Recently, ten young community leaders from around the world were honored for promoting positive social change in their countries. They received awards from YouthActionNet.org – an interactive website created by youth for youth.
YouthActionNet.org says it works to “inspire and promote youth leadership worldwide.” Supported by the International Youth Foundation and Nokia, it says it aims to help young people “connect to their communities, families and themselves.”
Twenty-two-year-old Dorothy Atieno of Kenya is among the latest winners. She helps street kids in Nairobi.
"So, we have people who were born in the street. So your dad was born in the street so you live there and that’s why the name is actually street children because you don’t have a home. They have no sanitation and they use a lot of drugs. And prostitution is really increasing. So there’s a lot of crime in the streets."
Many of the kids on the street are AIDS orphans. Ms. Atieno explains why she stopped to help them instead of just walking on by.
"I’m an accounting student, but I felt I needed to do something for my community. Because if you see the street children there you can’t really be proud to be a Kenyan. You can’t say my house is clean and yet you walk in the street and find all these beggars there. So, that’s what really motivated me, the need to make a change," she says.
She started a project called Tunaweza, which means, “We can.”
"Why we call it Tunaweza is because when you see that kid who’s taking drugs on the street, you’re sure, you judge them and know that they don’t have a future. And so, we try to make everyone believe that they can do something."
The Tunaweza project helps feed and clothe Nairobi’s street children. It also helps them search for any relatives, get into school or obtain vocational training.
Another African who received the Youth Action Net Award is Kingdom Kwapata. The twenty four year old heads the Malawi Human Rights Youth Network.
He says, "The Malawi Human Rights Youth Network is an organization for human rights youth ngo’s (non-governmental organizations) in Malawi that have teamed up with the sole purpose of promoting democracy and human rights agendas in the country."
Mr. Kwapata says, “Malawi’s democratic process has gone through tremendous hardships…and that the youth should be in the forefront of promoting the democratic rights of the citizens of Malawi.”
"The major problem facing democracy in Malawi is a misunderstanding of the concept of democracy itself. But also the politicians tend not to respect the national constitution that is in the country. And these are actually degrading the morals and values of democracy in the country."
Malawi, like most other sub-Saharan countries, has a big HIV/AIDS problem. Kingdom Kwapata says some of the country’s cultural practices are helping to spread the disease.
He says, "One of these cultural practices is circumcision of either females or males – whereby those who are involved in the initiation rites do not actually observe hygienic conditions in terms of ensuring the safety of the youth that undergo these rites. But at the same time these are also degrading in terms of human rights of females. I think in the present culture and the present civilization, female circumcision is not tolerated and that’s what we are trying to advocate against."
He says the Malawi Human Rights Youth Action Network also provides asylum for children who “run away from the initiation camps” where circumcision is performed.
The Youth Action Net Awards are given out twice a year. And in the past year, five Africans have been among those honored. Besides Dorothy Atieno and Kingdom Kwapata, the recipients are Meseret Yirga of Ethiopia, Benjamin Azubogu of Nigeria and Midjola Akuavi Ejronu of Togo.