Young people see and hear about conflicts, health crises, and disasters outside their immediate environment, but for most the human suffering associated with these is distant and impersonal. Their information is often riddled with generalizations, stereotypes, and biases, and many have limited perspectives on multiculturalism or about peers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, both locally and globally.
Words Into Deeds programs promote engagement by students of all ages in rigorous examination of Human Rights issues followed by the design and implementation of informed action projects that directly involve them in community service, both locally and globally.
DEVELOPING HABITS FOR AN INFORMED CITIZENRY
When properly mentored and challenged, youth at any age can be motivated and their curiosity aroused to seek better understanding of their world and engage in service to others, whether in the classroom, the playground, a family setting, their local community, or globally. The combination of study, research, and critical analysis is essential to developing fact-based understandings of complex issues before taking actions, what Jefferson frequently referred to as “an informed citizenry.”
Words Into Deeds programs require students to design and implement cross-cutting, interdisciplinary outreach projects that draw upon their creativity and energy and make a positive difference in the lives of others. By developing these habits and rewarding these efforts, we broaden each student’s perspectives and prepare them for active, informed engagement with society as adults.
STEPS TO INFORMED ACTION PROJECTS
WORDS introduces students to primary human rights and democracy documents such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, in formats suitable for their grade level. Through mentored discussions and age-appropriate resources, students relate these to current or recent historical events they have heard or read about, and come to appreciate both the importance and fragility of these guarantees in contemporary society.
INTO engages students in defining and researching what is known about a problem, using age-appropriate resources and student-driven discussions. This typically begins with examination of data provided by teachers or available from web-based or library sources. The process is enriched by direct contacts with experts, artists, activists, and service providers who help students explore multiple points of views regarding the causes and often far-reaching effects of human rights abuses and struggles for compliance. These contacts “put a human face” on issues that often seem very abstract, distant and controversial. During these discussions, students learn to identify biases in themselves and many sources of information, and to question the authenticity and validity of information from various sources.
Rebecca Odongkara, founder of the UNIFAT school in Uganda, discusses the effects of conflict and disease on children. Her school provides educational opportunity for 1300 children, many of whom are orphans as a result of war, AIDS, malnutrition, and other diseases.
DEEDS means that students follow ideas with informed outreach actions; simply, identify a problem and do something about it. This requires building partnerships with peers, experts, and community members, both locally and globally, that enable students to design and implement targeted, actionable service projects. Often, students from different classes, grades, and even other schools in their district will establish collaborative teams to better achieve their outreach objectives. Working in conjunction with the non-profit Global Educational Motivators, Inc., students may opt to participate in Student Leadership Conferences held annually at the United Nations. These multinational events, focused on selected U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, broaden their global perspectives, audiences and sense of empowerment.
Celebrating their accomplishments is a proven important component of developing sustained citizenship skills among youth and promoting confidence in their abilities to communicate. These can be scheduled at class or school events, awards ceremonies, or in conjunction with community activities