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Each year, Student Ambassadors choose  an issue of global importance to educate their peers and take action. Here is one group’s story:

Syrian children sit on the ground in Domiz refugee camp, northern Iraq. – via rescue.org

Our group chose to focus on children in the Middle East & North African for the global issue project. Political turmoil, the threat of warfare, ISIS, low literacy rates, and high infant mortality rates all put these children at a disadvantage. Conflicts in the Middle East such as the Syrian Civil War and Refugee Crisis negatively affect children and their access to shelter, food, healthcare, water and education.
The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has led to hundreds of thousands of casualties and the displacement of millions of Syrian people into surrounding nations. 14 million children are facing hardship and trauma from the war in Syria and Iraq. 2 million children have fled Syria as refugees. Children are killed as a direct result of the war, but they are also dying as a result of chronic and preventable diseases. Healthcare systems in the Middle East are collapsing because of the violent conflicts occurring. ISIS, or ISIL, is an Islamist extremist group that controls territory in at least 4 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and has influence in several other countries. The UN holds ISIS responsible for humans’ rights abuses and war crimes. Iraq is fighting against ISIS to regain territory.
Education for children in the area is a major concern. The instability of many Middle Eastern governments results in children, particularly those in rural areas, having little to no access to formal education, as they cannot rely on state-funded schools. Girls in particular often receive extremely minimal schooling due to cultural gender roles and sexist ideologies that are enforced by rebel groups gaining power. The literacy rate for females in Afghanistan is 12.6%, while for males it is 43.1%. The average is one of the lowest in the world. Many children do not attend school because they go to work instead. An estimated 25-30% of Afghan children are engaged in child labor.
We chose to work with the Middle East Children’s Alliance, MECA, a nonprofit organization based in Berkeley, California that sends humanitarian aid, supports projects for children, and educates North American and other international communities about the effects of U.S. foreign policy on children in the Middle East. Its work reaches children in Palestine, Iraq, and Lebanon. Founded in 1988, it provides food, medicine, medical supplies, clothes, books, toys, school supplies, college scholarships, and water purification units to schools. For our project, we made a Crowdrise page to support MECA. The page includes some information about issues that children in the Middle East and North Africa face, so we hope to raise awareness about this topic while also raising money to provide aid to these children. Sofia (another group member) also presented about MECA to the Service Learning club at her high school. Piedmont High School has a service-learning curriculum that includes a day of service with a different local organization for each grade at the end of the year. MECA is an option for one of Piedmont’s service projects at the end of next year.

 

By Deep Dhaliwal, Student Ambassador, Dougherty Valley High School

The Internet has given each of us access to millions of times the information of a single library, at our very fingertips. The Internet is an institution that is conducive to future stability and growth, yet its implementation has changed the way we think about information forever. The memorized lessons of our culture are now a 5 second search away.

Information and the speed at which it is transmitted around the world has changed dramatically with the modern Internet. Millions of dollars that were once spent on radio and TV campaigns are instead being spent on the Internet. Millions of pieces of mail that were once sent by paper and stamp are now beamed electronically for free. In the 1930’s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began addressing the nation directly with his Fireside Chats radio show. Today, Barack Obama hosts his own Fireside Hangouts on Google+.

The Internet has changed geopolitics forever by intricately connecting people across the whole world. For example, when an airstrike occurs in the Ukraine, I have access to video footage minutes afterward. Imagine how different the world would be if video footage of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had been made available minutes after it happened. We are truly in an information exchange renaissance where ideas can be blasted simultaneously to nodes around the world at the speed of light, and it already has changed the way we do almost everything.

With this in mind, on March 5, the student ambassadors did a Face to Faith video conference with  Dian Didaktika Islamic Senior High School in Indonesia. Exchanging information and valuable insight across different cultures gave everyone a wider perspective of the world and the people around them. During the video-conference, we learned about the school system in Indonesia, shared our international experiences and discussed our future career plans. Two students even connected through their study of Japanese and starting a Japanese club! With the internet, we could easily connect, make friends, and unite across the globe.

By Vivian Kwan, Student Ambassador, Westmoor High School

Face to Faith works around the world to connect students of different faith in conversation. Please visit facetofaithonline.org to learn more and involve your students. 

The Supreme Court of Canada, located in Ottawa

On Friday, February 6, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favor of assisted suicide in the now landmark case, Carter v. Canada. In doing so, the high court repealed a 1993 law that forbade euthanasia, and became one of few Western countries to (theoretically) allow the procedure; others include Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and the US states Oregon and Washington.

The previous law existed under the justification that the Canadian government held the responsibility of protecting “vulnerable people,” the Washington Post reports. New legislation will allow “competent adults with ‘grievous and irremediable medical conditions’ including illness, disease or disability that cause them ‘intolerable’ suffering” to consent to ending their lives. However, the limited nature of the ruling makes it so that the assistance required may be hard to find. The Supreme Court of Canada emphasized that doctors are entitled to “conscience and religious freedom rights,” and therefore cannot be forced to participate in euthanasia or even refer patients to places where such services may be rendered. Furthermore, the high court required that the government create a “stringently limited, carefully monitored system of exceptions.” In the end, the ruling specified that patients do not have a “right to death.”

Thus far, the response has been mixed. Pro-life groups have expressed outrage at what they see as an ethical failing of the state, citing the possibility of abuse. “Suffering patients need sound medical treatment and real compassion, not encouragement to take their own lives,” one lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom said. “[This decision showed] that the lives of the weak, infirm, and vulnerable are not worth protecting,” said another. “In essence [it] decided that some people are better off dead than alive—and gave power to those who are strong to end the lives of those who are weak.”

For her part, however, Lee Carter, the daughter of the now-deceased plaintiff of the lawsuit, praises the ruling. Ms. Carter emphasized the importance of the freedom to decide one’s fate in a statement made on Friday. Her mother’s attorneys made a similar argument in the hearing, proposing that the terminally ill were discriminated against because their physical disabilities prevented them from taking their own lives the way “able-bodied people could.”

The Canadian government has promised to review the decision, but has made no statement in favor or against it. If it so chooses, the House of Commons can overturn the ruling, using a “rarely used constitutional clause”. But that is unlikely, Reuters reports.

For the time being, talk of death has been revived in the Great White North.

 

By Wendy Tang, Student Ambassador, Mills High School.

Student Ambassadors meeting with Nazila Fathi

Given how far we as a society have come in fields such as medicine, science and technology, it is remarkable what a long way we still have to go in terms of social justice and equality for our citizens. I write specifically of the gaping divide between men and women (though of course this is by no means the only gaping divide that exists). Whether we speak of opportunity, representation, or even something as concrete and hypothetically correctable as pay, women are consistently at a disadvantage. It’s really quite sad; because I was born female, I will have to work much harder than a male counterpart to earn the same opportunities and respect in the workplace, and unless something finally changes, I must expect to never earn the same amount of money.

That is why it is so important for young women to be exposed to successful women in traditionally male-dominated fields. Though today the majority of girls in Western cultures know that, in theory, they can pursue any career they’d like, turning these aspirations into a reality without tangible role models to look to feels daunting. Not to say that girls can’t have male role models (and vice versa), but there is a very distinct difference between comparing oneself to others of the same versus opposite gender.

When Iranian journalist, Nazila Fathi, spoke at the World Affairs Council, she became one of these tangible examples. The field of journalism has certainly been heavily dominated by men in the past, so being able to speak with a woman who has found so much success solidified the previously abstract concept of a high-powered female journalist in my eyes. Particularly significant was her response when an audience member asked how she felt that being a woman had impacted her career. So often we hear about the struggles that women must go through in order to gain professional recognition, but rather than lament her gender she described it as an advantage when working in Tehran, as it permitted her to gain insight into both men’s and women’s circles, which would not have been possible for a man in her position.

Until the younger generations of women truly believe that they can achieve anything without hindrance from their gender, it will not be the case, and so although exposing girls to female role models like Fathi won’t solve gender inequality in the United States, it is certainly a worthy step along the way.

By Hanna Weiler, Student Ambassador, Berkeley High School

If you missed Nazila Fathi’s talk, you can watch it online at worldaffairs.org

MTS chad broughton2

Mills students with Amy and Professor Chad Broughton

On January 20, 2015, the World Affairs Council welcomed Chad Broughton from the University of Chicago to discuss the topic of globalization and US-Mexico relations. Before this public program, the Education Program organized a Meet the Speaker gathering for local Bay Area students who had the chance to meet Chad Broughton and ask him questions about his career and this particular field. Six students from Mills High School along with their teacher, Mr. Phillips, participated in the event.

The students asked interesting questions such as, “What made you interested in English and Psychology during your college years?” and “Why did you decide to focus on Mexico for your research?” Professor Broughton stated that he had always been a strong student in math and science, while the subject of English came harder to him. He wanted a challenge while he was in college so he decided to pursue English as his major for this reason aside from the fact that he loves writing.

galesburg to reynosa

Maytag moved their factory from Galesburg, Illinois to Reynosa, Mexico.

Professor Broughton took his first job at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois upon receiving his PhD and the events occurring  at the time inspired him to investigate the loss of manufacturing jobs in the US to Mexico. The Maytag factory had just shut down and Galesburg residents were protesting the incident. He made his way down to Mexico to see the other side of the story. Professor Broughton met a lot of hardworking people who inspired him to tell their story given its importance to the world at large. When asked about the best thing to happen in him in Mexico, he responded that it was the Mexicans with their incredible hospitality and warmth. Even though they may not have much in terms of material things, they are extremely giving and happy, noting the kids who are always smiling.

The students were eager to talk about public policy and free trade agreements, namely NAFTA, to which Professor Broughton talked about the controversy behind NAFTA for various segments in the population as well as the need for more protective measures within free trade agreements. In discussing the role of policy at large, he explained concepts in sociology connecting the macro to the micro to relay information on the status of underprivileged schools in Chicago. Professor Broughton noted, interestingly, that the key grade for intervention to increase the number of high school graduates is 9th grade or freshman year. He stated that with new policies, Chicago hopes to greatly increase its high school graduation rate within the next few decades by over 30%.

If you missed Professor Broughton’s presentation, you can catch it online at worldaffairs.org.

By Amy Juelsgaard, Education Program Intern, World Affairs Council

This is the latest Charlie Hebdo cover after the attack and assassinations of its leading journalists. It says, “Tout est pardonné” or “All is forgiven.”

On Thursday, January 15, Student Ambassadors reconvened for the first meeting of the second semester.

We discussed the effects of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the kosher supermarket hostage crisis two days later. We debated whether or not Charlie Hebdo’s controversial and often times, perceived by some as “insulting comics” were a testament to no limitations on freedom of expression or instead proof that limitations on hate speech need to be put in place. Charlie Hebdo defended itself by saying it was “laique” (non-religious) and was offensive to everyone equally. All religions are satirized equally; no one is spared or immune from being poked at. However, as we discussed, in France, under Article R. 624-3, Article R. 624-4 and Article R. 625-7, there are restrictions on public or private hate speech, closely adhered to. Particularly after the Holocaust, triggered this approach to minimize or eliminate hate speech. Some people see this as helping society minimize discrimination, hate and violence, others as see it as an intrusion on democracy and unlimited freedom of speech.

The US does not currently have limitations on hate speech. Under the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is supported even in hate cases like Snyder v. Phelps, in which the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church argued that he was protected by the First Amendment in regards to his church’s picketing with signs many people consider particularly offensive. The Supreme Court’s 8-1 decision supported Phelps and denied restrictions on hate speech.

An invigorating and strong debate on both sides took place at the World Affairs Council over this topic. However, the “no limit” on free speech side won the argument overwhelmingly. The dialogue, however, opened people’s eyes and awareness to both sides of the issue and led to a very interesting discussion.

As a French citizen, the horrible massacre affected me very deeply. From a personal viewpoint, I do not think that the “hate speech” restrictions are really that limiting. Charlie Hebdo and other satirical newspapers can “insult” everyone equally and become aware of their blind spots. However, true hate, not meant as a satirical joke, but to inflict harm upon others (at least in theory) is limited by the “hate speech” restriction laws and protects French citizens from extreme viewpoints. That does not always prevent violence, as this horrible incident has shown. The US’s “no restrictions ever” policy is another way to support freedom of expression. This protects liberty above all. However, you could also argue this protects people, like the Westboro Baptist Church, to let them preach hate and get away with it. There is a different set of pros and cons to that approach. However, in my opinion, “hate speech” restrictions show unity and that “le peuple Français” will not stand for any hate onto any citizens and this builds solidarity among the French population. The recent attacks just help prove that the world needs to be united against this ever-growing threat of ISIL and Al Qaeda. As Charb (one of the main editors of the paper who was gunned down) said: “Je préfère mourir debout que vivre a genou.” Or “ I prefer to die standing up, then live on my knees,” I believe that is what we are all fighting for: as countries and as people, for a safer, more peaceful world.

 

Please share your ideas about free speech by leaving a comment below.

 

Zoé-Pascale Roux, Student Ambassador, Lycée Français de San Francisco

 

Educators, feel free to use our Lesson Plan on Charlie Hebdo to bring this discussion to your classroom.