Why UK kids are using theatre to promote the rights of children worldwide
“The Child shall enjoy special protection …” begins Principle 2 of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. This year marks 50 years since this statement was issued and yet there’s still a huge gap between what’s on paper and reality for hundreds of thousands of children worldwide.
CMS children and youth team members Anita Matthews, Dave Pollendine and Mike North are working to close this gap. Last month they launched World to Rights, a nationwide theatre project for schoolchildren aged nine to 13.
Hundreds of children are expected to take part in World to Rights, which will tour cathedral cities throughout the year. In each place, young people will participate in physical theatre workshops that will help them explore the issue of children’s rights.
They’ll discover how British children were often exploited in the past, how many lived on the streets or were forced to work in the circus or in factories. “At the end of the day the children will perform a play for their parents and the local community, portraying how children suffered in the past and why people campaigned for change,” Anita explained.
Making the connection
World to Rights will also help UK young people understand some of the injustices their counterparts across the world still face today.
Last autumn the World to Rights team visited the Philippines, where they spent time with CMS missionaries Kate and Tim Lee. The Lees run a project called Jigsaw, which shares the love of Jesus with thousands of vulnerable street children in Manila.
The team filmed interviews with several boys and girls at Jigsaw so they could share their stories with UK children. “It was massively inspiring,” says Anita. “These are children who have no one to stand up and speak for them.
“Jigsaw staff are trying to build self-esteem in children in a society that makes them feel worthless. They work for their rights by helping them through education. They help them get birth certificates, which many don’t have and so they don’t have a legal identity.”
In one interview, a Filipino boy was asked: “Where was God while you were living on the streets and your family were so ill?” The boy replied, through tears, that God was with him the whole time.
“And you knew it was more than words,” says one World to Rights team member.
Anita and her team believe the film, in conjunction with the drama workshops and other educational resources, will help children here “grasp the rights and responsibilities we all have”.
Fighting in the schoolyard
As young people here use their voices on behalf of children everywhere, it will no doubt send a powerful message in 2009, which in addition to being the 50th anniversary of the UN Declaration, is also the 30th anniversary of the International Year of the Child.
“In 2009 we want to celebrate children and help to build international friendships,” says Anita.
To this end, her team is organising visits for teachers to link up with schools in other parts of the world as well as other charities to help children and adults get involved in campaigning for children’s rights where they don’t exist.
“Fifty years after the Declaration many young people in the world still haven’t got a clue what their rights are,” says Anita. “World to Rights plans to help change that.”
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