Human rights at the grassroots

17 August 2010

The UCL Student Human Rights Programme’s ‘Grassroots Initiative’ sets out to educate children about the importance of respect for one another and humanity.

Alice Cole Roberts, who is a current student on the MA in Human Rights at UCL Political Science and a coordinator of the Grassroots Initiative, describes the range of activities on offer, and what children made of the concept at a June workshop held at John Cass School, in Stepney, East London.


Grassroots human rights workshop poster

“Human rights education is much more than a lesson in schools or a theme for a day; it is a process to equip people with the tools they need to live lives of security and dignity.” Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations

“Even basic knowledge of rights and duties that, as human beings, we should observe, will help make a considerable difference to the way many approach every day social situations. This is why it is so important to realise from an early age that living in a bubble of ignorance does not mean that you will go unaffected by the changes around you. Human rights are your rights. We cannot afford to be complacent in the struggle to protect our rights.

“So… we build the foundations, we listen, we argue, we discuss in order to spread the word, one youngster at a time, with the aim of inspiring an attitude of respect for one another and our common humanity...

“The new Grassroots Initiative, organised by members of the UCL Student Human Rights Programme, will serve to do just that. Our unique workshops and project classes will see volunteers from UCL leading weekly discussions with children from the ages of 12–16 at schools all around London, with the objective of using education to ingrain the culture of defending Human Rights into classrooms and homes across the UK.

“On 9 June I went to John Cass school in Stepney, East London, to put these ideas into practice, with 15-year-olds. It went great. The kids seemed keen to learn about human rights. We got good feedback from them and the teachers. The headteacher said it was clear from the students’ involvement in the classroom and the projects that they were interested in the topic and enjoyed having young university students teaching them.

“The kids thought human rights should be taught to everyone. They were unaware of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which they seemed to be interested in. Topics of youth discrimination came up quite a lot in the projects, so I think that is something that should be continued next year. The section on history (an image quiz) is great since it links what they already know about world history to human rights. On the other hand, they knew little about the Human Rights Act (just aware it existed) so I think we should put some emphasis on this in the future.

“Topics that seemed to interest them were: the Second World War, prisoners’ treatment, racial and religious discrimination, and the death penalty. We also had a debate about the greater good argument: is hurting one person justified if done for the ‘greater good’? 
We did projects in the afternoon: posters, drawings, PowerPoint presentations, a quiz. They came up with a great rhyme on youth discrimination: ‘Is it about heights or is it about rights?’

“All in all it was a fantastic day. We felt appreciated but more importantly, we felt we made a difference which is great and the whole point of this project!

“Are you making a human rights comic? Want to become an editor for a new human rights magazine for kids? Thinking of launching a human rights campaign? Participating in a ‘Debate your right night’ at your school? The Grassroots volunteers will work in collaboration with schools to help inspire and animate the imagination of children across London. Let’s kindle young minds into airing their views on what needs to be done, what has to be done to ensure that all our rights and those of future generations are protected. We want to start at the roots. Children are the future!”

For more information please email: grassroots@uclshrp.com

Image: Drawing by Rhiannon and Selucia from John Cass School


UCL context

The UCL Student Human Rights Programme is a dynamic and pro-active human rights organisation. It is led by students and advised by human rights academics and professionals, with members from all walks of life. UCL SHRP seeks to foster a vibrant culture of human rights within UCL and wider communities by initiating awareness, instigating debate and inspiring action.

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