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We joined hands with Amnesty International to raise awareness for global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) challenges amongst 10 year olds.
The ability of children to influence sustainable development should not be underestimated. Because I believe educating children in all corners of the world about global challenges empowers them to play their part in shaping our future, I was happy to be trained by Amnesty International to become a guest teacher in their Dutch education programme a few months ago.
Amnesty International has a network of over 500 volunteers teaching over 70.000 children per year in primary and secondary schools in the Netherlands about human rights issues.
Since access to WASH services is a human right, finding a way to incorporate this message into an Amnesty guest lecture felt right. The first opportunity to do so was during Menstrual Hygiene Day, when Amnesty and IRC teamed up to visit a classroom of 10 year olds.
Together with IRC’s sanitation and hygiene specialist, Ingeborg Krukkert and fellow Amnesty International guest-lecturer, Elianey Kegel - a lawyer by vocation with a specialisation in international human rights law - we talked about human rights violations of refugees with special attention to WASH challenges in camps and during the refugee journey from home country to receiving country. A video of a little boy, Majid who tells his story of fleeing Syria with his family and starting a new life in the Netherlands, struck a chord with the kids. As Majid also mentions not having been able to take a shower for 10 days during his journey, the connection to WASH and the lack of adequate services in refugee camps was easily made. To break taboos and in light of Menstrual Hygiene Day which was just the day before, we also addressed the additional challenges of girls in places without access to safe sanitation and hygiene services.
What followed were questions, intelligent remarks and a discussion that proves that it is possible and necessary to address these issues in all countries, all classrooms with children of all ages.
"I assumed that toilets in refugee camps are not as nice as the ones we have in our school but I didn't know that there weren't enough for everyone! And that children sometimes have to walk very far to get water or go to the toilet!" - were some of the many remarks shared by the children during this very active lesson.
To reach universal access to WASH services we all need to play our part. And because all sustainable development goals are connected, it is not difficult to see how the rights that an organisation such as Amnesty International is fighting for also include the rights that we at IRC so firmly believe in. Just as Majid’s story clearly tells it, children’s eyes were opened to see that when so many human rights have already been violated, at least a basic human right such as access to safe water and sanitation services should be guaranteed.
We were glad to join hands for a day with Amnesty International to raise awareness, and are thankful to the children of Emmaus primary school in Leidschendam for re-confirming the importance of initiating conversations at all levels of society.
Who knows if a next human rights activist or champion of global change was sitting in that classroom?
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