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Five Minutes to Midnight: Let the Youth Be Heard

leylop Since June 2003, Five Minutes to Midnight (FMM), a non-profit organization, has been trying to give youth a voice on human rights and international issues, especially in developing countries. The name of this organization derives from the Doomsday Clock idea invented during the Cold War. To empower the youth, FMM has published magazines, held workshops and collaborated with interested organizations around the world. After five years, FMM already has distinctive accomplishments. Its workshops in Kibera, Kenya in 2007, for example, later became a photo book, Kibera. All pictures included are from workshop participants. Global Voices has the chance to talk to Wojciech Gryc, FMM founder and director, about its past, future and views towards online tools.

What inspires you to create FMM?

In October 2002, my sister was struck by a car and passed away a few hours following the accident. Prior to her death, I wasn't very active in politics or human rights issues, but the shock of losing someone so close really made me understand the value of a person's life. A few months later, The War in Iraq started. I didn't support the war, and with the recent passing of my sister, I realized many families were about to experience similar losses. After a great deal of self-reflection and questioning, I decided to start speaking out about the war and related human rights issues. A blog called “Five Minutes to Midnight” was born a few weeks later, and this eventually evolved into the non-profit organization.

These events still inspire me today. Questioning and sharing information is extremely important, and technology plays a key role in this. It is by asking questions and debating with each other that we, as a society, can grow and become more equitable. Knowing that FMM contributes to this process is a wonderful inspiration.

The vision of FMM is “to create a place for youth to share their view and opinions on human rights and international issues.” How do you reach and collect them? Do you use any online tools?

FMM started as an online magazine, which we published monthly until January 2008. We collected young people's views and ideas through e-mail — people would write articles and send them to us. We built our own basic system for managing articles.

Over the last few years, we began running workshops with our partner organizations, mainly in developing nations. We use free and open source software and refurbished computers to organize extremely low-cost journalism projects which could then be run by young people or small organizations. We don't republish these articles, and simply act as a facilitator for starting community-based media projects.

What are the obstacles to youth around the world to stop them from sharing their views?

I'd say the biggest obstacles for young people today are tokenism and a lack of awareness. The technology for sharing your views is freely available, and sites like Global Voices are perfect examples of this. Many institutions today admit that a massive youth demographic exists and do their best to “engage” youth. Young people's opinions are regularly collected and synthesized into reports, but little is done thereafter. It is important that aside from sharing their views, young people take a stand on issues and hold governments, institutions, and corporations responsible for their actions and promises.

However, this problem isn't solely a result of tokenism on behalf of major institutions. Young people need to become more informed about the issues they care about — whether these are political, scientific, or otherwise. Youth should not only get involved in taking a stand on such issues, but should also do the research and conduct debates that help them make up their minds.

After five years, FMM has a website, has held numerous workshops, had published monthly magazines and a photo book. What's your next step?

We're always looking for new projects and ideas. One of FMM's strengths is that we are very much driven by our partners — aside from promoting low-cost technologies and free expression, we do not have a political agenda, and are happy to work wherever our expertise is needed. We're very much focused on building new partnerships in addition to the connections we've already built in countries like Chad, Kenya, and Nepal.

In addition to continuing our workshops, we're becoming much more rigorous in our analysis, research, and evaluation. We've already written one research paper and will be presenting it at a conference on intercultural collaboration in 2009, and we hope to continue contributing both to grassroots communities and organizations while also documenting our work. I think a lot of institutions and governments can learn from the type of work FMM and similar organizations do.

Blogs, Flickr and other online media are getting more and more popular among youth worldwide. Have you used any to reach more audience?

Yes, we've been very active in blogging — both in setting up our own blogs and helping our volunteers and partner organizations run their own online content systems independently. Through web-based services like Blogger.com and software packages like WordPress, it's very easy to help people start their own basic media projects. This has facilitated our work immensely.

FMM also runs a project called “Article 13 Initiative“? What is it?

The Article 13 Initiative is the name for our international workshops. It's based on Article 13.1 from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states: “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.”

We believe every young person has the right to express themselves, and do our best to enable this through low-cost technologies, in-person workshops, and the Internet.

How can people get involved in FMM? What kind and form of participation do you need? If we want to contribute, what should we send to you (words, photos, videos)?

We accept any and all interested people as volunteers. One of my main philosophies about volunteering is that it is a learning opportunity — I started FMM without knowing much about non-profit organizations, and it was the best way to learn about politics, the non-profit sector, and international development. I'm happy to work with people who are interested in learning a new skill or who want to visit a new place. If you do want to volunteer, please e-mail me at wojciech@fiveminutestomidnight.org

In terms of what we look for, we are in need of writers and researchers. We do a lot of proposal writing and try to research countries and partner organizations as much as possible. Also, if you have a technical background — in web design, open source software, or even fixing computers — we'd love to have you.

We're a dispersed organization and are very comfortable working with people from any part of the world, as long as we can get in touch with them by phone, e-mail, or in person.

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