UNRWA students, teachers and parents join together to celebrate Human Rights Day

10 December 2014
UNRWA students, teachers and parents join together to celebrate Human Rights Day
UNRWA students, teachers and parents join together to celebrate Human Rights Day
UNRWA students, teachers and parents join together to celebrate Human Rights Day
UNRWA students, teachers and parents join together to celebrate Human Rights Day

A fluffy yellow die is thrown and a crowd of seventh-grade girls huddle around a giant Chutes and Ladders board, eager to see where the next move will take them. But instead of landing on a chute, or a ladder, the board piece lands on a white square that names a right – the right to freedom of expression.  This prompts the girls to discuss what this right means to them.

This Chutes and Ladders game is one of dozens of activities being held in UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan today as part of Human Rights Day.  The activities promote human rights, conflict resolution and tolerance.  Many also showcase the UNRWA Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Toolkit.  Funded by the Government of the United States, the toolkit guides UNRWA teachers  on how to strengthen and sustain a human rights culture in their classrooms and how to instill greater awareness of human rights and tolerance among students.  “I use the human rights toolkit to try and incorporate human rights principles into daily school practices,” says Omaymah Yousef, an UNRWA teacher in Jordan.  “To walk-the-talk, I try to connect the human rights principles with students’ realities. It helps them absorb.”

Many of the human rights principles resonate strongly with the students’ realities.  In one classroom in Jordan, teenage girls and community members take part in an activity called ‘Similarities and Differences,’ in which they consider how to integrate and welcome different groups, such as Palestinian refugees from Syria, into their classrooms and communities.  In another classroom, students, teachers and community members write messages of hope for the future in a ‘Peace Book.’

Not surprisingly, the ‘right to play’ is one of the most popular among the students.

Ms. Yousef explains: “An assessment on human rights conducted by our school last year showed that the vast majority of students are aware of their right to play.  Therefore, we designed our school programme this year to incorporate many sport and entertainment activities.”  This much-appreciated approach is replicated across schools in other locations.  In the West Bank, fifth-grader Muna Jihad explains: “We express our rights through games. I have a right to learn, to play.”

UNRWA has long considered human rights education and related activities, such as UNRWA student parliaments, to be a fundamental vehicle for the promotion of respect for rights, democratic practices, tolerance and peace. The human rights education programme in UNRWA schools is designed to reach further than the students– educating the wider community.  As part of the community engagement, parents, UNRWA donors and other community members were invited to attend the Human Rights Day activities.

Hilanah Idrees, the mother of an UNRWA student in Lebanon, said she was surprised by the children’s discussions on human rights.  “We parents were not fully aware of most of these rights.  It was very informative and an important experience to learn about these rights.  The celebration today was very special… We saw how our children were discussing their rights as mature and empowered people.”