Young people’s voice
by Mara Georgescu
We interviewed several young people during the conference Learning to Live Together: a Shared Commitment to Democracy at the Council of Europe in June 2017. What we wanted to know is how they got engaged with EDC/HRE and why EDC/HRE is important for them. We also had an interview with an educator, who accompanied two of the youngest participants, and she also shared with us her view on this.
Ioana Negrea, The NGOs Federation for Children (FONPC), Romania
Ioana is 17 and volunteers in a foundation that works for the integration of children and youth with autism. For example, the foundation organises trips to town for young people from rural areas.
She experienced bullying and discrimination two years ago at school. Because of her disability she needed a place in school which could be easily reached using a wheelchair. Therefore, the school decided to move her class to another part of the school which was used by smaller children in the primary school. Both her classmates and teachers weren’t happy about it. It wasn’t easy for her before the move, but after it things got worse: her classmates did not want to hang out with her. The situation got better after six months when Ioana and her parents asked for support from school. The school psychologist ran several classes with all students on disability, tolerance and human rights. After this, people started to help Ioana, but there were still people who did not care.
Ioana decided then to be active and got involved in a charity organisation doing fundraising. She participated in the youth forum on strategies against bullying and she also contributed to the “Alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities” concerning participation of children and young people.
Ioana decided to get involved because it brings her emotional and personal satisfaction. It makes her feel like she has a goal in life. She believes that EDC/HRE is very powerful: it teaches people empathy with those who are in a difficult situation. For Ioana, schools have an important role to play in EDC/HRE. Such programmes should start very early in the primary school.
William Carter, The Political Philosophy Education Campaign, United Kingdom
William is 18 and he is scared of populism. On the one hand, it is positive as people who are normally less engaged get interested in politics and see that some decisions and proposals may impact their lives. On the other hand, it is scary that the message that is passed is often xenophobic or racist.
In November 2016, William got increasingly weird comments at university (he studies political science at the University of Bristol). There are some 150 people in his class, and only a handful are of African-Caribbean heritage. In his first weeks of class, a classmate asked him why he studied politics, while instead he should be studying basketball. Other white students decide to fist-bump him in a nod to hip-hop culture rather than shake his hand on formal occasions.
William then felt something should be done about it, so he initiated a political philosophy campaign that aims at having political philosophy as part of the national curriculum alongside political education and citizenship education. He is on the advisory board of the Student’s View, a journalism NGO. What it seeks to do is to reach people from ethnic minority backgrounds, refugees and people with low academic achievements – they can write articles on the matters that are important for them.
William also teaches politics lessons engaging young people in current affairs. His main role is to see the potential in others and then use them to reach people who need to be reached. Just to be facilitators.
For William, human rights education is needed to ensure that young people realise that human rights are actually the reason why they have what they have. It is not about red tape that stops us from getting jobs, something that only elites have. Human rights are the result of horrendous atrocities during the Second World War. If we go against human rights we go against innately who we are.
“If you listen to people who go against human rights, like Donald Trump, and literally you ask people to answer the question: Where is the right side and where is the wrong side? Then I guarantee that the majority of them will know which side that is. All it takes generally is to sit down and consider what basic things we learned throughout life: to be good is to be decent and tolerant, and to be bad is to be against those things and be hateful. As long as you understand that to love and to be loved is a good thing and to be hateful is a bad thing it is very easy to find the right way.”