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Young US Students Present Ideas for Solving World Problems


Secondary students from across the United States have come up with some innovative solutions for some of the world's most vexing problems. Some of those students received awards for their ideas. From VOA's New York Bureau, we have the story by Amanda Cassandra.

Students entering the competition were asked to respond to a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian peace advocate who said: "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world's problems."

Elyse DeLaittre from Minnesota won the grand prize scholarship of $5,000 for her documentary on global access to fresh water. She says living next to Lake Superior, one of the largest fresh water lakes in the world, makes her realize how fortunate she is, and how important it is everyone has access to fresh water.

"Every country needs to realize that it is an international issue, and it's conservation, and sanitation is very important," said Elyse DeLaittre. "I think if it's largest consumers can be good at conserving the water, and good sanitation processes can be put into other countries, I think it would become less and less of a problem."

Other winners were Cory Gu from Maryland for his essay on affordable access to technology in developing countries, and Grace Needlman from Ohio, who won for her essay on fighting malaria.

Needlman says she concentrated on malaria because it is a disease that she does not hear discussed as often as others, such as HIV/AIDS.

"It doesn't have the face-time that AIDS has, but malaria is up there with AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria as the top three killers, and it is something that world leaders need to be more aware of, especially because it's a problem that would be so easy to fix," said Grace Needlman.

The Excellence in International Education awards are sponsored by the investment firm Goldman Sachs and the Asia Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to broadening American understanding of Asian cultures.

Asia Society Vice President Michael Levine says the winning students are defying the stereotype that American students are indifferent to issues of international importance.

"The kids are demonstrating that they really do care," said Michael Levine. "They care to be world citizens, and, frankly, it is really important that people all over the world know that young Americans care. This is not a situation where young Americans are convinced that they are the high and mighty. They are convinced that they need to be part of the global environment."

Levine says learning a foreign language other than a European language is among the skills Americans need to participate in an increasingly connected world.

"No longer are [foreign] language skills just something for specialists, business leaders and diplomats," he said. "They are a skill that every child should have some access to. So, the society is very, very active in promoting world languages that are critical to our nation's security, economic development and diplomatic development. Chinese language skills, so the rise of Mandarin, is something that the Asia society is very much behind. Japanese language skills, Arabic and so on, other skills that are essential to work and to engage other citizens in a flat world."

Levine says the Asia Society is working with groups like Goldman Sachs, business and education leaders and policy-makers, to make international education a key part of U.S. education reform.

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