Youth and Philanthropy Initiative

Building a Culture of Rights

Examining Social Issues through a Human Rights Lens

Racism; poverty; gender-based violence; access to quality education: At the heart of each of these pressing social issues are real people’s human rights that are being infringed upon.

Through the Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI), secondary school students across Canada are researching these and other social issues facing their local communities; and advocating for charities that stand up for people’s human rights. Giving students a platform and funding to support charities tackling local social issues has been central to YPI’s mission since its inception in 2002.

This year, we’ve partnered with Maytree to bring into focus the role that human rights play in the social issues students are learning about. As an organization dedicated to advancing systemic solutions to poverty through a human rights approach, Maytree brings essential expertise to this project. We are currently piloting the project in four Toronto schools, in order to explore how a culture of human rights could be embedded and advanced through the YPI curriculum; and to create opportunities for students to better understand how human rights are tied to the roots of social issues in their communities.

Building a Culture of Rights with YPI

For our pilot project, we are working with a group of nine amazing YPI teachers, who have received initial training to implement YPI though a social and economic rights lens. A total of 500 grade nine and ten students will participate in interactive workshops to examine how human rights and social issues are affecting their local community. Students will consider human rights throughout their YPI project – during their research, charity visit, and in their group presentation. Through their presentation, they will teach their peers about the relationships between human rights and the social issues they have researched, and about how these affect real people in their communities.

In total, an estimated 4,250 people outside of the pilot project classes will learn from participating students about social issues and charities, and how these relate to social and economic rights. And, as with YPI’s regular programming at schools across Canada, the team with the top presentation about a social issue and local charity will get to award a $5,000 YPI Grant to support the work of that organization.

Developing Empathy through a Human Rights Approach to YPI

In October, this project took us to Loretto College, where we facilitated a workshop with a classroom of 25 young women doing YPI as part of their grade 10 Civics program. Part of the workshop entails students facing one another in a circle, and through role-play, making connections between individuals facing a challenge to their human rights, and the social services available in the community. The individuals and their scenarios are described for the students on cue cards, which students read out to the class.

Without being instructed to do so, students began to identify themselves with the individuals represented on their cards instead of simply reading the text, which is written in the third person (i.e. “Jorge is an older Latino man …”). They would say: “I am Jorge. I am an older Latino man in a wheelchair. I live in an apartment on the fourth floor, and the elevator in my building is usually broken.” Or “I am Yana. I am a refugee from Syria with a degree from the University of Damascus. I have not been able to find work in Canada.”

The students’ simple shift in language lasted the duration of the workshop, and brought an element of empathy to the conversation about human rights that we as facilitators hadn’t predicted, and changed the way we will facilitate the workshop to future groups. As is often the case in my work with YPI, I left the school feeling like I got as much or more out of the workshop as I hoped the students got from the experience. I look forward to learning more from the students, and to sharing the evaluated outcomes and key ideas from the pilot project.

To learn more, or to stay in the loop as this pilot project unfolds, please be in touch with Kate Gatto, National Program Director, YPI Canada:

Related Resources

• YPI Canada:

• Maytree:

• Voices from the Street:

• United Nations Declaration on Human Rights:

• Ending stigma: A Rights Approach:

• Canada Without Poverty: Human Rights and Poverty Reduction Strategies:

Teaching Human Rights in Ontario—A Guide for Ontario Schools (Ontario Human Rights Commission)

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