Monthly Archives: December 2015

Latin American Youth Issues

Latin American youth activists meet under the umbrella of groups like the School of the America’s Watch (it was formed in 1990 to close the US Army School of the Americas and change US policy and military bases in Latin America). It brought together youth from 18 countries in the Encuentro in Venezuela in 2015. Its theme was “Rooted in Resistance, Sowing Sovereignty.” Their goal is to build a new world, community by community, a sovereign continent, “free of imperialism, capitalism, violence, injustice, exploitation, oppression, discrimination, racism, and patriarchy.” Their specific struggles revolve around protecting their land from extraction industries, searching for disappeared family matters, prosecuting officials who violate human rights, preventing criminalization of social movement leaders, fighting for indigenous rights and against militarization, as well as deportations on the border and food sovereignty.
“33 Young Leaders From Across the Americas Gather in Venezuela,” SOA Watch, December 2015.

Music Videos for Social Change

“From Bob Dylan’s “Blowin in the Wind” to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” musicians have a long history of incorporating protest and social issues into their songs. And just like in 1963 and 1989, 2015 was no different.
Hip-hop artists rapped about ending police brutality and advocated for better treatment for refugees. Singers lent their voices to victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Other musicians contemplated free health care and marriage equality.”

youth-led development in a Kenyan slum–“Find Me Unafraid”

Summary of Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner. Find Me Unafraid. Ecco, 2015.

Kennedy Odede grew up in one of the largest African slums, Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. His mother struggled to save $3 to pay for the informal school since there are no government schools or other services in the slums including sanitation or water and power, but they were turned away because tuition was $5 a month. As a girl his mother wasn’t sent to school but secretly taught herself because, “A girl reading was rebellion.” He learned basics from other boys who were able to go to school. His family couldn’t afford to buy water, so his mother filtered sewage water through sand. They shack was invested with lice and fleas but soap wasn’t affordable either. Their only book was the Bible. His drunken stepfather beat him more severely than the rest of the family, so he left home to join a gang of street boys at age 10. They stole to eat, picked through garbage in more prosperous areas, or sniffed glue to muffle hunger pangs. When his best friend was killed by a mob for stealing, a common occurrence, he left. He found a priest who would help him out and gave him a dictionary, but he returned home and was replaced by a pedophile who painfully molested Odede. He then learned from a Rastafarian group and was influenced by reading books by Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey who said “Africa for Africans,” and Nelson Mandala.

When he was 16, he made a soccer ball out of trash in order to provide something positive for the youth, the beginning of SHOFCO, Shining Hope for Communities. He explained, “I was tired of being angry. I was tired of violence. Enough is enough.” He thought if he could bring the community together having fun, good would result. After a game, they decided to start a lending group similar to one his mother started for neighborhood women, a plan called “pass it forward” where instead of paying it back, the recipient picks another person to receive the loan. In addition to soccer games, Odede and his friends did street theater to protest rape, a common problem even for little girls in such a crowded community where children were often unsupervised, police accept bribes from rapists, and elections are rigged.

When he gathered seven friends to start SHOFCO, one of them asked if had a white donor, reflecting the common belief that change could only come with Western support and knowhow. Odede knew that grassroots organizing and community involvement is the only effective solution. He quoted his mother, “Only he who wears the shoe knows how it pinches” and “When a snake bites you, don’t spend time looking for a spear. Use what ever stick you have.” He replied that they didn’t need money to clean the streets, organize co-ed soccer, do journalism, or perform street theater to expose problems and solutions to protect girls and women from abuse. He said they were starting a movement, which happens when “you have been pushed to the wall and all you can do is bounce back.” 163 They were joined by some members of the Catholic church youth group that expelled Odede because he advocated condoms to prevent HIV infection. Hundreds joined in their first cleanup effort, singing together as they worked. They organized a women’s empowerment program called SWEP.

In 2007, after four years of organizing, their performance group was invited to the World Social Forum. They made T-shirts and bracelets to sell for fund raising and performed his play “Another World is Possible.” By this time SHOFCO had thousands of members, mostly young people and women of various ages. The community called Odede the Mayor.

With the help of Jessica Posner, a Wesleyan African Studies student on her junior year abroad, they got grants and were able to build a girls’ school called the Kibera School for Girls to be the center of community transformation, a community center, toilets and clean water, a medical clinic including AIDS treatment, a nutrition program, a preschool and day care. Other community development projects were a cleanup program, computer education, and providing sanitary napkins to schools so girls could attend. They started a boarding house for girls who were abused and raped, unsafe at home, and a community group to advocate for rape victims in the legal system. Odede also organized the Urban Network, called SUN, for young people and women to organize for their rights and start businesses. Facilitators lend money to create over 400 businesses a year. When tribal violence threatened in 2014, Odede brought together community leaders and their wives to sign a peace declaration and a thousand people marched in support of peace. The same year they opened a girls’ school in Mathare, the second largest slum in Nairobi, led by young people from the community. Odede and Posner aim to spread these programs throughout Africa.

Posner insisted on staying in his shack to experience the community, talking a bath in two plastic pans of water, using the outdoor pit latrine, getting scabies and malaria. Without electricity, he used a battery-powered radio. Despite these difficulties, they fell in love and eventually married after he graduated from Wesleyan. At the university he was amazed by the running water in the shower and the abundance of food in the cafeteria that didn’t run out SHOFCO applied for grants from Echoing Green, Dell Social Innovation Competition, Do Something Award, America’s Top World Changer, 25 and Under,” and Newman’s Own Foundation.

The reason for their success is Odede involved the community and overcame tribal rivalries, as by including girls from different tribes in the school (last names indicate tribal background, similar to caste in India.) Parents don’t pay tuition but volunteer at the school for five weeks a year overseen by a parents’ committee. He understood the informal hierarchy that must be involved for a project to be successful in a way that an outsider wouldn’t know.

Odede reported that although women are not educated and may be beaten, “In African culture, women are sacred—seen as the givers of life.” In contrast, American expects women to look like “tiny toothpicks.” 55 When he was 10 his mother started a lending circle of neighborhood women and made him the secretary because he was the only one who could write. The husbands prohibited the group meeting because it gave the women “horns,” so they met in secret. 59 His mother had another idea to empower women; they would all scream loudly when a woman was beaten by her husband, making it impossible to sleep, so neighbors would pressure the husbands to stop.


Odede reported that in villages the council of elders makes decisions for the community, such as arranging marriages, and can prophesize the future and read signs. One such elder had an accurate vision about the night he would be born to his 15-year-old mother. P. 22 They also believe older people can curse younger ones.

Young woman and black Brit star in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

For the first time in the Star Wars series, the action hero of episodes 7 (2015) and 8 (2017) is a young woman. Rey is played by Daisy Ridley who stars with a black hero played by John Boyega—both are British and 22. Her father described her as “an extraordinary lady, though not an easy one.” Women in The Force Awakens also pilot fighter aircraft, Carrie Fisher’s character Leia is a general, and a small wise woman over a 1,000 years old named Maz Kanata replaces Yoda.Hunger Games series in 2014.

International Feminism for Swedish 16-year-olds

Known primarily for three highly regarded novels, “Purple Hibiscus,” “Half of a Yellow Sun,” and, most recently, “Americanah,” Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gave a 2013 TED Talk about the difficulties—and necessity—of being a feminist in Nigeria. The talk soon became a minor Internet sensation, amassing more than 2.3 million views to date.

Adichie has adapted the address into a 64-page book, called “We Should All Be Feminists.” Now the translated book is being distributed to every 16-year-old in Sweden by the Swedish Women’s Lobby and publisher Albert Bonniers. Launching the project at Norra Real High School in Stockholm this week, organizers said they hoped the book would “work as a stepping stone for a discussion about gender equality and feminism.”

“My own definition of a feminist is a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better,’ ” Adichie writes in the essay. “All of us, women and men, must do better.”

“Some people ask: ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest,” Adichie continues. “Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.”

From The Guardian:

The Nigerian novelist is also critical of modern masculinity, calling it a “hard, small cage” that forces men to hide emotion. “We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability,” she writes. “We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak – a hard man.”

“This is the book that I wish all of my male classmates would have read when I was 16,” said Clara Berglund, chair of the Swedish Women’s Lobby, announcing the giveaway. “It feels so important to contribute to this project. It is a gift to all second-grade high-school students, but it is also a gift to ourselves and future generations.”

Adichie’s essay was published in English last autumn. The 2012 TED talk has been watched by more than 2 million people on YouTube and was sampled by Beyoncé in her single Flawless, including the lines: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, ‘You can have ambition, but not too much.’ ”

The novelist, in a video message for students played at the Stockholm launch event, said she believes “feminism is about justice.”

Jesus Was A Radical

Jesus was a radical who violated Old Testament rules like not touching a bleeding woman or talking with prostitute and overturning the money changers’ tables in the temple. He taught the spirit of the law rather than the letter. He thought the end time was imminent so he emphasized personal salvation rather than legalism. A feminist, he discussed theology with women, breaking another taboo. He said Mary made the wise decision to discuss ideas with him rather than be in the kitchen with Martha, although traditionally women didn’t study the Torah. Women traveled with him and were first there at the resurrection. He said being rich made it difficult to achieve salvation and that we should care for the poor as emphasized by Pope Francis who is upsetting the Vatican establishment. Jesus said to be like a child and turn the other cheek, instead of the Old Testament notion of an eye for an eye and a vengeful Jaweh. All the politicians who say they are Christian seem not to have read the New Testament.

An interesting note is the similarity of stories about Jesus and Krishna, and ancient rituals of killing the king around the winter solstice to insure the spring would come again.

Kenyan Girls Raise Money to Pay for Pads, to Attend School

A teen growing up in the Nairobi slum of Kibera, like other girls Halima Mohammed couldn’t go to school when menstruating because she couldn’t afford sanitary pads. When her parents died, her grandfather paid for her school fees. Halima and her friends organized a group called Mashujaa (“heroes”) to do fundraising, joining a neighbored youth saving-club and made jewelry and soaps to sell. Halima also wants the group to fight government corruption, stating “We can change Kenya.”

Girls Outperform Boys Academically

Girls outperform boys in educational achievement in 70% of the countries studied between 2000 and 2010 that analyzed 1.5 million 15-year-olds.[i] This holds true even in states with low gender equality ratings. Boys outperform girls only in Colombia, Costa Rica and the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and among high-achievers. The achievement of boys and girls were similar in the US and UK. Overall, children think boys are academically inferior to girls and they believe adults share their perception.

Gijsbert Stoet and David Geary, “Sex Differences in Academic Achievement Are Not Related to Political, Economic, or Social Equality,” Intelligence, Vol. 48, 2015.

DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2014.11.006