The rocky road to a small revolution
We started the Education for Human Dignity (E4HD) project in 2010 with many doubts. The goal was simple enough: to raise awareness and inspire young people to tackle the human rights abuses that cause poverty.
But we had to implement it using a new tool: participatory methodology. It sounded great, but seemed so confusing and so different from how we had run our human rights education projects so far.
At first we had doubts, arguments, even sleepless nights. It was like being told: “Leave the motorway and get on this dirt track instead.” We had to take a huge step back to the roots of education, leave behind our old teaching habits and books, and start again based on individual human experiences.
Building bridgesOur work became focused on asking questions and finding a common language to guide young people through the poverty issue. We revised all our teaching materials and asked focus groups of young people in different countries their thoughts on dignity, poverty and human rights.
When we started to run local training sessions, we didn’t use a set program or materials. We were guided by participants’ experiences, knowledge and engagement. We weren’t trainers or teachers anymore, but facilitators trying to build bridges between people’s experiences in the global North and South. The more we practised participatory methodology, the better we understood it. And it brought results. “Thanks to the workshops I have realized that if I want to change other people’s lives for the better, I have to be active in public life. And most importantly, I have to start with myself,” said Natalia, a pupil aged 15.
Mateusz, a teacher aged 29, told us that “the new method helped me bring back enthusiasm to my training sessions. I feel like I can start teaching in school again”.
An important part of the project was developing the RespectMyRights.org online platform. Inspired by social media, it is a great way for young people worldwide to connect, learn and take action.
Inspirational partnershipsBuilding project partnerships was crucial, and we began co-operating closely with Amnesty colleagues in South Africa and Sierra Leone. Visits to Africa gave us a chance to see how participatory methodology can be used globally.
For example, we saw drama performances in slums about real poverty issues, such as access to education. By showing possible solutions based on human rights, these plays can inspire people to create change in their own communities. We were inspired too.
A small revolutionThree years on, the project has had a huge impact: 74 schools in Poland have implemented it, with 20,012 young participants, 542 school training sessions run in schools, 792 “multipliers” trained to educate their peers, and 224 events held.
The biggest achievement of all has been recognizing participatory methodology as an effective way to develop the whole of Amnesty. It is now mainstreamed across our other work, such as activism, planning and evaluation. We can look back now and say the rocky road when we first started was worth it, because this way of working has revolutionized our approach to everything we do.