Students attending preparatory workshops prior to COVID-19 quarantine in Moldova © Amnesty International Moldova

Over 1000 students from Moldova participate in the Online Human Rights Olympics

Children all over Moldova are learning about human rights, through human rights and for human rights thanks to the National Tournament in Human Rights, a creative initiative that lets them explore their rights and then share their ideas of how duty bearers can do better.

The tournament, now in its 7th year, is organised by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Research (MECR) of the Republic of Moldova, in partnership with Amnesty International Moldova and the Child Rights Information and Documentation Centre (CRIDC). The event, formally known as the “Olympics in Civic Education and Human Rights Education” is organised in Chisinau and usually runs over two days. The goal of the initiative is to involve children in human rights monitoring through research in how their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in their schools and wider communities.

This year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic the organisers made the decision to hold the event online, bringing together more than 1 000 children from 147 schools in Moldova. The Tournament was organised with the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

From September 2019 until February 2020, Amnesty International Moldova organised 60 workshops for teachers and students from 35 regions from Moldova. More than 1000 teachers and 1000 students attended the workshops. The teachers and students both studied the Child Rights Convention, learning about child rights and how to take part in human rights monitoring and reporting. They learnt how to develop indicators, what instruments can be used to monitor their rights, how to come to conclusions on how their rights are respected by duty bearers and how to develop monitoring reports.

After the workshops, groups of around 10-15 students, guided by their teachers chose a specific right to study and monitor. They monitored the implementation of their selected right via rights-based indicators they developed, through different instruments, like surveys, interviews, focus groups, discussions, observations and data collection from different appropriate sources. They then compiled all their information and, finally, presented a report to the relevant duty bearers.

The tournament consists of a regional stage, at which there is no limit to the number of groups that can participate, and a national stage where this year 142 groups were selected to participate. The groups were then separated in to two levels: Gymnasium (12-15 years old) and Lyceum (16-18). 

By March many of the groups finished their monitoring process and were preparing for Regional and National Stages which were planned for April and May. However, there were some groups who managed to undertake only several stages and did not manage to finish their research. As a result, the organisers decided to arrange separate sessions as part of the tournament for those groups who could only present instruments, indicators or collected data, but had not developed the report. These sessions were designed to help them develop the monitoring reports so that after the tournament they would be able to present their reports to duty bearers.

Liviu Caraman, a student from Popeasca village, Ștefan Vodă region, participated in a workshop where students discussed their right to education during pandemic. This is his first participation in the tournament. His team started the process, but because of the pandemic did not manage to finish.

“It is the first time that I participated in the tournament. I feel great. My voice was heard, I was encouraged to speak and nobody criticised me. I could communicate with my colleagues and friends – our communication was very limited during pandemic. I felt like a real researcher during the process of monitoring. We could interview my colleagues and my teachers, and we could present what we did to students from other schools. During a tournament session, together with facilitators and other colleagues, we developed a questionnaire that we could use for research on how the right to education was respected during quarantine. We also made a short video about the situation in our school. We are going to present the results of our research to the administration of our school and students council”

The National stage was organised in May and June and lasted four weeks – about 40 sessions, 3 hours each, and about 25-30 students per session. The groups who had completed their projects presented their reports and were judged by a panel consisting of representatives from Amnesty International, MECR and CRIDC against 6 criteria. How the project objective was formulated, how students made the connection between their focus issue and human rights, how the indicators were developed and if they  are relevant, the instruments described for the monitoring their focus issue, and the relevance of the recommendations made to duty bearers. The winners of the tournament were then selected by the panel.

The winner for lyceum in 2020, an Amnesty group from Ignăței village, Rezina region, monitored if their school is using paper efficiently – they watched all the many ways that paper objects were used over a few weeks, then attempted to find out how much paper is used by the school as a whole.

They found out that a lot of paper is wasted and there are situations where that waste can be avoided, reducing the impact on the environment. They notified the school administration, the duty bearer in this case, about the need to reduce paper waste to help environmental problems. They suggested not printing single-sided and using the blank side of wastepaper for scribbling notes on. They also suggested teachers can take care to photocopy handouts efficiently, and pupils can make sure to use every page in a notebook. On occasion information can be circulated to pupils and staff electronically, rather than on paper.

Maria Negru, the leader of the group explained: “We must take care of environment, nature and be wise in using paper”. This year was Maria’s third year participating in the tournament. Last year she and her team also monitored an environmental issue – now their community collects waste and ensures that each member of their community enjoys clean air and water.  “Three years ago, I participated in a summer school organised by Amnesty and I heard about the tournament for the first time. It seemed very complicated to me until the moment we started the process. Since than we have participated in the event every year. It has become so important to us. The workshops from this year helped a lot. The Tournament is not a competition for me, it is a process. We learn, we share, we work, develop ideas and build teams. This year we decided to focus on the environment as it is one of the most discussed problem in the context of human rights. This year I mentored the gymnasium group from our school as well. They also did great.”

The winner for gymnasium stage, a group of students from Mileștii Mici village, Ialoveni region, monitored how their school fulfils their right to water and sanitation. They found out that although overall the situation in their school is much better than in other schools from Moldova, not all toilets meet the WHO standards and drinking water in their school is not of good quality. They recommended school administration follow the standard elaborated by the WHO for school toilets and find another source of water for students in their school.

Georgeta Țurcanu, from Mileștii Mici says that they expect that duty bearers will hear their voice and will make their school a safe place for students, where they can enjoy all their rights, stipulated by the Child Rights Convention. She also says that she didn’t imagine that the online event could be so exciting. “I felt so good. My ideas were heard, I felt free and proud, I did a good work. I participated for the first time in the tournament and we were winners. That was something that we did not expect. Especially as it was online, and we had a lot of doubts and emotions. I am looking forward to participating again next year. We already have plans and a list of rights to monitor. We are so proud we can participate and change things in our school and our community”.

Another member of the winning team, Vlada Balmuș says that “It was not easy, we worked a lot over several months. We distributed roles and were very organised. But it was so interesting and new – we put in all our efforts and our soul. I think the workshops in autumn about the tournament organised by Amnesty International helped us a lot. We were guided as it was a new process for us and for our teacher.  We feel we are doing something very important!”

Although students missed face-to-face communication from the offline events and seeing their colleagues faces and making friends, an additional advantage of the online format was that anyone could participate – in off line event only three representatives of each group could come to National Olympics, but here, the whole group could be in the session.

Olesea Cotiujanu, the coordinator of Human Eights Education program from CRIDC said:

“It was a challenge for me to participate in the organization of the tournament in an online format. But things went smoothly because we had the support and help of colleagues, our partners, teachers and education departments. After the first workshops in which qualitative and effective discussions took place, where the students developed their own monitoring tools, I understood that the online format is not an impediment for this event. On the contrary, we noted new positives like the fact that all the children who wanted to could participate, there was no competition for seats, the students were empathetic with each other, they argued, focused on the positives and what they learned from the process. It was a process in which we learned from each other, about the situation of children’s rights in Moldova. It was very interesting to develop the agenda – energizers and attractive online exercises for students and it was a pleasure to see that everything was successful. All students are good, intelligent, cooperative, creative and have a great potential, we as adults must believe in them, support them and we will discover great things. This year’s tournament was an intensive event, with many positive emotions, challenges that offered skills development and entertainment to the participants”.

Natalia Cebotar, the Human Rights Education teacher and facilitator said:

“The monitoring process was a starting point for certain possible actions to break the ice and come up with concrete solutions to concrete problems in the school or local community in the field of human / child rights. By sharing the results of monitoring with other people or other groups of students, students had the opportunity to learn about the problems of other groups, and to raise public awareness about an issue. Through effective monitoring, students can present an issue they are facing and how it affects their rights, and demand duty bearers to protect their rights or influence them to act within legal limits”.

Violeta Terguță, HRE coordinator, Amnesty International Moldova.

“The idea to organise an on-line event, in which more than 1000 students were to participate seemed something impossible to realize at first glance. We were even thinking to postpone it until the quarantine was lifted. We had many discussions with our partners, the MoE and CRIDC and decided to give it a chance, and we succeeded!

We were able to involve more than 1000 students. The advantage of the online format was that all children who participated in monitoring could attend the sessions and could participate in discussions. Students shared their experience of the process – they spoke about challenges – for some of them the most challenging part was to focus only on one problem as they see a lot of situations where their rights are not respected. For others the creation of indicators was a real challenge. All of them liked to develop instruments to collect the information and use them. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, some groups did not manage to finish their research. But we had special sessions for them.

Through this initiative we aim to involve children in human rights, teaching them both about their rights and how to monitor how they’re respected in their schools and wider communities. It’s part of a Human Rights Friendly School approach, teaching members of the school community how to claim their rights.”

Corina Lungu,  from Ministry of Education, Culture and Research said:

“The participation of so many students in the process of monitoring human rights from this year shows several important things: students become more aware of their rights, especially how to make their voices heard; teachers, who guide them in this process, have more confidence in the abilities and voices of students; and the community, including the authorities, are more open to taking students’ views into account. MECR believes that the experience gained by all those involved in this process – students, teachers, authorities – contributes to improving the environment and encourages discussions about respect for human rights. The issues addressed by students can serve as proof: from hygiene and sanitation, bullying, environmental protection to the quality of distance learning. Student feedback helps us adjust educational policies and practices, and the ministry continues to rely on this process.”