History teacher, Abby Drivdahl, took on New York City this month at the United Nations Educators for Human Rights Conference. Learn about her fascintating experience below.
United Nations Educators for Human Rights Conference at the UN Headquarters in New York City
Friday morning found me sitting between a Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka and a political refugee from Nigeria.
It was not, precisely, how I imagined the conference; it was so much better. When I signed up to attend the United Nations Educators for Human Rights Conference at the UN Headquarters in New York City (through the Global Educators Movement), I assumed it would be primarily high school teachers and members from the UN committees geared toward education and human rights. Instead, it was a mishmash of people from all over the world who are “teachers” in the sense that they are village leaders, non profit organization founders, monks, entrepreneurs, and people who have firsthand experience with human rights violations.
I listened to a Maasai tribal chief, in full robes and traditional Maasai wear, discuss his personal views on human rights within his village. His wife spoke about her work educating the women of the village on their rights and strengths as women in a community. The monk from Sri Lanka expressed his belief that true peace can only be found worldwide when mankind has learned to find inner peace; that it is outward desire that creates conflict and leads to the subjugation and violation of another person or peoples. A political refugee opened our eyes about life in Nigeria. A former child soldier discussed his work in Somalia.
Compared to these real-world experiences, a teacher from a small town in California seems like an odd choice for a speaker. But I realized after arriving that my position as a high school history teacher gave me a very different perspective, as well as the means for action, and these two things were the heart of the conference. I am fortunate enough to have easy access to people on their way into the so-called real world, who have the power to share their knowledge of human rights violations with others and help instigate and inspire change.
Believe it or not, there are plenty of reasons to be happy about the way our world is going. People are living longer, more people can read now than ever before, we are winning the wars against diseases like polio and malaria, and worldwide poverty is down 12% in the past 15 years. Education, awareness, and action from the new generations is generating real change and progress. And that is why I’m here- to keep that trend going and hopefully, help it speed up.
I spoke to the assembled group about what it is we do at York to raise awareness about human rights. The Asian History class spends about two months working on a topic of their choice in human rights. They study it, survey the York population about it, raise awareness, and then produce a documentary about it - see onehere. I highlighted these projects for the conference. People were extremely impressed with what these students do; several people asked to keep in contact with York to see these documentaries, and one organization was interested in attracting funding for the projects in the future. The UN education committee is also hoping to build a portal for student work like this, where the York-produced documentaries could go to live permanently for future generations to see.
And hopefully, one day, those same future generations can be grateful that the problem presented in the documentary no longer exists.