Young People Around the World Are Active in Politics
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I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. Today we tell about how young people around the world are influencing politics in their own countries.
Patrick McHenry is the youngest member in the United States House of Representatives. This Republican from North Carolina is just thirty years old. But he says his age never stopped him from seeking office.
Congressman McHenry is like many young Americans. He developed a love of politics while in college. Voter groups and political parties are active at colleges and universities across the country. Karl Bach heads a group called the New Voters Project at George Mason University in Virginia. This organization tries to sign up, or register, as many young voters as possible. The voting age in the United States is eighteen.
Other young activists, such as Chris Brooks, work on campaigns. Mr. Brooks is a member of College Republicans at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. In November, he and other club members traveled to the state of New Jersey to campaign for the Republican candidate for governor. A group of College Democrats from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia also traveled to New Jersey. They campaigned for their party's candidate for governor. Although their political interests are different, the members of both groups have one thing in common – a love of politics.
Many young people also work for the national political parties at their colleges or universities. The National College Republicans have two hundred thousand members at one thousand five hundred colleges around the nation. The group's president is Paul Gourley. He is a student at the University of South Dakota. But he has an office in Washington, D. C., and earns seventy-five thousand dollars a year. The job, he says, permits him to be the voice for other people his age.
Young people working in congressional offices on Capitol Hill feel the same. The average age of the estimated ten thousand full-time employees is thirty-one. Hundreds of even younger people work for little or no money. Most of these interns are college students. They open mail, answer telephones, or follow bills through the legislative process.
Government work is not the only way that young people are affecting politics. Thousands work for non-profit groups, political organizations and research organizations in Washington. For example, twenty-four year old Faaiza Rashid researches South Asian issues at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. She was born in Pakistan, has lived in several countries in the Middle East and speaks several languages. Her age, she says, has not stopped her supervisors from taking her seriously.
Faaiza Rashid is one of many young immigrants influencing politics in the United States. Cambodian immigrant Davy Kong is a press officer at Millennium Challenge Corporation. This government organization gives aid money to developing nations. She says she was taught in school that American culture includes politics. Political involvement, she says, is part of being a citizen.
Stan Dai, a Chinese immigrant, agrees that political activism is part of citizenship. He is the president of the Conservative Student Union at George Washington University. Mr. Dai believes more and more immigrants will become politically active as they continue to live in the United States.
Young people in other countries are also interested in politics. In Africa, a group of one hundred sixty young people from forty-five countries is trying to improve development. The African Youth Parliament was launched in Nairobi, Kenya in two thousand three. Members work on projects dealing with poverty, armed and social conflicts and health issues such as H-I-V and AIDS.
Parliament member Omowumi Olumide Obidiran teaches information and communications technology to young people in Nigeria. She says she is concerned about the so-called "digital divide" between Africa and the western world. People who cannot connect to the Internet computer system are caught in this divide. The Internet helps people share information, communicate with family and friends, and start businesses.
To help bridge the divide, Ms. Obidiran helped start an organization called the Global Resource Information Network. The group urges young people to use information and communication technology to change their societies.
Another member of the African Youth Parliament is twenty-five year old Ansuya Naidoo. Doctor Naidoo is concerned about AIDS and H-I-V, the virus that spreads the deadly disease. She works at a hospital in South Africa. She also works at community health centers. Doctor Naidoo believes that educating women about their sexual choices will help stop the spread of H-I-V and AIDS.
Benedict Thuita, a twenty-two-year-old law student Kinuthia is involved in youth politics as well. He works for the Kenyan Youth Parliament, which has ties to the African Youth Parliament. Mr. Kinuthia wants politicians to consider the concerns of young Kenyans. In his job, he urges young people to campaign for political parties or seek elected office.
The youth population in some Middle Eastern countries is also a growing force for change. In Egypt, for example, pro-democracy activists held hundreds of street protests last year.
The loosely organized movement is known as Kifaya, the Arabic world for "enough." People in their twenties and thirties led many of the demonstrations.
Thirty-eight-year-old Ahmed Salah is a member of the Egyptian group Youth For Change. This organization is linked to the Kifaya movement. Mr. Salah believes the problems facing Egypt are common in other parts of the Arab world. He says the Kifaya movement has influenced pro-democracy groups in other countries, such as Tunisia and Yemen.
For many years, young people in other Middle Eastern countries have pushed for political change. For example, in nineteen seventy-nine, university students played a major part in the Iranian revolution. Young Iranians were also behind the push for change that brought reformist President Mohammed Khatamei to power in nineteen ninety-seven. But the promised reforms never took place. Many young Iranians lost interest in politics. Voters in Iran elected a conservative president last year.
In the past, young people in several Asian countries have pushed for political change as well. Efforts were successful in helping to bring democracy to South Korea. Today, however, political experts say few Asian youth are involved in politics. They say the values of young Asians now are a sign of how Asia has changed. Youthful activism grew from anger over repressive governments. But experts say interest in politics has weakened as areas of Asia have developed and personal freedoms have increased.
Bam Aquino heads the Philippine National Youth Commission. He says young Filipinos are angry because politicians have failed to create economic growth in the country. As a result, he says many young people do not get involved in politics. Mr. Aquino believes that involving young people in community development is a better way to build political interest than protests.
Rajendra Mulmi in Nepal feels the same. His group, Youth Initiative in Kathmandu, plans programs for young people. It organizes debates, political discussions and government training programs. Mr. Mulmi says he is trying to increase social and political interest in Nepal through education.
Some youth leaders are hopeful that Asia's young people will once again become a powerful force for change. But experts say this will not happen until young Asians regain trust in political organizations and government. For these are the organizations and government that they, and other young people around the world, will one day have to lead.
This program was written by Jill Moss. It was produced by Mario Ritter. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.
Correction: The National College Republicans should have been identified as the College Republican National Committee. Also, the group says its president, Paul Gourley, earns fifty-five thousand dollars a year, not seventy-five thousand dollars.