Another challenge I face as a human rights educator: questioning why I do this work today – teaching day camp staff on using a toolkit to promote human rights values – here in beautiful Vancouver while I could be doing work in other countries far more impoverished and needy. Strolling by English Bay this morning, I felt remarkably at peace with myself and yet at the same time a tad guilty. Working in other countries where poverty surrounds me, shocks me, and upsets me, I’d get the feeling that the impact of my work there was somehow more immediate, more necessary, more beneficial. The workshops these past two days have been easy: we’ve worked with great participants, they have been enthusiastic, and by all indications they will take the Toolkit back to their respective organizations and begin using it.
But maybe I put too much thought into it. I qualified Vancouver as beautiful, but a drive from the well-to-do West Hastings street to more impoverished East Hastings is enough to convince anyone that yes, we’ve got our own problems in Canada. As my friend Tina, a child rights advocate, said over dinner tonight, we sometimes forget that one in five children in this country live in poverty. It’s a grim statistic many people may not be aware of. Nonetheless, Canada is still better off than most. To the point where funding for Canadian initiatives in promoting children’s rights (and rights in general) within Canada is not deemed as important as it used to be.
But we are dealing with issues that are extremely important for the safety, human dignity, development, and participation of our children. In the case of the Play It Fair program, this happens in part by addressing issues that children need to talk about. Most prominent in today’s training was bullying. It was the last game of the day facilitated by participants, and it solicited the most interest. The discussion led by participants was almost identical to the hour-long discussion on bullying that took place in Jordan a couple of months ago with a group of teachers and members of civil society. With the group this afternoon, questions like What is it like to be a bully, What role to bystanders have – should they denounce the bully or ignore what’s happening, Do the bullied children admit to being bullied, thereby risking harsher consequences from the bullies? What role do we have as adults? What roles do the parents have? On and on came the questions, with answers never in short supply, the participants responding to each other’s contributions and making for a lively discussion. Bullying among children is by no means the limit of violent acts committed against children and youth. Over dinner, Tom mentioned that two young girls in the area had recently been attacked by sexual predators; a couple of years before, one girl from the neighbourhood was found lifeless in a dumpster.
The severity of human rights abuses and violations should not be questioned, no matter where they take place. They must simply be addressed. My guilt this morning walking through the park was perhaps a little misplaced, or at least exaggerated. Going through this workshop today and listening to friends was a reminder that everyone, in Canada or elsewhere, needs to learn about rights. It just so happens that we did it today by playing games – perhaps that’s another reason for feeling guilty: I shouldn’t be having so much fun!