Youth for Human Rights International Launches High-School Leadership Competition
Tim Bowles and Jay Yarsiah delivering a human rights lecture in Liberia.
Human rights education is a vital component of Liberia’s post-conflict reconstruction. Without knowledge of such fundamental freedoms, our youth are exposed to repetition of the exploitations and atrocities of the war years. Thus, Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) has been working with its local chapter leaders since 2006 to build consensus and support to teach the nation’s youth their basic human rights and responsibilities contained in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.Students working in Liberia.
YHRI Director and American lawyer Tim Bowles recently returned to Monrovia to kick off the organization’s second annual Human Rights Leadership Competition among area high schools. As with last year’s successful competition, the aim is not only to inform young people of the existence of such rights and responsibilities, but also to train and enable them to be effective leaders in the advocacy for human rights. Accordingly, along with YHRI Liberia project coordinators Joseph Jay Yarsiah, Teewon Dolopei and Boersen Hinneh, on March 27, 2008, Mr. Bowles completed three days of workshops with participating students from four Monrovia area high schools: Cathedral (last year’s winner), Tubman, Lutheran and Global Cares Academy.
“These sessions introduced the students to basic leadership principles and purposes as well as trained them in presentation of human rights education to their peers,” Mr. Bowles said. “The students are now divided into two coalition teams, each with members from all of the schools. Through June, the two teams will conduct human rights presentations to twelve other schools each in Bushrod Island and Monrovia proper—Paynesville areas respectively.”
“Each team selected a particular human rights issue to research and promote in the course of their events. Team A chose the issue of rape and other violence against women and Team B chose discrimination, focusing on religious intolerance,” Mr. Yarsiah explained. “The students are expected not only to gather the consensus views on the problems and solutions to those issues from the youth they reach in the schools but also from community and national opinion leaders and other members of the public.”
“The teams have also begun training to document their upcoming work in still photography and video and are expected to prepare and present their work at a concluding event this coming July, to be judged by college student leaders,” Mr. Dolopei added. “Last year’s culminating competition saw Labor Minister Kofi Woods, then-Attorney General Frances Johnson-Morris and Vice President’s Chief of Staff Sam Stevquoah, all speak to endorse the student efforts. Mr. Bowles will return for this coming July’s event.”
“We hope this initiative will assist Liberia to become an innovative pioneer for the implementation of human rights education nationwide,” Mr. Bowles said. “No nation, no continent can accomplish anything worthwhile without effective leadership. As we saw with the passing of South African apartheid in the 1990s, strong leaders such as Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress colleagues can overcome seemingly impossible odds. The hope for thousands more effective visionaries to complete the work for a just and peaceful Africa—including Liberia—lies in the young people. We must enable them to create a future of justice through human rights education and leadership training from an early age.”