GYC Village

blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff

Standing on the Banks of the River

by Danny Waldroop

Kate Novak, Danny Waldroop, and Sana Rupani — during the GYC in NYC Program

“They are the banks of the river of life.”  At least that’s the way Shula described human rights.

It’s not easy to define human rights.  In the media human rights are referred to only in their absence; genocide, oppression, human trafficking.  Examples of our collective failure to secure these sacred rights are plenty.

But defining a human right is much more challenging.  Are they laws?  Or are they something more than that;  something more universal and more fundamental. Never mind a definition, it’s hard enough to find examples of  human rights being fulfilled.  Can the absence of a genocide be seen as a human rights success?  How about free speech?

These questions swirled through my mind this past Saturday as my GYC delegation #gycnyc sat down with Shula Koenig, a veteran human rights activist and winner of the  UN’s 2003 Human Rights Award.  As a guide, Shula presented each of us with a copy of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Reading through the extensive list, I was surprised to find calls for social security along with those for free speech.  I had never thought about human rights from such a concrete, economically-minded perspective.  To me, human rights had to be at such a basic level as to not necessitate resources.  And while I left the workshop unsure if my view had changed; it had certainly broadened.

Shula asked us to think about the first time our human rights were infringed upon, as well as the first time they were fulfilled.  The questions caught me off guard.  My first reaction was to think that of course my human rights had never been violated.  I enjoy freedom of speech, of religion, of movement and have never been attacked for indulging in any of them.

Shula, however, perceived human rights in a different way.  To her, they weren’t just about those large, fundamental freedoms.  Neither did they apply solely to horrific crimes.  Human rights were a “framework;” something that laws, down even to the small ones, are designed around.

Here was the definition I was searching for.  Human rights were neither the freedoms given to me in the Constitution nor were they the trash collection services that kept my streets clean.  Rather, human rights are the framework of ideas that inform governments and peoples to write Constitutions and laws for society.  And with my understanding of human rights just a little keener, I felt ready to delve three weeks deeper into things during the GYC in NYC program #gycnyc.

To view VIDEO of a theatrical representation of Human Rights as the Banks of the River of Life, click here.

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One comment on “Standing on the Banks of the River

  1. worldcore
    July 11, 2012

    Danny, I am so happy you wrote about our meeting with Shula Koenig. This was the perfect way to dive into an intense 3 weeks of site visits to various NGOs, theatre and blogging workshops, and continuous dialogue revolving on human rights. Shula stressed human rights learning as an integral part of their lives. She demanded that not only do all men and women understand their human rights and explore its implication, she included children int he conversation as well. Children should be given dignity from birth and all of their human rights should be upheld. With this in mind, the GYC in NYC participants, applied Shula’as approach at Kid’s Creative, a nonprofit organization that provides art and peace-based education for children. To facilitate a conversation about human rights with kids as young as 5-years-old, we compared animals to human and had the children distinguish differences in the human rights of the two. The kids had the right idea – all humans can have a family, all humans can go to school, all humans can chose what they eat. Starting this conversation now will allow these children be aware of their rights and continue to explore these issues. Do all international members have the right to chose with whom they have a family? Can all children in other countries receive a free, basic education? Is it plausible to say that millions of children who are ravaging through slums that they call home for scraps of food have the option for adequate nutrition? We may know the answers to such, but it is necessary to start these conversations with children in the name of progress.
    -Nina Vershuta

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