Friday, April 24, 2009

The Time for Service – Heads of State Support NYS Worldwide

The recent signing of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act (click here for video) on the 21st April, 2009 at the Seed School in Washington, DC marks a historical moment in the history of the United States. President Barack Obama underlined his strong support to “encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations.” The signing of the Act is “the boldest expansion of opportunities to serve our communities and our country since the creation of AmeriCorps,” Obama said.

The Act will expand AmeriCorps and create new innovative service corps, establish a Summer of Service Program, create a Social Innovation Fund, strengthen the capacity of the Corporation for National Community Service, and expand service learning opportunities. Challenges like the economic crisis and climate change, as well as a growing demand for human services and jobs are posing “unprecedented challenges” for the United States. But the current situation also poses an opportunity to mobilize people throughout the country to serve.

Not only in the United States but also in many other countries like Great Britain, the Maldives, the Philippines or Liberia, political leaders are establishing National Youth Service programs to tackle the challenges of our time and to actively engage young people in their communities.

The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown introduced a new program (click here for video) that aims to engage 16-19 year olds in community service projects alongside training. He expects young people to contribute one year of full-time service, emphasizing their “citizen’s responsibilities.” The government will support schools to provide service opportunities to pupils and pilot ways to successfully engage them in communities. This initiative, if put into action by a re-elected Labour Party, would require young people to carry out service for the first time since the end of National Service in 1963.

The Maldives Volunteer Corps (MVC) will “soon work to provide teachers and health professionals” through national service, Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed said. The Maldives government is planning to establish a volunteer’s trust fund and an International Volunteer Program is planned that will bring teachers and health professionals to the country to cope with the shortage of skilled staff. These foreign professionals are supposed to train local staff to improve their skills. The government is considering expanding that program to others sectors depending on its success.

Under the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, two new National Youth Service programs were recently established. She believes that "now is the time (...). We must initiate a new era of volunteerism and community spirit.” Young people between ages 18-24 will serve for two years to improve their communities and gain skills. The National Youth Corps intends to engage unemployed college graduates in education and community programs. The Youth Conservation Corps will provide opportunities for unskilled Filipinos in the environment field.

In a video presentation for the International Association of National Youth Service Global Conference in November 2008, the President of Liberia Ms. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf underlined that “youth empowerment and national development are inextricably linked.” (Click here for video.) Youth empowerment is one crucial pillar of development and part of the recently drafted poverty reduction strategy called “Lift Liberia.” Furthermore she pointed out that investing in youth development is very important and “service-learning and altruism can be effective peace building tools” and can cause “enormous impact.” The Government of Liberia is currently developing a policy framework on National Youth Service to establish a National Youth Service Corps.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Value of Earth Day

On Saturday, March 28, over 1,000 cities in more than 80 countries observed Earth Hour 2009. Homes, office towers and public landmarks turned off their lights for an hour, at 8:30 pm local time, to conserve energy and raise awareness about global warming.[1] Earth Hour was organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who organized the event as “a global call to action for every individual, every business and every community; A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet.”[2]

In 2009, the Earth Hour movement reached new heights with an estimated one billion people engaging with their community about the social issues that matter to them. Earth Hour served as one way of creating even a small bit of agency for all those that participated. As Amy Jussel, Founder and Executive Director of Shaping Youth, writes in her blog, “[Earth Hour] is a great way to engage kids of all ages in being part of a larger vision. It’s empowering to feel they too can be part of a cause [and] make a statement.”[3] Earth Hour clearly provided an opportunity for people throughout the world, young and old, to make a statement, increase community awareness and show that they are willing to make a difference.

Yet despite the success of Earth Hour 2009, measured in the estimated one billion people that participated, there was considerable opposition to the event. Most of this resistance stemmed from the belief that one hour of energy conservation per year could not possibly have a significant effect on long-term climate change. The CEI Group even initiated a Human Achievement Hour as a form of protest, arguing that with such a limited actual effect on the environment, Earth Hour is merely a protest of a human achievement: electricity.[4] But, as environmental blog Twilight Earth points out, groups like CEI and others are missing the point:

“[No], turning off your lights for those 60 minutes will not stop the glaciers from melting. It won’t save one endangered species on the brink of death due to Global Warming, but it will send a message. The goal of Earth Hour is that message we are sending, not the impact of our actions on the planet. Earth Hour is a symbolic gesture.”[5]

Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, when over 2 million people switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had “grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights, [as even] global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Coliseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.”[6]

Check out this link for some great before and after photos of Earth Day 2009!







POSTED BY: Ben Krumholz


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