Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Human Rights Advocate Describes African Leadership Project

Source: American Chronicle

Tim Bowles, the Director of International Development of Youth for Human Rights International, recently returned from West Africa where he is working to implement sweeping human rights reforms. Below are excerpts from an interview of Tim by the Scientology Press Office.

I have held an abiding interest in assisting people in the most challenging areas of the world since my college days in the 1960s. I met Youth for Human Rights International President, Mary Shuttleworth, in early 2005 and agreed to volunteer on a few youth training projects. Traveling to assist the group with a regional conference in Ghana that year, I saw the need for broad human rights education in that region and this program developed from that realization.

Africa represents the worst and the best in humanity. West Africa particularly is the site of some of the most infamous atrocities since the close of World War II. Yet, for all the invitations the populace has had to descend into unrelenting hatred and retribution, I have found Africans intensely ready and willing to work for and secure survival for themselves, their communities and the continent's population as a whole.

While their desire and demand for change is obvious, they face enormous challenges. With all their natural resources, will the people of Africa be able to acquire the know-how they need to capitalize on them? Will they harness the greatest resource they have—the youth of their countries—through effective education programs? Will they be able to create and sustain the ethical, competent leadership and organization they need to actually pull out of the dwindling spiral of polarization, violence and destruction?

During my first visit in 2005 I was privileged to meet a group of committed African human rights activists. Together, we have been developing a West Africa leadership campaign dedicated not just to inspiring youth through human rights awareness but to training and equipping young people with the leadership tools necessary to play key roles in creating and sustaining just and prosperous societies in Africa over the coming critical decades.

Starting in March this year we began running a six-month-long youth leadership pilot project in the nations of Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

The project is our first step in enabling young, able African men and women to make human rights a reality in their communities. By also involving prominent local proponents of human rights as speakers and instructors, we are training high school students on leadership, organization and human rights advocacy and connecting them with leaders who can greatly assist them in accomplishing their purposes. The competition involves 30 students in each country, divided into two teams of 15 each, who are creating public awareness campaigns on human rights abuses. They are documenting their work in writing and with photography and video footage. The competitions in each country will culminate in August, 2008 with large, public events, where the teams of young people will present the results of their work with the help and support of local leaders, educators and the press.

I created this project based on what I learned through five recent trips I made to the region between July, 2005 and July, 2007. With these tours, and the able help of my African program directors Sammy Jacobs Abbey in Ghana and Joseph Jay Yarsiah in Liberia, we significantly increased student community activism and won expanding support from government, civil society and media for the implementation of human rights education.

What we hope to gain from this six-month human rights project is major, long-term support for the establishment of this African leadership campaign as an innovative and product-oriented initiative to be implemented throughout the continent.

This is our second year of competitions in each of these three countries. We have been able to reach thousands of young people across the region and inspire humanitarian purposes and diligence in them to an extent we never imagined.

There is not a single young person with whom we are working in Sierra Leone and Liberia who has not been deeply affected by the bloody struggles only recently concluded there. And they see that human rights education is vital to bringing an end to the destruction they have experienced.

As one young participant put it, "Sincerely speaking I now understand my rights and how to protect those rights. As a leader I promise to teach anyone his or her rights and to make human rights expand in the world, especially in Sierra Leone."

Strong leaders dedicated to tolerance, peace and real justice are the key to transforming the prevailing despair into overriding confidence and development in these countries.

Whether we're talking about populations emerging from genocide and civil conflict such as in Liberia or Sierra Leone, or peoples simply being empowered to reach out and help themselves as in Ghana, the most important human right is education. And this is true in Europe, the United States and anywhere on Earth where people are oppressed and need tools to improve their lives. Having the opportunity and ability to learn is fundamental to constructing and sustaining a future worth living in. The education and training of young leaders based on human rights values is of course key to this. The young people with whom we are working see this, and many have chosen to research and do presentations on education rights as their topic in the competitions.

When I first went to West Africa I was troubled and almost embarrassed about being with people, particularly in the refugee camps, who have so little resources and often so little hope. How could I, one individual, help so many people in such desperate circumstances? But it is now clear to me how profoundly we are bettering the lives of the young people we reach and through their work we are bettering the lives of whole populations now and in the decades to come.

No comments: