Orange County high school students gathered at Chapman University on Saturday to learn the basics of planning special events that have little in common with the senior prom.
Sponsored by Amnesty International and the California Assn. of Student Councils, the Youth for Freedom and Human Rights Day encouraged about 100 teens to become agents for change on subjects ranging from strife in Myanmar and Guatemala to women's rights and the death penalty.
"Young people need to make an emotional connection with these issues," said keynote speaker Michael Matsuda, an Anaheim teacher who recently helped coordinate a student protest of Nike's overseas labor practices. "They are the future of this country."
At a workshop on lobbying and advocacy, students discussed methods they could use to tackle issues like sweatshop labor and censorship. Marches, boycotts and seeking the support of larger organizations were just a few suggestions offered.
Mitra Ebadolahi, a 16-year-old student at University High School in Irvine, said many of the workshop's suggestions--including the importance of following through with plans and meetings--were especially helpful.
"I've been to protests and both of my parents are really liberal," Ebadolahi said. "This is a good way to get things accomplished, a really organized approach."
Speaker Christine Hoang, a 20-year-old UCLA student and an Amnesty International intern, said the day's theme was "advocacy and what that entails, but we're also saying what we can do real, tangible things."
Raj Jayadev, a 22-year-old UCLA political science major, was impressed with the students' level of concern at the workshop he led with Hoang. "When I was 15, 16, I couldn't imagine doing this," he said.
At an afternoon conference addressing Vietnamese issues, community leaders and students discussed poverty and human rights violations in Vietnam, and what local students could do.
"Can you imagine not being able to read whatever you want?" said Xuan T. Vu, a 24-year-old field representative for Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove), referring to repressive conditions in Vietnam. "In school, can you imagine not being able to ask, 'Why?' "
Public awareness is only half the battle, said speaker Lan Hoang, a 24-year-old Stanford law student and member of the Vietnamese Political Action Committee. Write letters, he suggested, either to local representatives or directly to the Vietnamese government.
"Even though what we may do is small, it can start a domino effect in the larger picture," agreed 17-year-old Kim Nguyen, who attends Irvine High School.