the youth is the hope of our future: international youth day 2015

Happy International Youth Day! In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly designated today- the 12th of August- as a day dedicated to improving the position of youth in the world, and strengthening our contribution to society. Each year, the day has a specific theme, and this year, it focuses on youth civic engagement- defined as individual or collective actions to identify and address issues of public concern.

Why is it so important that youth contribute to civic engagement and public life? According to the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth, youth civic engagement is key for sustainable development, and the building of resilience and well-being. In my opinion, we are the leaders of tomorrow (as cliche as that may sound), and we've got to focus on learning more about the world that we live in, and figuring out how we can change it for the better. The communities and societies that we grow up and live in shape us into who we are, and there's no reason why we can't make an effort to shape them too.

Already, there have been increasing efforts to incorporate it into the lives of young adults, particularly through after-school activities, or community service programmes in schools. The CAS requirement of the IB Diploma Programme and the Community & Service requirement of the IB Middle Years Programme, in particular, focus on how a student can give back to their community through various forms of service. Most of the young people that I know have, in some way, contributed to addressing or raising awareness about social and political issues that plague our world today. Whether it's through discussing it on an online forum, starting a club to take action, or debating and finding solutions, today's youth are becoming more and more involved in their surrounding communities.

For many, getting involved can be a daunting task, and though we are often being told that we can make a change, it seems difficult to believe that we actually can. After all, the world is a huge place, and it seems as if we can't make a lasting impact, or one that's actually worthwhile. But impacts can be just as powerful on a small scale as on a large one. As I said in my valedictorian speech, if we can make one person smile, we've made an impact just as powerful as if we can make twenty, or even a hundred people smile.

So, how does one go about engaging with their community? Here's a little guide that I drew up:

  1. Identify an issue. Engagement involves finding an issue to tackle- ideally, one that you're passionate about. If you think that education is the key to improving society, focus on education in your local community. If you find yourself passionate about feminism and equality, focus on women's rights. If you choose an issue that you're passionate about, the rest will come easily.
  2. Research the issue. Find out what the issue essentially is, and who it's affecting, particularly in your local community. The more thorough your research, the better, but you still won't be able to figure everything out. You'll learn a lot through the project, and it's important to accept that you won't learn everything about an issue just by reading a book.
  3. Write a mission statement. How do you plan to give back to the community? What do you want to tell people? Do you want to promote women's rights in a particular field, or just in general? And do you want to actively help, or do you simply want to raise awareness? If you can figure out what it is that you want to do, you'll be much more focused. Remember that raising awareness is just as important as taking action, for no action can be taken if people don't know about the problem.
  4. Figure out the best way to engage with your issue and fulfil your mission. Use your talents here! Are you a talented graphic designer? Make posters! If you're a great writer, you could create a blog, or a short story. Combine your passion for the issue with your other passions, and you'll be sure to do a great job. 
  5. Find other people to work with. It's so much easier to start something up if you're working with others, because they provide a great opportunity for you to bounce ideas off one another and distribute the work. There's also a better chance that you'll be able to reach a wider audience. Plus, if you're starting a club in your school, you'll probably need to find a faculty advisor: a teacher who supervises the activity.
If you're stuck for ideas about how you can get involved in your community, the diagram has a few suggestions:

A little diagram I drew up in my Moleskine.

Does youth civic engagement have any drawbacks? The problems arise when individuals are simply undertaking service projects to fill requirements, or to add to their college applications. As John Wooden once said, "don't mistake activity with achievement." It's not enough to simply say that we're doing something; we have to fully commit to the task at hand, and feel strongly and passionately about what we're doing. Only then will we make a real impact.

All in all, one day, we shall inherit this world. Until then, we should work on creating the best future possible, and for that, engagement with civic and social issues is key. As Jose Rizal once said, "the youth is the hope of our future." 


the reward is in the risk: my 2014 trip to atali ganga

This post is about a year too late, but hey, you know what they say. Better late than never.

We all have fears. Psychologically, they're kind of important- so important that impaired fear sensors/conditioning can actually endanger survival. But they can also be terrible, terrible things because, more often than not, we let irrational fears govern our choices and behaviours within different situations. If you're scared of wasps, you might not go out on a nice summers day because you spotted one hovering by the pool (yes, I am guilty of doing this). If you're scared of gaining weight, you might not eat that tempting chocolate donut in the fridge. While there are situations in which we can avoid doing things we're afraid of, sometimes, we have to face our fears, whether we like it or not. Last summer, I found myself in one of the latter situations on a trip to an adventure sports resort in Northern India.
The absolutely stunning Atali Ganga resort 
One of the many unique aspects of the IB is the CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) programme. In a nutshell, you have to do 50 hours of each component in order to pass the IB. At the end of Year 12, I found that I was - unsurprisingly- lacking in action hours. During the school year, I barely had enough time for all the extracurriculars that were already on my plate, let alone extra sports, so, when summer came along, I decided that I really needed to do something.

My dad remembered a story from a CAS assembly that my school had held a while back: essentially, a student a few years ago had a terrible fear of heights, and, in order to get Action hours, decided to go skydiving. He ended up winning the CAS award. I, too, have a terrible fear of heights and any kind of risky adventure sports; I'm the girl who everyone gives their phones to before they hop onto a rollercoaster. So, my dad thought that it might be a good idea for me to try something that terrified me. Though skydiving was out of the question - I was far too young, too scared, and there was no way my mum would let me jump out of a plane-  it was universally agreed on that I needed to get out of my comfort zone. After a bit of deliberation, we decided that the best way to do that would be to visit Atali Ganga, an adventure sports resort in Uttarakhand, India. Located up in the hills, this gorgeous resort offers a wide variety of activities: from river rafting along the River Ganga, to high ropes courses, to hiking. After booking our three-day trip, I got down to perusing the website, and decided that I had every intention of playing it safe: doing only the activities that had pretty much zero risk involved, and spending the rest of the time by the pool, with a book.

I'm so glad that I didn't.

The trip promised adventure right from the beginning, when we drove ten hours from New Delhi to the resort, traversing the hills and dales of Northern India. Needless to say, it was quite a nerve-racking experience for someone terrified of heights. The sharp turns in the hilly roads had me clutching my armrest, white-knuckled, sure that we were going to topple off the side of the mountain at any moment. But, thankfully, we arrived safely, and were greeted by the friendly, helpful Atali Ganga team, who took us up to the White Water Cafe, so we could begin signing up for activities.

Again, I was totally ready to play it safe, but my family had a different idea in mind. Before I knew what was happening, I was signed up for pretty much everything the resort had to offer: from travelling traverses, to a high ropes course, to the white water rafting. Not wanting to make a fuss after the long journey, I went along with it, figuring that I could just back out before the activity began if I really felt uncomfortable.

To say I was nervous would be a bit of an understatement. Arriving at each activity and seeing the set-up was enough to send worst-case scenarios cycling through my mind. I have a very overactive imagination, and while it can be helpful during nice, sedentary activities like coming up with ideas for blog posts, or short stories, it was quite the hinderance when I was about to engage in risk-taking activities. I kept wondering what would happen if a rope broke, if the raft flipped over in the middle of the river. Luckily, the safety briefings settled most of my fears and assured me that I was in excellent hands- although I was still terrified. The support of the team, and of my family, really helped me push through the initial fear and take a leap of faith.

Yes, that shadow you see up there is me. About fifty feet in the air.

Sometimes, having no option is the best option, because it takes away the crippling indecision. Facing my fears was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and I don't think I'll ever forget the heart-pounding moments of fear that coursed through my body as I stepped onto the raft, the high rope, or the traverse. But that fear was quickly replaced by exhilaration as I rode a rapid, found myself fifty feet in the air, or elevated above a valley. I'll never forget the thrill I experienced when I jumped off the raft and body surfed on a rapid (totally safe, FYI, the Atali Ganga team kept a close eye on me the whole way through!). While some activities were stunning successes, others proved more difficult. I could barely climb more than a couple of feet on the rock-climbing wall because I didn't have enough strength to pull myself up, and the high ropes made me a little dizzy, but I'm glad I gave it a go anyway. At least I can say that I tried- even if I didn't succeed.

People are always saying that the best way to get rid of your fears is to face them. After facing mine, I can't say that they're completely gone: I'm not likely to go skydiving any time soon, or even jump off the Sky Tower in Auckland (this is a thing that you can actually do), but maybe now I'll hesitate less before I get on a rollercoaster, or look down from the Burj Khalifa's observation deck. After all, even though I may not have managed to completely eliminate my fears, taking the risks I did ended up putting me at an advantage.

Yes, that's me again! Higher up this time! Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from river rafting, which was by far my favourite activity- but of course, you can't exactly carry a camera onto the River Ganga.
Risk-taking is actually very beneficial, especially from a psychological standpoint. As Michael Ungar said, "to grow, we need to experience challenges". Risks open up new opportunities; we become more confident in our own abilities and we learn more about what we're capable of. They make us more receptive to trying new things, to understanding new ideas. Instead of simply staying safe, we can explore a whole new realm of possibilities. They give us what Ungar calls 'the risk-taker's advantage': we do whatever we can to ensure that we're competent, capable contributors to our communities. By testing our limits, we learn how to define them.

So, while we might not all be inherent risk takers (this is actually a thing too: psychological studies have shown that the number of dopamine receptors within your brain can influence your tendency to engage in risky activities and behaviours), we should all move out of our comfort zones every now and then. Whether that's a trip to an adventure sports resort like Atali Ganga (which I totally recommend, by the way- the food, the accommodation, the activities, the team- everything was absolutely top-notch, and I would go again in a heartbeat), or even just doing one thing that scares you every now and then, calculated risk-taking is a healthy activity to engage in- plus, you'll be embodying the IB Learner Profile like a good IB student!

(I realise now that that's not very funny, unless you're an IB student, so let's move on).

As Albert Einstein once said, "A ship is always safe at the shore, but that's not what it's built for". We're always safe in our comfort zones, but we're built to adapt. And the only way we can do that is by moving into unfamiliar situations and putting ourselves out there.

PS: On an unrelated note, please check out my little announcement, entitled 'I need your help!', on the top right corner of the blog. It'd mean a lot, and help me immensely, if you submit! 


life doesn't stop for anybody: remodelling the blog

It is a simple truth that everything is in a constant state of change, notwithstanding me, or Unlocking Pandora's Box.

I started this blog back in April 2013, when I was fourteen years old. I wanted a platform to write about socially relevant issues, to form my voice and my opinions, and this blog gave me just that. For the first few months, I had a plethora of topics that I wanted to write about, and I looked forward to planning and executing each post. But, as the days went on, I found that I had less and less time to devote to this webpage, especially after beginning the IBDP. Eventually, it fell into disrepair and abandon.

I returned to it last month, at sixteen, wanting desperately to recapture the magic I felt when I first began blogging. But I quickly found that it wasn't that easy: topics that I'd once been able to write about at length fell flat, and I was unable to muster up the same enthusiasm that I used to have. Blogging became something that I pushed to the back of my mind, as I struggled to think up things to write. Each time I started a post, I deleted it, because nothing was coming out right, or because I couldn't find the motivation to finish it. And yet, oddly enough, I still really wanted to blog- just on a wider variety of topics.

I have changed dramatically since two years ago. I've gone through the DP, I've graduated high school, and I'm about to start university. And yet, I believe that, fundamentally, I'm still the same person that I always was. It's the same with my interests: while they've changed, they've also remained consistent. I know that I'm being rather oxymoronic right now, but everything I've said is true. It's like my interests have diversified: I still love reading and writing about socially relevant issues, but I also want to explore my passion for literature, travel, theatre, food and clothing through my writing. I don't want to limit myself to writing only on a single field- I want to be able to branch out, for there is so much out there to examine, to dissect. Over the last few days alone, I've wanted to start a food blog, a fashion blog, a book blog- the list goes on and on. It was only today that I realised that I already had a blog, and maybe, just maybe, I could remodel it to encompass everything I wanted to write about.

So I did. Welcome to the new and improved Unlocking Pandora's Box

Look at my attractive desk (I totally didn't tidy it up just for this photo) 

You may have noticed the new layout (I certainly hope you did, because I spent a good few hours on it, when I could've been reading Sense and Sensibility). I've changed things up a little because:
a) I wanted things to be more organized
b) Staring at the same layout for too long gets boring. I wanted to spice things up a little bit (and implement some of my new HTML skills- thank you Codecademy!)

I've introduced eight main categories to help you navigate around this little webspace. They reflect what I'm going to be focusing on, as we enter this new age of the blog.
  • Literature: Books, books, books! And poems, and other things too. Reading is pretty much my life, and and my love for books is something that I never really explored over here. So, this section will contain my rants and reviews about the various books I've read, literary analysis (expect a lot of analytical essays on Plath coming your way, because I adore Plath, and I love analysing her poetry), etc. 
  • Essays: This section will be a lot like what the main content of UPB used to be. This will contain all of my ramblings about socially relevant issues, and all sorts of other things. 
  • Fashion: Okay, I'll admit it. I've always wanted to make a fashion blog. I've always loved clothes, and I'm really looking forward to exploring my interest in style. This section will probably include outfits of the day (if I can take pictures that look decent enough), DIYs, style tips and more! 
  • Food: Who doesn't love food? I've been avidly reading Chocolate Covered Katie, and of late, I've discovered that I really enjoy cooking. This section will include my chocolate reviews (yup I'm going to review the chocolate that I eat!), other food reviews, and simple recipes (I've got a great one coming up)!
  • Travel: I travel a lot, and I love to discover new places and cultures. In this section, I'll be blogging about my adventures abroad- and even at home, since there's always something new to discover in Dubai- like a full dinosaur skeleton. In a mall. I know, I was just as surprised as you are now.
  • Theatre: I am still as obsessed with theatre and acting as I was when I started this blog, and while I originally didn't make theatre a category, I realised that this blog wouldn't be a true reflection of my interests if I didn't include it. Acting is my first love, and this section will contain theatre reviews, acting tips, and other random posts about drama (because I like to talk about drama. A lot. You have been warned).
  • Misc.: Anything that doesn't fit in the above categories will go in here, because sometimes, things just don't fit. Like this post.

Doing a bit of brainstorming in my precious Moleskine
Along with diversifying the topics of my posts, I'm also going to try and post more regularly. Although I already know that any kind of schedule I set up will probably disappear during term-time, I'm still going to try and post at least once a week- and hopefully more during vacations! I've already got a bunch of ideas, and I'm working on lining up posts now!

So, here's to the all-new, expanded Unlocking Pandora's Box. See you soon!

(A heads up on exactly how soon I'll be seeing you: my next post traverses the travel and essay categories and will be up on Friday!)