Thursday, October 25, 2012

Human Rights: Ideas and Realities

Last Friday, I organized a human rights training at my school with my school psychologist. We had about 25 students participate, ranging from 9th to 11th grade. I invited my friend Oleg from the Kharkiv branch of the Salvation Army to come and conduct the training. Our training was done in Russian and it was called заПРАВься! (a play on the Russian reflexive verb for "to fill/refill", since the Russian word for "rights" falls within the middle of the word) "Права человека: идея и реальность" (which translates to Human Rights: ideas and realities).

Almost everyone at our training! A few girls had to leave early to catch the school bus home. 
Note: I would normally have called this a seminar, since its a one-day thing filled with different lessons and activities, but my school psychologist told me that its better to call it a training since Ukrainians associate the word "seminar" with just sitting there and listening to lectures.
The kids brainstormed their own ideas about what human rights are... translated as: life, education,  food, words, medicine, love, care, freedom, choice, family, work, friends, tastes.
We started off with a short video about the history of human rights, which included famous leaders from all around the world such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King. Then we passed out the Всеобщая декларация прав человека - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Oleg asked the students to divide into groups to read and discuss the rights that were listed there. The task was to choose which 5 rights are the most important, and this was interesting because not every person chose the same rights - different people have different priorities and values in life.

Oleg working with the kids in groups. 
Liza presenting about her group's chosen rights. 
Next the participants were asked to choose one small strip of paper from a bag. Each strip of paper contained a different description of a person from varied backgrounds such as an unemployed single mother, the daughter of a bank manager, a soldier in the army, a HIV+ prostitute, an illegal immigrant from Mali, a pensioner who used to work in a shoe factory, a 27 year old homeless person, a young artist who is a drug user, a refugee from Afghanistan, etc. Each participant was asked to play the role written on their piece of paper. All the participants lined up in a single line on one side of the room and Oleg read out descriptions of different scenarios such as the possibility of graduating from college or being able to marry whomever you want. The task for the participants was to take a step forward if they thought that they had the right/possibility to that scenario, or to take a step backwards if it wasn't a possibility.

"close your eyes and imagine yourself in the life of the person "
Moving forwards and backwards.
Then we had a lunch break... which of course meant that Ira (my school psychologist) and I had to cut and prepare lots of salami and cheese for sandwiches, accompanied by cucumbers and tomatoes of course. We also had an assortment of cookies to go with tea and I baked some American-style chocolate chip cookies :D
After lunch, we had an interesting exercise where the participants were given a list of 19 different people. They had to choose 3 people which they would travel in a kupe with from Sophia, Bulgaria to Vladyvastok, Russia (kupe is the 2nd class on a Ukrainian train, with 4 seats) and 3 people which they would definitely not travel with. This train ride would take them across the Trans-Siberian railroad and it would probably take about 2 weeks.

Here are the different people they had to choose from:
  •  Американский солдат, который возвращается из службы в Ираке (an American soldier, returning from duty in Iraq)
  • Швейцарский финансовый брокер с большим весом (an overweight Swiss financial broker)
  • Африканка, продающая продукты  (an African lady who sells groceries)
  • Молодой художник, имеющий ВИЧ+ (a young artist who is HIV+)
  • Цыган из Венгрии, который только освободился из тюрьмы (a Roman who was just freed from prison in Hungary)
  • Немецкий репэр, ведущий альтернативный образ жизни (a German rapper who has an alternative lifestyle)
  • Слепой аккордеонист из Австрии (a blind accordion player from Austria)
  • Молодая молдованка, не имеющая визу и с ребенком, которому  1 год (a young woman from Moldova who doesn't have a visa, with her 1-year old baby)
  • Голландская агрессивно-настроенная феминистка (an aggressive feminist from Holland)
  • Консервативный американский баптист (анти-аборт активист) (a conservative American Baptist who is an anti-abortion activist)
  • Скинхед из Швеции, который находится в пьяном состоянии (a skinhead from Sweden who is always drunk)
  • Английский футбольный фан (an English soccer fan)
  • Польская проститутка из Берлина (a Polish prostitute from Berlin)
  • Испанский полицейский, гей (a Spanish politician who is gay)
  • Арабка, студентка в Украине, мусульманка (an Arabic girl who is Muslim and studies at a Ukrainian university)
  • Гражданин Израиля, родом из России, посещающий родственников в Москве (an Israeli who was born in Russia, visiting his relatives in Moscow)
  • Украинский националист из Львова (a Ukrainian nationalist from Lviv)
  • Вьетнамский эмигрант, работающий на Барабашова (a Vietnamese immigrant who works at Barabashova - the huge open air market in the city of Kharkiv)
  • Грузин, работающий на рынке (a Georgian guy who works at the bazaar)

So, who would you choose to ride the train with?

The last part of the training was when we discussed stereotypes and it was interesting to see how the students reacted to them. For example - fat people are kind, all Swedish people have light-colored hair, all Ukrainians love salo, gay people are immoral, invalids can't participate in sports, Arabic people are impulsive, etc.
Oleg with the 11th form girls. 
The guys and Oleg.
The 9th form girls with Oleg. 
All my students loved the training with Oleg! They pretty much all thought it was interesting, a lot of the information was mind-opening to them and I'm happy that they were all open to talking about human rights :)


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