International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Youth Voices

Youth Voices is a writing project put together by our high school Youth Outreach Interns.  The Youth Outreach Interns are former Youth Ambassadors – students who participated in a six-week educational program at the IRC where they learned about humanitarian and refugee issues across the globe. Each month, these interns will share about current world issues that are important to them. Check back frequently for more essays.

Meet the authors


Malala's Act for Girls' Education                       

The Necessity of Minerals Sparks Atrocities
The Government Shutdown's Impact on Refugees African Restaurant Week in San Diego


Malala's Act for Girls' Education by Natalia Semeraro

I first learned about Malala at the IRC Ambassador Program this past summer. I chose to write an article about her actions and speech at the U.N., because I feel as though she will be one of the most influential people of my lifetime.

Malala is my hero.

Malala Yousafzai is a year younger than I am, only 16, but that hasn't stopped her from accomplishing great feats for the future of her country. She has been active in the fight for girls' education in Pakistan, survived a shot in the head, and written a memoir.

In an article by Zlatica Hoke from Voice of America News, Cultural anthropologist Peter Eltsov suggests that she will have a definite impact on Pakistani education.  In reference to the many benefits and importance of education for women, Ghulam Rasool Memon wrote in the Journal of Management and Social Sciences: "It is beyond doubt that educating girls can yield a higher rate of return than any other investment." But unfortunately in Pakistan, 24% fewer girls enroll in primary school and 14% fewer in secondary school. Overall 41% of girls attend school regularly, while 50% of boys attend regularly (according to UNESCO figures).

I know this doesn’t affect us directly in the U.S., however, Malala’s outstanding work towards increasing and improving girls’ education will affect not only her home country, but also the status of education in many developing countries around the world. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, she will inspire women, girls, and people of all kinds to stand up for what they know is right and to live with the “philosophy of non-violence” that she speaks of. Malala does not pretend to be the first to speak out nor does she claim to be the only victim, yet she is one of the youngest, and in my opinion bravest. In her UN speech on July 12, 2013 Malala said “I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.”

Her intentions were as clear as her speech was eloquent. She called on the audience to enact change themselves: “Dear sisters and brothers, now it's time to speak up. So today, we call upon the world leaders to change their strategic policies in favour of peace and prosperity.” For anyone who watched, her words evoked a want to do something. Malala's inspiration has made me want to fight for girls' right to education.

Her words are striking for even those older than she is.


The Necessity of Minerals Sparks Atrocities by Steven Franca

My interest in the DR Congo started when Sedrick Ntwali, an IRC staff member and a refugee from DR Congo, came to our school and talked about his time growing up there. This really opened my eyes to the situations that the Congolese citizens are facing on a daily basis. During the Youth Ambassador Program at IRC, we learned more about what refugees face in the Congo and how these problems are not talked about in the news. After learning more, I felt compelled to keep people up to date on what is happening there.

Smart phones, laptops, and high definition televisions are all part of today’s society. Almost everyone uses these items on a daily basis but no one really stops to think about where the materials come from. People are unaware of the struggles many people have to go through just to supply the world with the latest gadgets.

Metals that are used in modern technology include tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold which are found in the Democratic Republic of Congo and have been named “conflict minerals” because of the harm and difficulties they create. Statistics show that the Congo has about $24 trillion worth of these coveted recourses. With this stated it should be Africa’s wealthiest country or maybe even the worlds. So why is the economy in the Congo not flourishing?

According to the New York Times, eastern Congo has been stuck in violence for more than 15 years. The rebel group M23 has been fighting against the Congolese army because they are displeased with unpaid wages and poor living conditions. Bosco Ntaganda was a senior officer in the Congolese army until he led a revolt consisting of about six hundred soldiers. In 2006 the International Criminal Court (ICC), which prosecutes and tries individuals who have committed crimes on a large, national scale, received the first warrant of arrest because of crimes of war committed by Ntaganda. On March 22, 2013, Ntaganda surrendered to the ICC and currently remains in their custody.

The M23 rebel group is not the only problem that the Congolese are facing. They suffer attacks from neighboring countries over resources. The rebel groups and neighboring countries are inflicting great harm on the Congolese, including burning and bombing villages and raping women, forcing many to flee. Many refugees go to Uganda to escape the brutalities occurring in their home country. It is estimated that one hundred Congolese cross the Ugandan border every day.

Recently the United Nations threatened the M23 group to disarm. The UN said that they “will take all necessary measures to disarm them, including by the use of force in accordance with its mandate and rules of engagement.” The Wall Street Journal reported that a rebel spokesman said that their fighters are ready to retaliate against anyone who threatens them. Civilian casualties are the main cause for the call of disarmament and thousands of people have been displaced because of the fighting in the eastern city of Goma.
Hopefully, peace talks between the United Nations and the M23 group will be successful but for now citizens of Goma are leaving with the question of whether the rebel group will leave their city and stop the atrocities. 


The Government Shutdown's Impact on Refugees by Beth Desta

This past October, when the government shutdown, I had just started taking a Government and Politics class at my high school and it was sort of surreal to come to class on October 1st knowing that the U.S. government which we were discussing in class wasn't actually functioning fully at that time.

Class kind of stopped when the government shutdown because my classmates and I were far less interested in how the government was meant to function than in what happened when it (partially) was shutdown. In class,  we talking about the museums and parks getting shutdown, and people being indefinitely laid off, stuff that was already getting extensively covered by the news.  What really concerned me about the government shutdown, aside from how it could even happen at all, was how aid agencies were being affected. How were these organizations being affected in how they were able to provide aid during this political crisis?

Here's what happened:

Midnight, September 30, 2013, the United States government partially shutdown after Congress was unable to agree on a new federal budget for the next financial year beginning on October 1, 2013. The dividing issue which prevented an agreement on the budget from being made before the October 1 deadline was funding of the Affordable Care Act. Due to extended debate  on this issue, the budget was not passed and from midnight October 1, 2013 until the night of Wednesday, October 16, 2013, the government of the United States was partially shut down.

The effects of this partial government shutdown are as follows: anything run by the government that was not considered to be “essential” was not funded or active during the partial government shutdown. In addition, the employees whose jobs are linked to these programs were on unpaid leave, leaving around 800,000 government employees temporarily out of work. Essential government services include Social Security, Medicare, and the mail system were seen as essential and continued to function. Unfortunately for refugees seeking to enter the United States during this time, the State Department’s refugee resettlement program was not seen as an essential service and was frozen during this partial shutdown, and according to the Financial Times, an estimated 6,000 people were prevented from arriving due to the shutdown.

While the IRC is not a government agency, the partial government shutdown still impacted its work, though thankfully not to the worst possible extent. For the first week of the fiscal year, the US does not normally accept new refugee arrivals, and this year, in response to the government shutdown, the hiatus was extended until the government fully reopened.

Thus, the IRC and refugees were not as negatively impacted by the shutdown as would have been at another time in the year. Although this delay of arrivals was conveniently timed  and manageable,  refugees and their families were still were impacted.

This IRC blog post discusses this in a bit more detail:
Another reason that the IRC was not thrust into complete disarray by this partial government shutdown was the timely signing of the annual Presidential Memorandum on refugee admissions for the upcoming fiscal year. This memorandum is signed every year by the President of the United States and allocates the maximum number of refugees that the United States can accept in the upcoming year. In addition to this overall number (70,000 this year), there are regional distributions to account for humanitarian need from different areas. The numbers provided by this memorandum are central to the IRC’s operation because without them, the IRC cannot accept new refugees.   The President signed the memorandum on October 2, 2013.

Ultimately, the partial government shutdown ended on Wednesday, October 16th, and the IRC survived it.  New arrivals started to be received again by the IRC as of October 28th and the organization is now operating as business as usual.


African Restaurant Week in San Diego by Steven Franca and Natalia Semeraro

The week of October 18th to 27th was the second annual African Restaurant Week in San Diego. The event celebrates the food, dance, music, and films of the local East African community and promotes local refugee owned businesses. Three out of the five restaurants at the event received support from the IRC Microenterprise program:  Awash Market and Restaurant, Fatuma’s, and Red Sambusa Catering.

We attended the opening night event which featured an Ethiopian coffee ceremony (called buna in Amharic - see photo, left), dishes from five local restaurants, and performances by students from Roosevelt Middle School.
We mingled with and interviewed attendees about which foods they enjoyed. The majority of the attendees enjoyed the sambusas from Red Sambusas & Catering, owned by IRC Client Mohamed, who came to San Diego from Mogadishu, Somalia. Mohamed said his specialty is sambusas, but he enjoys all the food he makes. One of the ways his business became successful was through the support of the IRC’s Microeconomics program, which provided Mohamed with a loan to start Red. “There was a great turnout, and everyone who attended tonight was happy and nice,” he said.

Overall, we had a great experience at opening night. The food was delicious and we really enjoyed the drum music and dance performance by the students from Roosevelt. At the end of the night we concluded that while all of the restaurants provided delicious food, Awash Market and Restaurant was our favorite and we highly recommend giving it a try if you have never eaten there before.

We interviewed several people throughout the night:

• The first guest had never tasted African food before. She had coconut sambusas from Red, which she described as crunchy and delicious, and the tasty collard greens. Her favorite restaurant was Flavors of East Africa, which serves Kenyan food.

• The second guest had eaten at Flavors of East Africa three times before the event. Her first taste of the night was from the Awash Market & Restaurant booth. She also told us that she has always liked sambusas, but her favorite sample from the event was the vegetables. She heard about the African Restaurant Week on the radio station 88.3 and received an email from the City Heights Committee, too.

• One of the drummers from Roosevelt Middle School began drumming at the age of 9. He also told us about how music was in his family. His grandparents were mariachis. It was his first time eating any of the food at the event and that he liked the meat dishes best.

• A dance group from Roosevelt Middle School spoke to us about their experience. Most of the dancers have been dancing for a long time and they enjoy the dramatic elements and interpretive movements to the African dance. The performance was telling a story put to a dance with drum music.

Youth Voices restaurant review:
Awash Ethiopian Restaurant – the vegetarian food was really good.
Red Sambusas & Catering – the coconut sambusas are great as always, and were our favorite kind. They also served spinach, lentil and potato sambusas.
Fatuma’s – served Somali food, lamb and rice. The rice was delicious
Flavors of East Africa – had pretty tasty Kenyan food, and the style was very different than the other Somali and Ethiopian restaurants participating.
Awash Market & Restaurant – our favorite of all restaurants. They served cooked vegetables and lentils over injera bread.

We hope more people will support these great restaurants!


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