Amnesty International Slovenia reached out to new audiences in technical schools to expand their annual Letter Writing Marathon in support of human rights defenders. This led them beyond conventional methods and into the world of welding and computer-aided design, and to the forming of new traditions within more schools for their most successful Marathon yet.
When Amnesty International Slovenia’s 25th Anniversary coincided with the annual Letter Writing Marathon last year they set themselves a challenge: How to motivate enough young people to break new records in writing letters of solidarity on 10th December? After holding the Write for Rights – Letter Writing Marathon for the past five years, they now aimed to inspire even more people to write letters to those facing violations across the world.
Where to start?
Amnesty Slovenia already has a well-established human rights education programme. So, Human Rights Education Coordinator, Ana Čemažar, and her colleagues reached out to their network of 700 teachers from primary and secondary schools in Slovenia, via a monthly newsletter, to encourage them to hold workshops in schools. They sent two sets of lesson plans to teachers.
The first session, an activity called Human Rights Bingo, was based on human rights in general and gave an introduction to Amnesty’s work. The second activity was the Workshop on Writing Appeals and it explained the concept of the Letter Writing Marathon and outlined the situation of 9 human rights defenders. These sessions enabled students to take part and together write letters, notes of solidarity and draw pictures for the campaign. However, the Amnesty Slovenia team were looking for something new.
How could teachers in non-academic, technical and mechanical schools get students excited about human rights, whilst maintaining links with their class syllabus?
Students from technical colleges were challenged to think outside the box. Together they decided to rally support for the Letter Writing Marathon by making cakes out of different materials. Some students made their cakes from traditional cake batter, while others used paper, shaped polystyrene with computer-aided design (CAD) software, and others decided to weld incredibly intricate cakes out of metal.
Suzana Slana a mentor of the student community at Srednja šola za Strojništvo, Mehatroniko in Medije (Secondary School of Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics and Media) in Celje, first thought of making these non-edible cakes, and found that other teachers and students were very supportive of the idea: “The project was presented at the teacher and student assembly in October. We made the cakes in November, and the project finished on December 10 – on the International Day of Human Rights.”
“The project was supported with posters, school circulars, e-newsletters and by word of mouth. On December 10th, we set up three stalls on different locations in our school centre, put all the cakes on display and collected signatures. For every written appeal, students got a piece of (real) cake,” that the teachers at the schools had baked for them.
Most successful Letter Writing Marathon
The cakes were photographed and a total of 91 pictures were uploaded onto Amnesty Slovenia’s website, Facebook and Pinterest accounts and published in AI Slovenia’s magazine. 41 of the cakes were made by students at the schools, the others by organisations, and supporters of Amnesty. Those uploading images to Facebook were led to a petition to sign and a donation form. Zvezda (The Star) bakery in Slovenia also contributed by baking ‘Amnesty cakes’ and donating 25 cents from every sale, raising 2,000 euros for Amnesty International.
In total they gathered 13,977 signatures and letters, with 8,058 coming from schools. This was an increase from the 10,104 signatures and letters from 2012 when they had 4,284 from schools, and increase of 188% of actions from schools. They also noticed that those who did human rights education sessions in school were more likely to write out letters in full to communicate their solidarity directly to the 9 human rights defenders.
Creating new traditions
Ana and her colleagues at AI Slovenia maintained personal contact with teachers at schools taking part by offering help, guidance and support. The teachers were able to include the Letter Writing Marathon exercise in their English and technical lessons therefore incorporating the theme into the school curriculum.
The strongest feedback was the importance teachers placed on receiving materials before October to have enough time to integrate the Letter Writing Marathon into the school year planning. Teachers and students have reported that the Letter Writing Marathon has now become a tradition in their schools and in some cases has expanded to a full day, or week, of human rights themed activities, with students anticipating and asking when the next one is going to take place.
Diploma thank you
Every school that took part received a thank you with a certificate of diploma for making a cake and/or taking part in the Letter Writing Marathon. This campaign showed how to engage young people in Slovenia with a wider global activity and help them feel included. Students enjoyed sharing their work and participating online by uploading their photos of the events, which allowed them to enjoy being part of the global community working towards human rights change.