Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kids These Days!

(this was first published at NEED on June 23 and June 25)
was founded to dispel the myth that teenagers are apathetic, using “the power of the internet to help young people change the world,” and for 16 years has been empowering them with money and tools to do good work. Each week the organization gives two $500 grants, one for seed projects and one for disaster relief. Each year, they give $10,000 grants to several young finalists whose vision and effort have really made a difference. A grand prize is awarded to one of those finalists to continue their work. This year, on June 4, Maggie Doyne won $100,000 for her Kopila Valley Children's Home in Nepal, which she built using babysitting money. The other 2009 finalists – the rock stars of social change – are Marvelyn Brown, David Burstein, Eric Glustrom, and Darius Weems. Read on to learn the awesome stories of these young people who don’t know the meaning of “apathetic.”

Maggie Doyne – Kopila Valley Children's Home

A vision, a shovel and a stash of babysitting money was all Maggie needed to build a children’s home in Nepal. At the end of her senior year in high school, Maggie says she took what was supposed to be a year off to travel to learn her purpose in the world. One stop was an orphanage in India, where she had been told volunteers were needed. From there she traveled to Nepal, where she met hundreds more street children without the most basic necessities. “I’d seen orphanages that were causing more problems than helping,” Maggie said, where kids are more susceptible to disease than they are on the streets. “They come out with no skills and end up right back on the streets.” She resolved to build a children’s home, and talked to everyone who would listen about how to make that happen. She then identified a piece of land in a valley beside a stream. When she found out the asking price - $5000, exactly the amount she had in the bank – she knew it was meant to be. Orphans who truly have nobody to turn to are taken in at the Kopila Home, where 26 children, ages 3-10, learn sewing, gardening and husbandry, skills they will need in their region of Nepal, where subsistence farming is the norm. Maggie believes the road to peace is through children. “Until we start looking at the lives of children in countries where violence is prevalent, violence will prevail.”

Marvelyn Brown – Marvelous Connections

At 19, Marvelyn was having a good time. She partied and hung out with friends, without a care in the world. She started flirting with a guy from work, and was flattered to be considered his lovely, sexy “accessory.” That is, until he infected her with HIV. In high school, when HIV had been discussed, Marvelyn had shrugged off the information, thinking HIV was an infection reserved for drug users and prostitutes. So when an unrelated hospital visit prompted tests that came up positive for HIV, she was shocked. Marvelyn met others who were infected and realized she “wasn’t the only one who had missed the information” about HIV. Ignorance was affecting more than just her. As word of her diagnosis spread quickly from friends out into the community, she understood the impact her story could have on other young people. “I realized the power of my voice.” These days, as the head of her own consulting agency, Marvelous Connections, Marvelyn goes around the country into “high schools, colleges, universities, churches, sweet 16 parties, anywhere I can get the word out” because, she says, young people need an example. “They need to see someone who has it, how easily they can get it, that it’s not the image that you think.” The Marvelous Connections 2009 tour is aimed at reducing the stigma of HIV and influencing 5,000 students to get informed and tested.

David Burstein – “18 in ‘08”
David wasn’t old enough to vote when he realized his generation was underrepresented at the polls. He was 16 during the 2004 elections, and the story that was repeating over and over on TV was that today’s youth don’t get involved in politics. He decided then and there to do something to spur his peers – “a generation that has so much at stake, ranging from education to college tuition, from health care to global climate change” – to get involved in the 2008 presidential election. “Whatever way they get involved, we don’t take sides. That they get involved is what’s important to us.” David launched a non-partisan campaign aimed at launching activism and encouraging voter registration, featuring young people and politicians alike. The first tool, a documentary targeting 17 to 24-yr-olds, was sold across the country. The Los Angeles and New York City school districts bought the film to show in civics classes. Sales of the film funded the making of public service announcements featuring celebrities and policy forums that were held around the country. The campaign encouraged 25,000 new voters, said Burstein. But he didn’t stop there. Since the election, “18 in ’08” continues to spur political participation through policy forums that spark discussion and ideas about how to solve the problems that will be facing his generation for years to come. “Young people are increasingly drifting away from party, moving toward ideas, beliefs. As a political observer, I think that’s a good thing.”

Eric Glustrom – Educate!

Eric was told he was too young to go Africa alone. He’d only ever been to Canada. His parents had misgivings about sending him to Uganda to execute his idea, to make a video about life in the Kyangwali Refugee Settlement. It was the summer after his junior year of high school, but Eric, 17, would not be deterred and his parents finally consented. The first person he met when he stepped off the bus would become his best friend and the catalyst for an initiative to educate people to become leaders for social change in their country. Benson Olivier had lost his family and was now living in the refugee camp and dealing with the challenges all refugees face: malnutrition, poverty, malaria, threat of violence, and hopelessness. Benson said he needed an education so he could help solve these pressing problems, and Eric made a commitment to help, paying for Benson’s education. Since 2002, Educate! has evolved into a network of U.S. high school and college groups that mentor Ugandan students, ages 16 to19, through the two-year leadership curriculum. The first students to graduate have taken their leadership skills and “started an orphanage, sent 70 kids to school, and raised over $10,000 from farming,” to fund it all themselves, Eric said. They have “directly impacted 9,000 people, about half the people” in the settlement. But, he says, the biggest thing Educate! has done for the people of Kyangwali was to believe in them, to give them confidence to create change.

Darius Weems – “Darius Goes West”

In the summer of ’05, Darius and his buddies took a road trip. Twelve guys, most still in high school, jumped in the van and headed west, from their home in Georgia to California, in the hopes of getting MTV to pimp Darius’ ride. Video camera in hand, it was a typical adolescent lark, except for one thing: Darius suffers with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, and Darius’ ride is a wheelchair. DMD is a genetic disease that causes the deterioration of the voluntary muscles, eventually leading to heart failure, usually before the age of 30. Darius hoped that an appearance on a national TV show would bring much-needed attention to the disease that is 100% fatal. He didn’t get on MTV that time, but they have since offered to produce a news special about Darius and DMD. Darius’s friend, Logan Smalley, the videographer for the cross-country trip, spent a year editing what became “Darius Goes West,” a documentary that has won 28 film festivals awards worldwide. When they began to get requests for copies of the movie from around the country, they decided to sell the DVD, donating proceeds for DMD research, which so far amounts to $1.6 million. “It’s not always about what you do for yourself,” Darius said. “Putting a smile on the faces of parents with kids with this disease, giving them a little hope, makes me want to keep on fighting. It won’t save me, but these kids are the ones who will discover a cure in the future.”

No comments: