages that may be gained from any catastrophic situation.

Politicians can make a huge difference in how much a disaster affects the region it passes through. According to an excerpt from the article “Natural disasters: Counting the cost of calamities,” the world has succeeded in making natural disasters less deadly through “better early-warning systems for tsunamis, better public information regarding evacuation plans, and stricter building codes in quake-prone areas.” However, the monetary costs to develop these measures are rising and require support and approval that can be increasingly difficult to attain, hence the usefulness of politicians who advocate for this.

One example of rival politicians coming together would be Republican Governor Chris Christie and President Obama. Governor Christie, who after attacking the president’s record over the past several weeks suddenly began praising the president and the federal disaster response. After such a contradictory behavior, his motives seem questionable. It may be plausible that he is still just campaigning when he expresses his approval of the Obama administration’s actions compared with his previously obvious support for the Romney campaign. It becomes very hard to tell the difference between concerned people trying to work in the people’s interests and wily politicians attempting to stay a move ahead of the game.

Although I believe that the care of people affected by natural disasters should be considered a top priority, I don’t think that the political games stop after such an event. Indeed, if anything, politicians sometimes seem to view such catastrophes simply as another means at their disposal to advance themselves and their interests.

By Alix Forgan, Student Ambassador, Lycée Français de San Francisco

Amy Goodman

Reporting on other presidential candidates and the actions they promote is one of the many things Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! does. Democracy Now! is a non-profit independent news program funded entirely through contributions from listeners, viewers and foundations. In the San Francisco area, Democracy Now! is broadcast weekdays on KQED World Ch. 9.3, Comcast Ch. 190 at 5am, Noon and 11pm, and on SF Commons, Ch. 76 at 4pm, 7pm and 11pm. I encourage you to watch and listen to it! Here is a link to the website: democracynow.org

 Last week, before the election, some fellow student Ambassadors and I went and saw Amy Goodman and Denis Moynihan speak at the Marines Memorial Club & Hotel at an event sponsored by the World Affairs Council. Amy Goodman argued that the issue of the marginalization of other political candidates and their ideas is a threat to American democracy. Mainstream media, she said, it colluding with politicians to dictate what we view, often for a profit. She thinks that it is journalist’s duty to bring this information to the citizens. To do this, Democracy Now! televised a special called “Expanding the debate”  This featured three third-party presidential candidates responding to the questions asked to President Obama and Governor Romney during the second town hall debate held in New York.

 Hearing Amy Goodman speak and watching the expanded debate was a refreshing escape from the political debacle that most mainstream media contributes too. While watching it I was reminded of something Amy Goodman had said at the event “We need to go outside the arguments and agreements of mainstream politics and have meaningful debates.” Amy Goodman thinks that it is journalists duty to bring us that. I think that it is citizens duty to listen too it.

By Josephine Hass, Student Ambassador, Berkeley High School

Syrian Flag

Last week we had an opportunity to engage in a thorough discussion of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and civil war in Syria.  With the latest round of ceasefire talks in ruin and the stern warning of a regional spillover by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi still echoing through the streets of Beirut, there was much for our student Ambassadors to delve into.

Using a ‘fishbowl’ style discussion model, the students not only flexed their public speaking and debate skills but also honed in on the ever important art of thoughtful listening and debate moderation. Paired into teams, each student was responsible for a debate round and an observation round during the discussion exercise, demanding a high level of participation and concentration.

Fishbowl Discussion

Thoughtful and articulate, the debates generated by the fishbowl discussion highlighted the most pressing and delicate issues facing the international community as the crisis in Syria grows ever more critical and destabilizing. The responsibility to protect, as laid out under UN Resolution 1674, was a recurring topic throughout the debate exercise and the intricacies of its theoretical implementation in Syria became a highlight of much of the discussion.

While the crisis unfolding across the Levant is one of profound importance for the future of the region and the interests of the international community it should not be forgotten that every day, from the suburbs of Aleppo to the overcrowded refugee camps along the Turkish border, this crisis is one that affects the lives of millions of human beings. Our discussion last week demonstrated more than just the importance of public speaking and listening; it challenged us to think about one of the most pressing issues of our time with thoughtfulness and clarity. The world looks forward to having such bright minds at its helm in the years to come.

By Michael Montafi, Education Program Intern, World Affairs Council

On Thursday, October 4th, the Education Program held its first Student Ambassadors Meeting for the 2012-2013 year. A diverse group of students has been selected this year to engage in dialogue and action to address global issues.  I was immediately impressed with the cohort, as they jumped right into a discussion of the previous night’s presidential debate, even before they had been introduced to each other. Already thinking critically about current affairs and the upcoming election, this year’s group of Ambassadors is sure to take advantage of the opportunities coming their way (including the Presidential Debate Watching Party on October 22nd!). They are highly enthusiastic about international affairs and the United States’ role in tackling global issues.

We kicked off the meeting with some icebreakers, including a game of Human Bingo to get energy levels up. The Ambassadors then set the ground rules for the year by coming up with guidelines for having effective and respectful discussions. Some important discussion questions that came up were:

  • Should we force participation in discussions? The guideline that addresses this issue is “step up, stand back” – If you’re generally quiet, challenge yourself to speak up, and if you are generally more talkative, challenge yourself to step back and allow others to participate.
  • Is a discussion effective if everyone agrees? Ambassadors thought that we should play devil’s advocate in order to enhance discussions with new perspectives.
  • How do we create a safe space where everyone feels comfortable in sharing their opinions? How do we incorporate divergent views while always remaining respectful? Ambassadors created a guideline to address these questions – think before you speak, and picture yourself in another position to better understand different perspectives.

We hope to have more thoughtful discussions like this one in the future pertaining to current and global affairs. This will lead up to the Global Issue Projects that the Ambassadors will take on in the coming weeks, in which students will ultimately take action on a global issue in collaboration with a local NGO. The Education Program is excited to have such a great group of students join us this year, and we are looking forward to the next meeting!

By Nina Sawhney, Education Program Intern, World Affairs Council

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