UK Youth Awards recognise young talent for human rights activism

By Chloe Roset London,

Imagine a one day event which brings young people around the UK together to showcase their abilities in reporting, photography, fundraising, campaigning, song writing and performing- all for human rights. Now, imagine an entire year where classrooms across the country are filled with students researching, learning and preparing human rights articles, songs, photographs and events – this is what the Human Rights Education team at Amnesty UK has been working into reality.

The Youth Awards is a celebration of all the inspirational young people out there who care enough about human rights to pick up a pen, a camera, a collection box, a petition or a microphone and strive to make a difference.

Human rights champions

Now in its fifth year, the Youth Awards has grown and proven it is a way for teachers and young people to raise awareness and take action in schools in a creative and inspiring way. The competition is centred on, and driven by young people – providing a platform for their opinions and voice to be heard. Niall Couper, Head of Media at Amnesty UK who created the awards in 2010 said:

“We want to harness and celebrate the spirit of young people in the UK; we wanted to debunk the idea that they are apathetic, and having grown to reach 7,000 young people in five years proves we have done that! We wanted to encourage young people to engage in human rights in a much deeper way – inspiring students to become the human rights champions of tomorrow.”

Ciara Griffin with her father, holding her Reporter Award on the day of the ceremony. 29 April 2014 London UK. © Amnesty International/Marie-Anne Ventoura

Driven by young people

“I found out about the youth awards through school and I thought it would be a great opportunity to give my opinion on what is happening around the world,” explains Ciara Griffin, 11 years old, who won the Upper Primary Reporter Award last year for her article ‘Where Do I Belong?’

Ciara said she was inspired to write about the article after she started researching news surrounding the war in Syria. She said “I realised there wasn’t much on the children. I thought that they needed more attention because they are the future for Syria and the Youth Awards gave me the opportunity to express my point of view on this issue.”

Once submitted, Ciara’s article was selected by a panel of judges, consisting of authors, publishers, journalists, human rights activists, teachers and previous winners.  Victoria Coleman, 14 years old and winner at the 2012 Youth Awards was part of the judging panel. Victoria said the experience of judging “made me realise that young people care a lot more about human rights than I initially thought.”

The awards ceremony

The finalists of all categories are invited to an awards ceremony at the Human Rights Action Centre in London. The morning consists of workshops designed to develop skills and confidence in human rights reporting, photography, songwriting, campaigning and fundraising. In the afternoon the Youth Awards ceremony kicks off with young people showcasing their entries and sharing their achievements.

The event is hosted by Radio 1 Extra’s Nick Bright and a previous winner. All young people at the ceremony are given prizes and winners are presented their trophies on stage. Ciara said that the day was a “fun and exhilarating experience. Being on stage is terrifying because so many people are looking at you, but overall I was very proud! It was inspiring to see the other winners’ work in their categories.”

Ciara showing the final version of her article. 29 April 2014, The Guardian London. © Amnesty International/Marie-Anne Ventoura

“I want to change people’s lives”

The achievements of the young people don’t end with the competition. The Youth Awards encourages young people to become human rights activists in all strands of their life. Florence Potkins, winner of the 2010 Young Reporter stands as a shining example.

I believe the most commendable act of the education team is that they give children a way to act upon what they have learnt about, which I believe makes students more inclined to remember and absorb
Florence, 16

Florence, who was 11 when she wrote her article on the story of Bethlehem Abate, a child who was kept in the Yarl’s Wood detention centre in the UK, said “The award gives participants much more than just a celebration, it gives youth the recognition and gratitude that is involved in being a part of an organisation that genuinely makes a difference”.

Recently Florence, now aged 16, completed work experience in the human rights education team at Amnesty UK. After spending time with the team she reflected: “I believe the most commendable act of the education team is that they give children a way to act upon what they have learnt about, which I believe makes students more inclined to remember and absorb.”

Florence continues to write but her central career aspiration is to become a doctor. A decision she felt was supported by her involvement with Amnesty: “the underlying thread that was put in place by Amnesty remains; I want to change people’s lives.”

It is stories like Ciara and Florence’s that drive the success of the Youth Awards. Young people who continue to use their voice to continuously stand up for human rights.

Youth Awards 2015

 The deadline for Youth Awards 2015 is January 30th and the competition is open to students aged 7-19. The categories are reporter, photographer, songwriter, fundraiser and campaigner.

This year the judging panel will include Sir Trevor McDonald, Rankin, Kate Nash, and previous young entrants. The ceremony will take place in April and be hosted by Nick Bright and a previous winner.

To find out more about entering and our teaching resources that have been specially produced to support teachers and students every step of the way CLICK HERE

Youth Award winners Ceremony 2014. April 29th, London. © Amnesty International/Marie-Anne Ventoura

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