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Human Rights Begin With the Small Things
By Victoria Wasner, High School German Teacher & Experiential Learning Coordinator

“Menschenrechte beginnen im Kleinen” (Eleanor Roosevelt)

The first unit of the year for my Grade 9 Advanced German classes (phases 5 and 6) is aimed at giving students more of an in-depth understanding of human rights and our responsibility as individuals towards each other and the wider society in which we live. This unit was designed with my ‘service learning’ hat on, where the issue of advocacy and taking direct, meaningful action is linked to knowledge that is derived in the classroom setting. Connecting real-world, meaningful action to what we learn within subject areas is fundamental to the concept of ‘service learning’, so with this first unit I searched for ways that the classroom content could be connected to the world beyond our classroom. As human rights were our main focus, I connected with Amnesty International Switzerland, and invited them to work with both Grade 9 classes through two workshops.

In the first workshop, an Amnesty volunteer, Lucia, introduced the students to the different articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948. The students considered and reflected upon potential scenarios in which some of the 30 articles were violated. In the second workshop, Benjamin and Menga from Amnesty focused on how human rights are relevant to us in our daily lives, and they invited the students to think about practical actions that we could take in order to learn that human rights are something that affect all of us, and that we have the power to take meaningful steps towards defending them. Students were then introduced to how Amnesty works, and they were encouraged to become part of ‘Amnesty Youth’, which is a first step to being informed about current campaigns and concrete steps that can be taken.

Having asked the students for their feedback on the workshops, there was a sense of them having made the students understand that there are direct and practical ways that action can be taken. One student commented; “The workshops helped to make us realise how we could help people around the world”. Having brought in people from outside of our school community, students understood that there are people who give their working for and with organisations such as Amnesty International that are committed to social change. Another student remarked that the workshops “showed that people are there to help”.

In having had the aim of showing students how we can take responsible action, I feel satisfied that these experts from outside of our community helped the students to understand that it is the small things that we do that can be the most meaningful. Human rights are everywhere and it is our obligation as moral human beings to defend them and to work towards a ‘person-centred’ education, focusing on community and using our own power to contribute to a fairer and more just society. If saving the world seems a daunting and unrealistic prospect, all we need to do is to look at ourselves in relation to our immediate surroundings, and consider what those small, yet hugely meaningful actions might be and how we can make an authentic and significant contribution in our own way.



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