Monday, January 31, 2011

Year of the Youth

For five consecutive days, Egypt has been paralyzed by unprecedented wide-scale protests calling for an end to the thirty year rule of Western-backed dictator Hosni Mubarak. Inspired by the youth of Tunisia who took to the streets and forced the overthrow of President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian youth and adolescents have driven the unrelenting protests, hoping to culminate in a one million person march tomorrow morning. Mubarak's regime is trying its level best to disconnect the protesters from the rest of the world and from each other: there are government blackouts on internet and mobile phone service, road blockages, and expulsion of news agencies. Despite the stereotypical imagery dominating the Western airwaves of bearded "angry brown men" and alluring "veiled" women, the atmosphere has been described as jubilant, carnival-like, and full of hope.

Only four months ago, a youth driven uprising began in Indian-Occupied Kashmir, protesting the

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Young Adult Sets Self on Fire: Last Desperate Attempt to Express Himself

Youth riots in Tunisia bring to the world’s attention the danger of boredom and oppression, and the intrepid nature of youth culture to instigate change. The riots, caused by mass youth unemployment, increased in intensity when a young adult fatally set himself on fire – his last desperate attempt to earn an income (selling fruits and vegetables) was apparently thwarted by police, who confiscated his produce and demanded a permit that he did not have (see Associated Press article, link below).

The drastic measures and risk-taking associated with adolescence (albeit extreme in this instance) is to some extent biological – some suggest that the adolescent brain experiences a reduced “reward sensitivity” function, perhaps due to underdeveloped mesolimbic neural circuits, pushing adolescents to seek higher stimulation via risks (Crews, 2007; Spear, 2000); others suggest that an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex in adolescents reduces the brain’s inhibition function, which may lead to risk-taking (Keating, 2004).

Biology aside, these events show us, if nothing else, the importance of youth involvement in society, the economy, politics – this is an age group with dreams and aspirations, and the capacity to strive toward them. They can be powerful advocates for what is just, and the violence interwoven within these protests signifies the lack of legitimate venue by which their voices can be heard and injustices addressed. In the cloud of violence, we mustn’t forget that adolescents are our greatest hope for progress – their opinions need and deserve the channels through which to be heard.

- Susan Rosas, Program Development Intern 

Associated Press. Unrest over unemployment spreads in Tunisia (January 11, 2011).
Crews F., He J., Hodge C. (2007). Adolescent cortical development: A critical period of vulnerability for addiction. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior: Adolescents, drug abuse and mental disorders.Vol.86, Issue 2, February 2007, p.196
Spear (2000). The adolescent brain and age-related behavioral manifestations. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews 24(2000) 417-463
Keating D. (2004). Cognitive and brain development. Handbook of adolescent psychology. 2nd ed.; 2004. p 45-84.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Welcome to Charlotte Cahill - IOFA Resource Development and Policy Intern!

Hi all,
I’m Charlotte Cahill, IOFA’s new Resource Development and Policy intern. I’m very excited about this opportunity to learn more about the work IOFA is doing to fight trafficking and advocate for vulnerable adolescents. And, I hope, to make a contribution to that work!
I’m especially enthusiastic about being at IOFA because, while its mission really resonates with me, I took a rather roundabout route here. I recently completed a PhD in the history of American politics, public policy, and foreign relations at Northwestern University, and am still teaching classes there in history and international studies. In addition, I decided that I would like to work with an organization that was more directly involved in the rights-based work on which I so often lecture my students. In fact, my decision to study the history of foreign policy in graduate school came partly out of my longstanding interest in international child welfare. That interest began with my family’s experience of adopting internationally and was further encouraged by the time I spent volunteering at two shelters for street children in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. One of my roles was to teach English to the children and youth in the shelter program; many of them hoped to learn enough English to secure jobs in Vietnam’s tourism industry. It was an experience that left me deeply worried about the limited opportunities for youth and children around the world who lack family and community support. So I feel a personal connection to IOFA’s commitment to developing solutions to issues that affect vulnerable adolescents.
I’ve only been at IOFA for a few weeks, but I’ve already managed to get myself involved in several exciting research projects. I spent much of the last week researching laws and policies regulating NGO activities in locations in which IOFA is thinking about establishing its new Transitions Program for youth who are “aging out” of care. I’m also compiling a list of similar projects (which is very short so far!) and assessing what components of transition programs other organizations have identified as significant. My third project is a bit overwhelming: I’m researching the rather large topic of international and national human rights, welfare, and development policies that affect youth around the world. I hope to have this research done by the end of January so that we can include it in IOFA’s Report on the State of the World’s Vulnerable Youth. Please wish me luck!