Human rights in schools – a youth activist’s perspective

Youth activist Courtney Clay describes her involvement with Amnesty International’s Human Rights Friendly Schools project in Bermuda – one of more than 90 such initiatives taking place around the world.My name is Courtney, I am 18 years old and I just finished my high school studies in the Human Rights Friendly School Warwick Academy in Bermuda. I have been involved with Amnesty International for about two years. I am a board member and the youth representative of Amnesty International Bermuda. Françoise Wolffe, the human rights education coordinator at Amnesty International Bermuda, caught my interest on Amnesty International’s work two years ago. When Françoise presented the Human Rights Friendly Schools project, I saw an opportunity to reach out to and expose young people in my school to human rights. The layout was very clear, and we were familiar with Amnesty International. Of course, it was a new project and getting everybody involved was a challenge, but it all came together when we created the Project Working Group. The principal of the school was very enthusiastic about the project and teachers volunteered to support it; which really helped ensure that human rights were incorporated into the curriculum. Getting older students involved was the main challenge because they were in a different part of the school and were focused on studying for their exams. School assemblies became the place where we could talk about human rights concerns and reach the whole-school community and inform them about the project. We also wanted to modernise our institution (created in the 17th century). We wanted to change the old punishment system, ensuring that it was more fair, and to raise awareness about human rights with a particular focus on discrimination and bullying. I realised that people don’t look at bullying as discrimination because they are used to it. Sometimes you are so accustomed to what you experience that you do not realise it is against your basic rights. We reminded school members to be mindful of others. Now, we think twice about our actions, we are all more aware of what we are doing and there is more accountability of our actions and how it affects others. We started to see the mentality of students changing as we also pay more attention to what is happening around us instead of focusing on what we already know. Overall, members of the school community have begun to think collectively and globally. We realized that we have rights and stand for them while respecting and being interested in others.  When I told my family I was going to support Amnesty International, they were excited that I was getting involved in something bigger than myself. I can confidently say that I am now more mindful of the little things. I gained the courage to stand up for my rights and the rights of others. I have become less judgmental, I understand that everyone has a different way of living and I respect that. I am more conscious about the world as well as what is happening in Bermuda. Because I now know, I am more interested, I understand and I can promote human rights better.  To people who are thinking of implementing this project, I would like to say that I think it is important to talk about human rights in the school because this is the only time you are around so many people who are your own age and this can raise many issues. When you are in school you can still learn and gain plenty of knowledge, skills and tools which will then help you understand how to support your community in the current world. Once you have the knowledge you are more confident, and then more comfortable to educate others.  I will continue to promote and defend human rights, including when studying fashion design and moving to Italy!