Youth from across Canada come to Winnipeg to learn about human rights

Students from across Canada were in Winnipeg this week to learn about human rights, through a program that encourages young people to think about how they can incorporate awareness about those rights in their own communities.

The program, organized and sponsored by the international humanitarian charity Rotary Club, brought 17 students to the city for the week-long program at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 

They also visited the Immigrant & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba and served lunch for community members in Winnipeg’s Central Park.

Amaya Myhovich, 16, was among the participants. She said she applied to the program because she wants to further educate herself and others.

She grew up in Vermilion, Alta., and said conversations about human rights don’t happen often enough in the small town.

“Where I’m from, [not] everyone is … very progressive not open-minded,” she said. “So I hope that going back I can help inspire and educate others so that they can also take a stand for social justice.”

Costs are covered for participants in the week-long program, called Rotary Adventures in Human Rights, which started in 2014 and ran this year from Aug. 14-20. Applicants had to submit an essay about themselves, explaining why they should be part of the program, what they hoped to learn, and the impact they want to make in their communities.

At the end of the week, they’re asked to create and action plan for implementing what they’ve learned in their school or community. 

Myhovich said as a person of colour, she “would like to bring to the table the question about racism — why are we segregating people even nowadays? Why are we looking at them as less, just because they’re brown?”

After learning about famed Canadian civil rights activist Viola Desmond, whose story is featured at the human rights museum, Myhovich said she wants to make sure that such stories are never forgotten.

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In 1946, Desmond went to a movie theatre in New Glasgow, N.S., where she sat in a section of the theatre that allowed only white customers. The 32-year-old was dragged out by police and jailed.

“It just hurts me … as a woman of colour to imagine someone just not allowing me in a space just because I’m brown,” said Myhovich. 

In addition to learning about human rights defenders and foundations, participants also learned about the residential schools Indigenous students were forced to attend in Canada, the Rwandan genocide, and much more, said Myhovich.

“Through the discussions we’ve had, one question that really stood out to me was, where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and freedom of religion?” she said.

“And that’s something you really have to decide for yourself.”

More than a history lesson 

Tamara Larson, program director for the Rotary Adventures in Human Rights Program, said such programs help young people learn what they are capable of.

“Education is our most powerful tool for change,” she said, and a main goal of the program is helping participants understand “that they have a voice, and teaching them how to use that voice.”

“When we invest in the young leaders, we invest in our communities and we invest in our future,” she said. “We need to let them be heard.”

A woman in a dark-coloured jacket stands talking to another woman in a yellow dress and a young woman wearing glasses. They stand in front of a museum display showing red dresses.
Rotary Club program director Tamara Larson, right, said a vital part of the program is helping young people understand ‘that they have a voice, and teaching them how to use that voice.’ (Darin Morash/CBC)

The program also helps young people learn to see things through different perspectives, she said.

“We teach them how to speak with respect [and] understand diversity — what does it mean to be inclusive?”

The director of education programs at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights echoes that.

“The goal of these types of programs, as well as all of our school programs, is to really have students start to think about the world through a human rights lens, to see how they can be protectors of human rights,” said Lise Pinkos. 

Participant Akbar Imran, 15, talked about his plan for putting what he’s learned into action in his home community of Kenora. He and his family moved to the northwestern Ontario city from Pakistan in 2017. 

A young man in a dark-coloured suit jacked and a tie reads a museum text panel.
Akbar Imran, 15, was among the participants in the program. He wants to use what he learned to make a documentary, which he hopes to send to schools in his community of Kenora, Ont. (Darin Morash/CBC)

One of the things Imran said he learned this week was that when a culture experiences trauma, the effects can be felt for generations. That can be seen in Kenora, he said, where many struggle with the lingering effects of Canada’s residential school system — a system both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and Pope Francis have said amounted to a genocide.

“Kenora is a city where there’s this severe problem of addiction, alcoholism, drug abuse and trafficking,” said Imran.

His plan is to make a documentary drawing on what he’s learned, which he hopes to send to high schools and other organizations in his community.

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