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SAYMCA ArtsThe South African YMCA shares their understanding of how arts can be used to creatively engage youth.

1. Creativity – Being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and think ‘outside of the box’ will distinguish your child from others. In an arts program, participants will be asked to recite a monologue in 6 different ways, create a painting that represents a memory, or compose a new rhythm to enhance a piece of music. If children have practice thinking creatively, it will come naturally to them now and in their future career.

2. Confidence – The skills developed through theatre, not only train you how to convincingly deliver a message, but also build the confidence you need to take command of the stage. Theater training gives children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsal. This process gives children the confidence to perform in front of large audiences.

3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. How do I turn this clay into a sculpture? How do I portray a particular emotion through dance? How will my character react in this situation? Without even realizing it kids that participate in the arts are consistently being challenged to solve problems. All this practice problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding. This will help develop important problem-solving skills necessary for success in any career.

4. Perseverance – When a child picks up a musical instrument for the first time, she/he knows that playing Bach right away is not an option; however, when that child practices, learns the skills and techniques and doesn’t give up, that Bach concerto is that much closer. In an increasingly competitive world, where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.

5. Focus – The ability to focus is a key skill developed through group work. Keeping a balance between listening and contributing involves a great deal of concentration and focus. It requires each participant to not only think about their role, but how their role contributes to the big picture of what is being created. Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives.

6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theatre and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language. They experience different ways of moving and how those movements communicate different emotions. They are then coached in performance skills to ensure they are portraying their character effectively to the audience.

7. Receiving Constructive Feedback – Receiving constructive feedback about a performance or visual art piece is a regular part of any arts instruction. Children learn that feedback is part of learning and it is not something to be offended by or to be taken personally. It is something helpful. The goal is the improvement of skills and evaluation is incorporated at every step of the process. Each arts discipline has built in parameters to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.

8. Collaboration – Most arts disciplines are collaborative in nature. Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal. When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.

9. Dedication – When kids get to practice following through with artistic endeavours that result in a finished product or performance, they learn to associate dedication with a feeling of accomplishment. They practice developing healthy work habits of being on time for rehearsals and performances, respecting the contributions of others, and putting effort into the success of the final piece. In the performing arts, the reward for dedication is the warm feeling of an audience’s applause that comes rushing over you, making all your efforts worthwhile.

10. Accountability –When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. They learn that when they are not prepared or on-time, that other people suffer. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it. Because mistakes are a regular part of the process of learning in the arts, children begin to see that mistakes happen. We acknowledge them, learn from them and move on.

Source: SAYMCA

Thursday, 10 April 2014 10:03
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liberiaymca2The Liberia YMCA and the Government of Liberia have signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a new YMCA Headquarters in Liberia.

At the signing ceremony in Monrovia, Liberia Youth and Sports Minister, Len Eugene Nagbe said the signing of the MOU formalises Government's committment to forge ahead together, that government through the Ministry of Youth and Sports will lend itself to securing funding for the rest of the project, while the YMCA secures 50% funding through donor support and partners contribution, including funds received from well-meaning Liberians.

"With 50% funding secured, it is the responsibility of Liberians including government, and well-meaning Liberians to ensure that the rest of the funding is secured," Minister Nagbe said.

The Liberian Youth and Sports Minister said the YMCA in Liberia has an impecable record of impacting the lives of young people for future leadership and better integration into society.

"The YMCA has served as a beacon of hope for many Liberians including its sporting facilities and life skills, which has improved the lives of a number of young people." Minister Nagbe furthered.

"The Liberia YMCA has this record and so we are about to take the YMCA to another level."

He thanked the YMCA and its National General Secretary, E. Edward Gboe who he said has worked tirelessly to bring the project to fruition.

He also thanked the Vice President of Liberia, Ambassador Josepn N. Boakai who he said "is one of the strongest partons behind this effort."

"I urge all Liberians to rally around the Liberia YMCA so that we can conclude this modern YMCA complex." he concluded.

The National General Secretary of the Liberia YMCA, E. Edward Gboe appreciated Minister Nagbe and staff for their continuous support to youth service in the country.

"Today, the YMCA and the Government of Liberia are about to sign this MOU to lend support to the YMCA to provide a sociable and sustainable project to serve the youth community in Liberia."

"The YMCA is a service organisation - true to its mission statement - and has been demonstrating this over the years." Mr. Gboe said.

"Most of us Liberian youth and adults have benefited from the service of the YMCA and the mentorship of seniors- most of which are in the private sector."

"Given what we have benefited from the YMCA as Secretary General of the Liberia YMCA Minister of Youth and Sports, we must then give back to the communities." The YMCA National General said.

He thanked the government of Liberia and the Ministry of Youth and Sports for the assistance to the Liberia YMCA.

Under the MOU, the Government of Liberia will assist the Liberia YMCA with 50% for the construction of a mult-purpose YMCA headquarters, while the Liberia YMCA will secure the remaining 50% through donors and other support.

The Liberia YMCA has over the last few years been engaging partners and relevant stakeholders for the construction of a modern YMCA complex in Liberia. The project is estimated to cost between 3.5 - 4 million US dollars.

Source: Liberia YMCA

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togo french_conflictL’Union Européenne finance trois projets en faveur des couches en conflit avec la loi au Togo. 326,6 millions de francs CFA seront mobilisés pour accompagner, par exemple, les défenseurs des Droits de l’homme contre le mauvais traitement systématique des jeunes en conflit avec la loi et pour un meilleur accès à la justice dans quatre régions du Togo.

La délégation de l’UE au Togo va signer, dans les heures qui viennent, trois nouveaux contrats en faveur de trois projets pilotés par les organisations de la société civile au bénéfice d’une couche sociale de la population Togolaise en conflit avec la loi, indique la cellule de communication de l’institution à Lomé.

Il s’agit, notamment, d’un projet de soutien aux défenseurs des Droits de l’homme contre le mauvais traitement systématique des jeunes en conflit avec la loi et pour un meilleur accès à la justice dans quatre régions du Togo. Il est élaboré par l’Union Chrétienne des Jeunes Gens/Young Men’s Christian Association (UCJG/YMCA). Son objectif : renforcer les libertés fondamentales des jeunes en conflit avec la loi, à travers un accès à la justice.

Six organisations de la société civile sont choisies pour exécuter ce projet : l’UCJG/YMCA, la LTDH (Ligue Togolaise des Droits de l’Homme), ACAT (Action Chrétienne pour l’Abolition de la Torture), le BICE (Bureau International Catholique de l’Enfance), ASF (Avocats Sans Frontière) et GF2D (Groupe femmes démocratie et développement). Ces organisations toucheront, entre autres, les fonctionnaires pénitentiaires, ceux de la police et du système judiciaire ; à travers des plaidoyers et sensibilisations sur le terrain.

Pour l’Union Européenne, la protection des Droits de l’Homme reste toujours une priorité, dans un pays où l’appareil judiciaire est souvent taxé de mauvais fonctionnement et, où l’accès à la justice pour tous reste toujours des veux !

Cet accompagnement de l’UE, via l’Instrument européen pour la démocratie et les droits de l’homme (IEDDH) va durer 36 mois et va concerner en tout trois grand projets.

Source: Full News

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Au to_Launch_innovationGeneva — The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is to launch a project to help build policymakers' capacity to implement science and innovation fostering plans in developing countries.

The move was prompted by the agency recognising that many developing countries were struggling to implement the recommendations it issues as part of its reviews of nations' science, technology and innovation policies.

It has conducted six of these - in countries including the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Ghana - since 2010. It says this implementation problem is "fairly widespread".

The main reason is that government officials outside countries' science ministries often fail to see the value in developing innovation policies when confronted with other, more pressing problems, according to Angel González Sanz, the chief of UNCTAD's science, technology and ICT (information and communications technology) policy review section.

"It's been a challenge to mobilise interest among these people," he says. "But as a body that typically engages with high-level politicians on economic matters, we think we're well placed to get leverage on this issue."

UNCTAD's plan has two prongs. The first is to develop training materials for policymakers that explain best practice in designing and executing innovation plans. The second is to create a network of experts and institutions that can help develop training tools on an ongoing basis.

The project has secured funding to run for one year from the UN Development Fund. But beyond that its future is uncertain, says González Sanz. "These things tend to get funded for a short period," he says. He notes that the agreed funding will pay for the training materials, which UNCTAD will then be able to use regardless of whether the project continues in the long term.

González Sanz says his agency has "pretty clear ideas" about what its training materials will include, but it is also checking these with experts. For instance, he says, the materials are likely to include guidance on what innovation really is, since stakeholders often understand the term to mean different things. It will also probably cover the management of intellectual property and best practice in technology transfer, he says.

UNCTAD hosted an expert meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, recently (19-21 March) where it unveiled the project and asked delegates for their input on it.

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Source: SciDev.Net

Thursday, 10 April 2014 10:48
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YMCA InternationalWith the arrival of a new year, the YMCA of Hong Kong & Campus YMCA of Hong Kong organized a big youth symposium. The theme of the symposium was Transformation –Youth’s Convergence and Determination to transform the World.

With the aim to share our vision of youth empowerment, the youth symposium was a response to the NEW WAY strategy and the change model (Space - Transformation – Impact)

Over 80 international and 120 local youth delegates and more than 100 volunteers joined the 6-day symposium. There were various kinds of activities conducted throughout the symposium, ranging from plenary speeches, workshops on various themes like youth movements and arts, experiential workshops, community visits and social gatherings. Seeing and experiencing "spaces" like the Campus YMCA youth club or other community spaces, the participants were transformed: Both local and non-local delegates were exposed to the dynamics and the culture of Hong Kong, engaged in discussions around development/social issues, and developed plans for future projects.

Besides the New Year’s celebration, one highlight of the event was the long table dinner held in the local district of Sham Shui Po. Over 500 participants, including the local residents, ethnic minorities, elderly and the delegates enjoyed the Chinese punchoi dinner together, all at the same time. Some delegates volunteered to show performances from their countries.

The symposium ended with the presentation of the event’s declaration at the closing ceremony with an overwhelming positive feedback from the participants. Next, the YMCA of Hong-Kong is planning a one-day Green event in April to gather youth and come up with environmental actions. It will be a prelude to the World Challenge on June 6th!

Get to know more about the event at: https://www.facebook.com/ymca.iys

Source: World Alliance of YMCAs

Thursday, 10 April 2014 10:46
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child soldiersWhen he was seven Dikembe Muamba* became a soldier on the orders of his uncle, a chief in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu Province.

“I stole my first gun, when I was 10. It was a flintlock. By the time I became a captain at 14, I had many guns. I led 50 people, both children and adults. There were about 30 children in the unit. The youngest was 10,” Muamba, now 17, told IRIN.

When IRIN met him at one of the “half-way houses” for former child soldiers in the town of Kiwanja in Rutshuru Territory, Muamba was enjoying his first month of “comfort” in a basic brick and mortar house after a decade of bush living.

“I am still angry with my uncle. Those 10 years feel like a waste of a life,” he said. “It was very difficult. There was no school. I had only completed two years of schooling [before being forced into child soldiering].”

The “half-way house” - which provides counselling, parental tracing services and tutoring in preparation for a return to school - is run by mother-of-nine Afiya Rehema*. Her own children are aged 7-19 and in the past nine years she has cared for more than 50 former child soldiers.

“At the moment there are children from Mai-Mai Nyatura, FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] and PARECO [Alliance of Resistant Congolese Patriots] staying here. When they arrive some can be disrespectful, but they soon become like other children. There has never been any violence towards me,” she said. “Only one ever stole, and then left.”

“I do get some financial support [from local NGO Union pour la paix et la promotion des droits de l'enfant au Congo (UPDECO)]. But I do this as a parent. Maybe one of my kids will be taken by an army. And if that happens I hope another parent will be there to look after my child [if he/she escapes from an armed group].

Muamba spent his first few years as his uncle’s bodyguard before being enlisted into PARECO, which emerged in 2007 from a variety of diverse North Kivu communities, including Hunde, Hutu, Nande, Nyanga, and Tembo.

With a barely discernable pencil moustache indicating the onset of adulthood, he knows exactly how many battles he has fought and replies without hesitation: “It was 45, but I don’t know how many people I killed… The youngest was a girl about six. She was shooting at me.”

Muamba was wounded twice during his decade as a child soldier.

“The first battle I fought in was against the FDLR [an anti-Rwandan armed group that had an informal alliance with PARECO]. I fought against ADF-Nalu [Allied Democratic Forces - an Islamist armed group opposed to the neighbouring Ugandan government] in Beni, and M23 [23 March Movement, an alleged Rwandan proxy armed group].

In the end, it was his rank and a chance meeting with members of a local child activist NGO that allowed him to walk away from soldiering.

“As a captain, I was free to go where ever I wanted. By chance in Lubero, I met people from UPDECO. They told me they could give me demobilization papers and then I could leave PARECO forever,” he said.

A girl sergeant’s testimony

Eshe Makemba*, 17, rose to the rank of sergeant in the FDLR, but enjoyed no such freedom of movement. Being “discriminated” against for being a Congolese national by the FDLR’s Rwandan officers prompted her desertion, she says. “I could not speak out as they told me Congolese were no good.”

After seven years as a soldier for the armed group she ran for two days through the forest evading a search party, which she says would have executed her had she been caught.

She was 10 when she and four other girls were kidnapped near Kisharo, in Rutshuru Territory, by the FDLR. She was the youngest of the captives and the only one to survive a river crossing shortly after her abduction. She then did three months of military training.

“I stole and killed people for nothing… killing people was my way of saving my life,” she told IRIN. She was involved in operations against Ntabo Ntaberi Sheka’s Ndumba Defence of Congo (NDC) and M23. At other times she was raiding farms and homesteads.

Four months after her escape and dressed in her only set of clothes, the former child soldier said she did not think about her time with the FDLR, but acknowledged that the gun she carried gave her access to “material [plundered goods].”

“I felt OK after the battle. I enjoyed the battle because I knew that afterwards there would be clothes, money and food,” Makemba said.

“One day I was with a group [of FDLR soldiers] that raped a woman. But I did nothing. I did not fear being raped as I had a gun and I could defend myself. But I could not do anything to stop the rape [of the woman],” she said.

Call for effective prosecutions

An October 2013 report by the UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) entitled Child Recruitment by Armed Groups in DRC From January 2012 to August 2013, said in the past five years about 10,000 children had been separated from armed groups, but in the period under review nearly a 1,000 more were recruited and the use of children by more than 25 armed groups remained “systemic”.

Three armed groups, the FDLR, Nyatura and M23 accounted for about half of the child recruitment in the review period.

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*Not their real names

Source: Irin News

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liberia war_refugeeWashington, DC — Only 10 years ago, Liberia began to emerge from a quarter-century of instability, punctuated by what Liberians call World Wars I and II. The names reflect the lived realities of two generations - widespread atrocities by feuding factions, child soldiers drugged and forced to fight, women raped and dismembered, and nationwide destruction of infrastructure. More than 250,000 people are thought to have died, out of a population of less than three million. Two-thirds of the population was in near-constant flight. When President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office in 2006, there was hardly a bridge, power line, dam, factory or paved road. Now, many of the children who grew up on the run - including those who had a chance to build lives elsewhere - are back in Liberia, where a sense of purpose is replacing the trauma they experienced.

Gyude (pronounced ju'-day) Moore has found his place in the office of the president, where he is deputy chief of staff and head of the President's Delivery Unit. In a recent interview with AllAfrica, he talks about the chance to attack the poverty still dominating the lives of most Liberians.

Liberians who were alive during the war years have so many stories - and sometimes those stories explain who they are now. What's one of yours?

I'm from Cape Palmas, the southeastern-most cape of Liberia; very beautiful and very nice. All the kids - thinking back, it was an amazing time. It sounds boring, but it was a great time!

During the war we fled to Cote D'Ivoire. The first time we left, my mother had just given birth to set of twins - a boy and a girl - and we walked a very long distance. I carried the boy, she carried the girl, and we reached the village where we were going to hide. I saw thousands of people on the road, just walking, and it was dark. I was calling out to my mom, and she heard my voice and answered. I took the second baby from her. But the second baby, the girl, was frail.

I have told this story a couple of times but…[pauses]. We were sleeping in a dark hut, and my mom was crying because the baby, my sister, had passed away. My mom was trying to cry quietly so she wouldn't wake the other kid. There was a sense of helplessness, because I was the oldest boy - might have been 14 or 15 at the time - and there was this sense of responsibility that I could not protect my mother.

The next morning, we walked through the bush to go and cross into Cote D'Ivoire, and I made a decision, but it was pretty vague, that someday I will be a big man and I will make sure that other kids and their mothers do not go through that experience. So when I came to the U.S. to go to school, that's what drove me. Now looking back, it seems that I have always been coming back.

And now you head the President's Delivery Unit. Give an example of what you do.

We set out to monitor and track development projects happening in the country - ranging from ports, to roads to energy infrastructure. Once we began to monitor progress, it became necessary to remove bottlenecks that occurred, and the job merged into driving delivery. So on behalf of the president, we do not simply monitor the progress of development projects, we drive delivery. Every two weeks, we brief the president and the vice president, and whoever they decide to invite, on the progress of these projects. All have definite cut off dates, and our responsibility is to ensure that nothing takes away from those dates.

Restoring electricity is one of Liberia's many development goals, along with providing jobs, education and health care. Where does power fit into that set of aims, and is there meaningful progress?

If we are going to rebuild our country, we have to provide energy that is affordable and reliable. The core of that is the restoration of the hydro-plant at Mount Coffee. Before the war, it was 64 megawatts, but we've done enough optimization so that now it's going to be 80 megawatts.

The plan is by December 2015 the first power will flow from Mount Coffee. It means we have to keep a tight schedule. Before some of the works can begin, we have to pay resettlement for people's properties and crops that are affected. As long as that money is not paid, the work cannot go forward. There was a point where, during the war, the basin at the hydro plant got emptied, and people planted rubber trees in the basin. Now we're going to flood the basin again. You can't just cut down people's trees; you have to repay them. You have to give them something.

The initial price set by the ministry of agriculture was so high we were going to be paying somewhere around $27 million. There was no way we could have afforded that. So we worked with the PDU, worked with the Ministry of Agriculture to say that in instances where these crops occur illegally, either on private lands or on public lands, here is the range of what you will be paid. By adjusting that figure, it became affordable. That's part of what we're doing that allows the project to move forward.

Before the interview began, you mentioned a Japanese-funded road as an example of PDU intervention to move projects to completion. Would you say something about that?

Yes, sure. So Madame President visited Japan, and one of the commitments we got from the Japanese government is to pave 13 kilometres of road from the Freeport of Monrovia to Redlight [a peri-urban commercial area].

One of the things the Japanese government required is that because this road goes through a heavily populated area, there's about 416 structures that have to be demolished - and all of those 416 families or owners have to be reimbursed. As the time drew closer, we had to find a way to get the ministry of finance to give public works the money needed to do this. So a part of it is: public works is going to go to the ministry of finance and say, "We need the money to be able to pay for this". Well, the ministry of finance has many demands from all over the government.

So the PDU arises and says, "Public works is going to need that money because of the implications. This is about $60 million that the Japanese government is going to be spending, and we cannot have any action that impedes progress of this work. Stuff like that. In other instances, we arrange a meeting with the president and two ministers, because we believe that those two ministers meeting with the president will enhance the operation of government.

Even though Liberia hopes to produce much of its domestic energy needs from renewable sources, exploration for exploitable deposits of offshore petroleum is underway. Does this risk being a curse rather than a blessing, because of potentially large earnings that distort the economy and fuel corruption?

Yes, it does. But I think we are going about this the right way.

So, first, there was a petroleum policy developed that was endorsed by the cabinet, and then a draft petroleum law was done. There was a wide range of consultation by the government on this. NOCAL went around the country. They went to the US and other places in West Africa to consult the Liberian diaspora. There was one trip to Europe. The legislature also went around the country consulting with the people on what to do.

Mainly the intent is, we recognize that someday this resource is going to run out. When it does, what next? And in the exploitation of this, how do we protect our habitats? How do we protect the environment? We believe these wide-ranging consultations will help us with a law that may not be perfect but closest to best practices. If you were to come to Liberia today, you go to Nimba, you go to Bong Mines [location of iron ore mining], you'll see these massive holes where mountains used to be.

We cannot allow the same thing to happen with these new resources.

That's what we are trying to avoid.

OK, that's for the future. But can you point to things the government is delivering now?

Definitely some benefits have started to spread. We went to West Point - West Point in Liberia is a slum area. People are just jam-packed living together. My unit goes out into the neighborhood and does presentations on what the government is doing. How many roads we are doing, hospitals, whatever it is. And after we talked about the roads, a guy was like," Well, I can't cook roads. I can't eat roads." And I'm like "Yeah, you can't eat the road. But one of the three killers of infants is respiratory diseases. Every time we pave the road, we reduce the amount of dust particles in the air, and that's less money you spend taking your kids to the hospital. That's money that is available for you to do something else with it. And every time we pave the road, we change the cost of transportation, because it's cheaper now to move across. That's money saved. Every time we pave the road, people who live there, there's less money they have to spend on maintenance of their cars and their motorcycles. So by paving the roads, we immediately increase the value for people who own any property in that area, so now when they sell their property, they get way more than they would have otherwise.

When we started connecting people to the electricity grid, we started with low- income families, because it was always understood that people in the middle-income bracket could buy generators. Low-income people couldn't buy a generator. And in instances where they did, it was killing them. Because they're afraid it'll get stolen, they will put the generator in the house with them and carbon monoxide was killing whole families. So it made sense to us that if we were going to connect anybody first to the grid, it had to be people who lived in poorer communities.

We're not simply putting electricity in the cities and towns. We are also doing min-hydro projects to provide energy for rural schools, for rice mills for farmers. We've done a hydrological survey of the whole country to find sites where we can do mini-hydro. We've found 15. We're going to try to do at least two a year.

When President Sirleaf took over, there were about six doctors in the country. Are we where we want to be? Absolutely not, but we aren't where we used to be. There are now at least two doctors in every county. Dr. [Walter] Gwenegale, the health minister, is executing a plan where every Liberian will not have to go more than five kilometres to get to a health center. That is the benefit of having peace - a government that is providing services for its people.

The intent is to continue to expand our health and education system.

When President Sirleaf took over, we made primary education free and compulsory. Well, enrollment skyrocketed, and it was like, "Oops! Who are going to teach these people?" So we opened rural teacher training centers. Peace Corps came back to Liberia and as of today, there are Peace Corps volunteers in high schools across the country.

So yes, benefits are accruing to the people, and over time they will accrue much faster and much better than they are now.

Do the challenges wear you down - especially when you hear complaints like "We can't eat roads"?

It gets frustrating, but I have come to understand that the frustration of the average person is understandable. It's been ten years since the war ended. People want peace dividends. I go to work in a government-issued car. For the man out in the street who still has to send his kid to school, still does not have a job, has to provide for his family, it's like, "Look, there is no war going on anymore, how come I'm not getting the benefits of all this?" And then he sees me passing, going to work, and of course, there is understandable resentment - a feeling that this peace only delivers benefits to a certain class of people.

So it's understandable, but that's why we do what we do. That's why at 75 years old, the president leaves office at 10:30 - 11pm at night.

That's why on a Friday night I'm still in office at 10:30, 11 pm.

Sometimes 12 midnight, 1am we are in the office. Ultimately it's like a construction project. You spend an annoying amount of time on the foundation that you expect to build a big and steady structure on, and that's what we are doing. But in our case, we have to tear down an old foundation. After a long period of war, people adapt to conflict, rather than to cooperation. Warren Buffet says something like - I don't know word for word - "Regardless of the amount of the talent and efforts, some things just take time." And this is one of those things: to rebuild the country, to reorient the minds of people towards living in peace.

Do you worry about the fragility of Liberia's post-conflict democracy? Your president is the subject of constant attack - from media and from politicians - that often appear to hinder the delivery of progress that you're after.

Democracies aren't perfect. I haven't heard anybody argue that their democracy is perfect. It's just that their dysfunctions are way better than others.

Ultimately, for democracies to work, you need an informed population.

And if we have been able to do what we have, with the level of understanding that the people have at the moment, I can only imagine that it's going to get better as time goes on. Like now, one of the things you will notice during every election, people running for office are not simply coming back and promising stuff. Before the elections, they are building libraries. They are fixing roads. They're providing scholarships. They're doing it to say, "Hey, when you vote for me, I'll do more than what I'm doing right now. And so sometimes, what we as the executive see as a belligerent legislature is simply people reflecting the aspirations of the people they represent. And that healthy tension - as much as the executive will find it annoying! - is what keeps democracy healthy.

And then there's the press, my goodness! I mean, we've erred on the side of caution. We've erred on the side of freedom on the radio and newspapers. And it's difficult - but what else? There's been a time in Liberia when people couldn't say anything about the government. They were put in jail.

And honestly, there are things happening in the government that we will not find out about if it was not for the press. The government is not perfect. The constant scrutiny of civil society and the press allows us to perform better. Finally, the government is not the sole repository of good ideas. There are other members of society who are not in the government who have good ideas. It's awesome to go on radio and have somebody say. "Everything you just said makes no sense, and let me tell you why". And then I'm forced to defend why we're doing the policies we are doing. For me, that's democracy. So the Liberian democracy is nascent, it's pretty young. But I think it's going to grow from strength to strength.

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Source: All Africa

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south africa_hivSouth Africa's latest HIV survey finds boys having sex earlier, plummeting condom use and that unmarried couples living together are more at risk of HIV than married or single people.

These are some of the findings of the 2012 South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, released yesterday by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Based on a representative national sample of almost 29 000 people, the report found that 12,2 % of the population was HIV-positive - almost 2 % more since the last survey in 2008.

HIV infection was highest in women aged 30 to 34 years old (36%) and men aged 35 to 39 years old (31,6%).

HSRC head Professor Olive Shisana said the increase in HIV prevalence was both because of new infections and because antiretroviral treatment was keeping people with HIV alive longer.

Those most at risk of HIV were African women aged 20 to 34 years living in KwaZulu-Natal informal settlements.

"We have made considerable ground in terms of treatment, but we have some way to go with prevention," Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom told Health-e.

About 469 000 people were infected with HIV in 2012, but there was a "steady decline" of new infections in young people aged 15 to 24 years, said Shisana.

In addition, the HIV rate in babies infected by their mothers has been slashed. A decade ago, about 70 000 babies a year were infected but this was down to about 8 600, according to Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.

Condom use plunges, could "Choice" be uncool?

The rate of infections in young women between the ages of 15 and 24 years of age was over four times higher than young men (2,5% new infections in 2012).

This is despite the fact that young men were far more likely to have started having sex at an early age and to have multiple partners.

In 2008, about one in ten boys had sex before the age of 15, whereas by 2012 this had jumped to 16,7%. Boys were three times more likely to have had sex before 15 than girls, with boys from the Eastern Cape most likely to lose their virginity early.

Shisana said relatively high condom use among young men was likely to be curbing their infection rates.

However, condom use has plunged since 2008. Less than 68% of young men aged 15 to 24 used condoms at last sex in comparison to 85% four years previously. A dismal 36% of men aged 25 to 49 used condoms (down from 44% in 2008).

Acknowledging that the government's Choice condoms "may no longer be cool", Motsoaledi said the health department was about to launch condoms that were "flavoured, coloured and are smelling very nice" at universities and FET colleges.

The rate of men reporting multiple partners has more than doubled in a decade, with close to one-fifth (23%) of men reporting multiple partners.

Putting a ring on it

People living with sexual partners who were not married were more than five times more likely to get HIV than married people, with 3% of those in "vat en sit" relationships becoming HIV-positive in 2012 as opposed to 2,3% of single people and 0,5% of married people.

"Married people were less likely to have multiple partners," said Shisana, adding that there were significant racial differences in marriage trends. Only a quarter of African people of marriageable age were married while over 70% of whites were married.

On a positive note, the blood samples revealed that almost one-third of people with HIV had been exposed to antiretroviral treatment.

Welcoming the report, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said it "confirmed the good news about the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment" and that "people with HIV were living longer, mothers could spend more time with their children and there was a decline in orphans."

But Motsoaledi said it also identified "worrying trends - the increase in multiple sexual partners, decreased condom use and decreased knowledge about HIV transmission."

Dr Fareed Abdullah, head of the SA National AIDS Council (SANAC), said the report's findings supported SANAC's decision to target HIV in young women, particularly those living in informal settlements.

By Kerry Cullinan
Health-e News Service

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my journey_as_a_youngMy journey as a Young Peace Performer has been full of stories that range from friendship, identity change, culture shock and many other good experience. It is a year of my life that I really value and thank God for. Life always gives us what we deserve and indeed this year equipped me with the tools I truly need to change my life and my world. I now believe more in global citizenship than before my involvement in the programme. I have a feeling of equality, and justice for all - not only my friends, family or fellow citizens. The programme also gave me a chance to visit both religious and cultural sites in the host countries and this makes the exchange full of stories and beautiful things to remember.

Days before Christmas, the horizon rises in the North Pole and Northern lights splash with numerous beautiful colours filling the sky as they were pointed out by Erick, a fellow participant on our drive to visit his home town in Tromsa. As he drives us around in his mother’s small car through the ice, snow and deep tunnels, he shows us around with full joy of being home again after a long time. It was not only Erick feeling that he is back home, but me as well... I felt the warmth and security of having parents around. Aside from it being my first home stay in the programme, it was also one of my most refreshing moments in the program. Numerous home stays occured but all my curiosity and anxiety of a Norwegian family was cleared in Tromso. When we came back to meet other participants who were in other places visiting other families, the story was the same, all felt welcome. During that period I realised all of us were missing home and that home stays gave us a sense of what we were missing.

One may wonder what we learn from living together throughout the tour. I learnt to live with all kinds of people, personalities, cultures and religious beliefs among others. This equipped me with very positive, well-rounded, leadership skills. No one knows the future, but after working with the Young Peace Performers for a year there can never be a workplace, a group or project without even one trait from my experience in the programme. The programme came as a blessing and motivator towards working for peace in the world.

After all, I learned these leadership skills not from books but from people and it will be my own fault if I forget or ignore even one of them. I believe as the programme ends, with most of us returning to our home countries, 20 lives have been changed to work for justice and to take youth leadership to the next level. Most of us, if not all of us, are empowered and we are now capable of reasoning, more confident and courageous than before the program.

Nelson Mandela said, “a course that is supported by the youth cannot fail” and as Fredrik Glad Gjernes, the International Director of YMCA-YWCA always sings “we shall not be moved just like a tree standing by the water side,” this programme taught me how to stand firm no matter the force that is against my leadership experience.

By Samwel Odiwuor Ojijo, Young Peace Performer
Source: Kenya YMCA

Thursday, 03 April 2014 13:58
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Speciss College_Chitepo_CampusThe YMCA of Zimbabwe has acknowledged the important role Speciss College plays in the development of the country’s youth.

Douglas Bvumbi, the National Programmes Chairman for the Zimbabwean arm of the YMCA, commended Speciss for remaining consistent in the provision of quality educational services.

“We see Speciss as one of the pioneering educational institutions in the country,” said Bvumbi while presenting an honorary Friends of the YMCA plaque to the college.

The YMCA is a worldwide organisation that runs various social programmes mainly targeted at people below 35 years of age. In Africa, the YMCA finds a home in 20 countries, with programmes that actively work for the development and empowerment of youth.

Over the past two decades, YMCA has arranged for many underprivileged students to study various courses at Speciss. “We have always shared a wonderful relationship with Speciss,” Bvumbi said.

Wilson Seremani, Speciss chief executive officer (CEO), received the plaque on behalf of the college and thanked the YMCA for recognising the college’s efforts. He expressed hope that the two organisations would explore further ways of ensuring that young people are equipped with skills they can use to get jobs or run their own businesses.

“Let us work together and find the best ways of keeping young people off the streets,” Seremani said.

Source: News Day

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