Human Rights Institute for High School Student Leaders
This popular annual event attracts a total of 300 students and educators from approximately 25 high schools. Dynamic keynote addresses focus on human rights abuses and injustices, and the importance of youthful leadership in confronting prejudice and discrimination. Small-group workshops led by experienced student facilitators encourage frank discussion. Schools are also invited to exhibit their current activities in human rights. Participating schools encourage and help students to produce an activist response to some appropriate human rights cause.
Sheryl WuDunn, a Pulitzer Prize-winning advocate for fighting the global oppression of women, told high school students Wednesday that they really can make a difference by supporting education and job-creation programs around the world.
“We think the moral challenge of our time is basically gender equality,” she said at Manhattanville College, where the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center convened its 12th annual Human Rights Institute for students.
WuDunn, a Westchester resident, defended her statement by offering stark examples of how women are mistreated, oppressed and abused in numerous nations. She explained that girls in Ethiopia sometimes starve while boys are cared for, that the mortality rates in India for girls ages 1 to 5 are 50 percent higher than for boys, that women in Haiti are often compelled to have many more children than their families can possibly feed.
She talked about 12- and 13-year-old girls being forced into sex slavery in countries like Cambodia.
“They get receipts for these girls,” she said, with about 250 students from 22 local high schools hanging on each word. “They get receipts for human beings.”
WuDunn co-authored “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide” with her husband, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.
The book inspired a “Half the Sky” movement, which uses websites, videos and even games to push people to donate to 32 groups that help women become educated or find jobs.
The movement encourages micro-loans to women and women’s groups so they can invest in small, village-based businesses.
“It’s the same thing in the developing world; they want schools and they want jobs,” she said.
After WuDunn’s presentation, students broke up into 16 groups to discuss human-rights issues ranging from child trafficking to honor killings — when family members kill one of their own, believing the victim has dishonored them or broken a social code — to the use of social media to inspire change.
Julie Scallero, co-director of education for the Education Center, who introduced WuDunn, said the institute was designed to “encourage students like yourselves to speak up and act against all forms of bigotry and prejudice.”
One student told WuDunn that she was inspired by “Half the Sky” to raise money to sponsor students at schools in Uganda and Kenya. Mary Grace Henry, a sophomore at Convent of the Sacred Heart School in Greenwich, Conn., said her effort has raised enough money to pay tuition for 31 girls about $750 a year. Her business, called Reverse the Course, sells hair products.
“I just wanted to have a direct connection with one girl,” she said. “I may be able to get to 100 girls.”
WuDunn told the suburban students that they had hit the lottery of life. But they’ll be happier and healthier if they help others.
“The question is how we discharge that responsibility,” she said. “Live longer, be happier and help save the world.”
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________The The Westchester-based Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center sponsors the annual conference, which this year is expected to draw more than 300 students from at least 22 high schools in Westchester and Putnam counties in New York and Fairfield County in Connecticut.
The keynote speaker will be Scarsdale resident Sheryl WuDunn, the co-author of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide."
Seniors and juniors who have particpated in the conference in the past will lead subsequent workshops, which ask students to focus on a specific human rights-issue, then brainstorm related projects they can take on at their own school.
In a past year, for example, Gorton High School in Yonkers tackled the issue of the genocide in Darfur, said Beth Quinn, coordinator of the student institute. The school held a candlelight vigil open to the public and sold t-shirts to raise money for a civilian protection program; other money raised helped buy solar cookers for women in the war-torn region to allow them to stay inside the safety of refugee camps.
"They really were able to research the issue, learn all about it... educate others and give people opportunities to take action themselves," she said. "Because learning about an issue is not enough, people really want to take action - and unless you offer them ways to take action, it isn't going to happen."
2011 Human Rights Institute For High School Leaders
By Rich Monetti
Inside Chappaqua Magazine
When Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat on an Alabama Bus, “she didn't know,” said Sleepy Hollow junior Sophie Parens. The short role Parks played, however, helped change the world. Such insights could sum up a large part of the discussion of the 10th annual Human Rights Institute for High School Student Leaders held at Manhattanville College on March 16th, 2011.
Under the umbrella of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center, the event grouped students into topical workshops during which the spark of change might emerge. "We're trying to turn awareness into action," said Croton-Harmon High School Social Studies teacher, Brett Bowden.
In Sophie Parens’ group, women’s rights in the Middle East were on the agenda. Facilitating the discussion with classmates Kyle McGovern and Alex Dopico, the trio was careful to keep the hope for change in a nonjudgmental tone. “We have flaws in our own society,” said McGovern. “Blasting the message from up on high is also counterproductive,” he asserted. “It has to be their fight so you can avoid looking like you’re riding in on a white horse to save them.” Looking on and keeping her interaction limited as group advisor, Senior Historian, Mary Johnson, of Facing History and Ourselves, was impressed with the facilitation skills of the three lead students.
“Their understanding of the differences between our cultures was crucial because sensitivity is the first tool we have to combat prejudice,” she says. The question of how one individual
can have an impact on human rights issues was not common to just this group. “This is a chance for kids all over the county to see what other human rights clubs are doing to inspire them to go back, brainstorm and start their own clubs,” says Donna Cohen, Executive Director of the HHREC. These future leaders came away with a host of creative ideas about how best to consolidate their voices on Near Eastern women’s rights.
They speculated on the possibility of creating a cultural exchange program with Middle Eastern countries and utilizing the power of social media. One realization was very important. “It starts at home,” Parens said. The jumping off point to which Parens alluded was exemplified in the presentation of an Eastchester High School student. Jimyang Gyaltsen grew up in Tibet and escaped over the Himalayas with his family into India, later arriving in the United States in 2007. He took this opportunity to tell his story, which included the oppression his land faces at the hands of China. “I’m not sure exactly how telling my story will lead to change in Tibet but everything begins with raising awareness,” said the senior honor student.
Erica Getto, of Scarsdale High School, helped earn herself Manhattanville’s Richard Berman
Award with a similar mind set. “I’m the Editor-in-Chief at the school newspaper and informing students on human rights issues across the globe and right at home is where action begins,” she says. Otherwise, Getto’s involvement and inspiration hasn’t been limited to the confines of an editor’s inbox.
After an 8th grade trip to Africa, she became involved in Water For People, which provides well-water to African communities through a merry-go-round system pumped by children. She is now president of the school’s human rights coalition. Money is being raised for education in India and relief efforts in Japan. In receiving the award, her acceptance speech
was emblematic of the Center’s vision. “Get out there and be an up-stander,” she said.
Getting students to take a stand instead of standing by is the goal of Ms. Cohen. So whether it’s taking a seat with the classmate who usually eats lunch alone or signing onto the antihuman trafficking Polaris Project, the day is a success if even one more student chooses the “up” side of action. Although this kind of commitment does not correspond to the instant gratification that teenagers are just starting to learn to leave behind, Parens concluded, “you have to be patient but eventually they have to hear you.”
"I felt that the songs and personal stories [from the keynote speakers] shared in today's program were very effective. This showed how much the speakers were connected to and cared about their cause. This helped me feel connected and want to make even more of a change [in the world].
- Alexander Hamilton High School 10th Grade Student
"...I learned that all people are different and small things can make the world a better place... My assumptions about people are wrong; I need to rise above judgements and now I can... An average person can make a difference."- Carmel High School 10th Grade Student