“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.
Education is the only solution. Education First.”
These are the last two lines of the inspiring and powerful speech made by 16 year old Malala Yousafza at the United Nations Youth Assembly in 2013.
We’ve all had someone who inspired us in some way as a child or in our youth. For me there were two women whose influence has had a lasting impact on me. One was a family friend who fostered in me from an early age, a love for reading and literature, the other I have written about before, Janet Coggin who lived in the community I grew up in in Ireland. Janet inspired me in many ways, one of which being her passion for human rights and her work with Amnesty International. I remember at 13 or 14 after I received one of my first pay checks from my work in a local cafe, I was out in the Big Smoke (that’s what the Irish fondly refer to Dublin as) with my sister for a day of retail therapy. As was often the case there were charity street fundraisers at various points along Grafton Street. I usually sped up and feigned haste when I saw them, but not this time. That day I went up to the Amnesty International representative and asked if I could sign up and donate on a monthly basis to the organisation.
Over the years I have continued to support Amnesty and maintained a keen interest in their work. When I started teaching I tried where possible to incorporate human rights into my English and History lessons and I often did this successfully and with some inspiring results from my students. However, it is a daunting and challenging issue to teach young, and indeed older people about as it is such a vital and complex area to teach about in an engaging and relatable manner. When I lived in Australia, I saw that Amnesty ran Teacher Programmes but they were delivered in London and as you can imagine the distance posed a slight hurdle. So when I recently found myself back in Europe and teaching here, I decided to finally sign up and do the training.
I returned this afternoon from the first inspiring and motivational session in London. Myself and the other teachers on the training spent all day Saturday at the Amnesty offices in London soaking in all the information. I got so much energy and enthusiasm from the training, so much new knowledge, resources and ideas from the session but also from the other teacher who were there. We shared best practice and what we are doing, or have done in our schools and in our classrooms. I now feel that I can stand in front of both adults and children and teach them about and through human rights a lot more comfortably and engagingly than I did before.
It may sound odd but it felt so right being there. I feel that I have a renewed focus, energy and enthusiasm and I’m going to do my utmost to transfer that enthusiasm to my students and fellow teachers at my current school. Human rights is such an important issue and rights are violated and denied a lot closer to home than we realise and on a daily basis. It’s so easy to forget that, we get caught up in our own little bubbles, and often think that human rights violation (if we thing about it at all) is something that is removed from us and happening far away.
As Malala so aptly said in her speech, ‘education is the only solution’. It just takes one person to be passionate enough and to have the courage to start to make a change. Teaching others about human rights is to empower them with the knowledge and skills and for them in turn to pass this on to others. So me, my newfound knowledge, my bag of resource teaching goodies and my empowerment are going to set out to start making a change, even the smallest change, at my current school. I know it won’t be an easy task, but what worthwhile things in life are every easy!