Promoting human rights so people don’t go all Gaddafi on each other

In another hotel room, this time in Toronto. I don’t know what it is about hotels room, but I invariably feel the need to write about something, anything. I can’t write about jet lag, because the one-hour flight from Montreal was far too short. But the passengers were not the usual lot I travel with. Almost entirely businessmen, dressed in suits, talking on the phone about the most mundane of things – to me, at least. “What’s your sense on today’s meeting?” “Will we [something something] the stocks tomorrow?” and the cryptic “We have to have a meeting about the crates soon.” One man complained to his wife on his Backberry that he was so tired, but that did not stop his wandering eye to follow the occasional pretty woman walking through the terminal. One of the few women waiting around me told the other person on the end of her call that she missed her children. Three guys had Louis Vutton bags – I’m guessing the real ones, not the knock offs that most passengers at the airport in Jakarta have slung over their shoulders.

I’m here to play games. My organization, Equitas, has had a program called Play It Fair! for use in day camps aimed at children 6 to 12 years old. There’s a whole educational approach behind the program, but in a nutshell it’s about using games as a way to promote human rights values. There’s a training for City of Toronto staff tomorrow and I’ve been asked to help in the facilitation.

It’s something I take seriously, but at the same time I place almost no effort in preparing, in part because I’ve done it a number of times, but mainly because the approach resonates so clearly with participants that the program sells itself. Participants instantly see the value of using games with children as a way to ensure greater respect among them. Tomorrow’s workshop should be, as all the others in the past, fun.

The value of any human rights program lies not only in the types of activities offered but also in the kind of results it achieves. It’s not enough to say, Wow this is great!; one must also ask the question, So what difference does it make? Thankfully, the advantage of having a program that’s been going on for years is that there are clear results that can be illustrated, from a reduction in bullying and violence to a greater respect for each other. As a friend’s Facebook update this evening humourously intoned, “Another word has been added to the Oxford dictionary: Gaddafi (adj.), means crazy, nuts. Example: You drive me Gaddafi!” This program with kids has made them less Gaddafi with each other.

Which brings me of course to a topic to engrossing, so world-changing, so tumultuous, exciting, and frightening, that I have avoided writing about it altogether (and I still will). The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have been difficult to watch from a distance. It’s a region I started visiting four years ago, and since then have made many friends who have been amongst the most ardent, determined, strong-willed, and caring human rights defenders I have met. Many of them have written to me to say that they are doing all right, but that they are living through exciting and equally dangerous times. Times when social upheaval leading to the removal of ancient despots will inevitably bring a vacuum of uncertainty, and it’s especially pivotal during these times that a human rights discourse becomes one that is adopted in a smooth transition to democracy. I feel woefully inadequate by sending “all my thoughts” (sorry I can’t send “positive vibes,” I’ve never been that kind of guy) to my friends in the MENA region through a Facebook message. From Tunisia to Egypt, from Yemen to Bahrain, from Libya to Morocco to Algeria to Palestine and all points in between, if you who fight for freedom and human rights gain strength in knowing others around the world are in solidarity with you, even though not we’re not there with you, then I hope that is just enough to keep you going, despite the hardships you are enduring.

As I end this post, I’ll take the words from another Facebook friend who put as her update Galatians 5:22-23:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
long-suffering, kindness, goodness, 
faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

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