On September 25th, the Grade 10students of The Anne and Max Tanenbaum Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto went to Winnipeg to learn about human rights. The trip was funded by the Asper Foundation. During our four days in Winnipeg, we visited several institutions: the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the Manitoba legislative building (and learned about it’s hermetic code), the Fort Whyte Centre and the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The trip gave me a new feeling for the meaning of human rights and also new connection to the importance of prioritizing them.
Speakers shared their stories with us of times when their rights were denied. We heard from survivors of the Holocaust, of the civil war in Sierra Leone, and from those who live as First Nation citizens of Canada. What they had in common was denial of their human rights even if for different reasons. The First Nations situation reminded me of stories of Jews being sent off to camps; in Canada, First Nations children were sent to residential schools. The hard situations that First Nation peoples still live everyday made me angry. Due to their First Nation status, which is their religion and culture, we learned that families are being denied access to affordable homes and survival necessities like clean drinking water.
We participated in an oppression workshop at the Winnipeg Harvest, a food distribution centre. The game that we were asked to play had two teams. The teams started out as equals, but as the game progressed if you started to lose, your chances of catching up and winning were increasingly minimized by the odds. The lesson learned was that children born into poor families or communities have extremely small chances of making a better life for themselves. Because of the way our society works, its hard to get back up. I felt sorry about this and wished that everyone could start off equal and choose their destiny without odds stacked against them.
At the Winnipeg Harvest we also listened to a live panel discussion about poverty and hunger in Canada. We heard stories from people who used the food bank in the past and are now back on their feet. The conversation helped me erase the stereotypes I had in my head of people who use food banks.
One evening we took part in an indigenous collaboration event, learning First Nations teachings about animal symbols, smudging, dancing and singing. There we heard a panel discussion led by Red Rising, a new magazine that deals with news and opinions about First Nations and youth opportunities. On the third evening, we enjoyed Folklorama entertainment and experienced Irish and Brazilian music and dance.
The trip was eye opening. The survivor stories told by Abdul and Fabah about the Sierra Leone Civil War were astonishing. The experiences that these two men went through at a young age sounded absolutely horrifying. As my friends and I walked back to our hotel rooms later that evening, we discussed how simply lucky we are to have been born here, at this time, and able to enjoy what life has given us. The stories we heard made us appreciate the freedom of Canada. Meanwhile, I was thinking about the First Nations and all the complications in this freedom we think we have.
Our visit to the Canada Museum for Human Rights helped tie all the activities and all the stories in together. Our museum guide pointed out the importance of every design and architectural detail. We did not visit all the galleries, but the galleries we did visit all had interactive technology. This interactive technology engaged me in the museum. The design and setup of the galleries enhanced the meaning of the information being exhibited. In one of the galleries, each story related to furthering human rights in Canada had a visual display set up in a different cubicle and each provided a visual representation of the event. The curators were able to put intellectual topics into visual displays.
In summary, the trip broadened my ideas on equality and expanded my knowledge of human rights. I learned the difficulties that are associated with the freedoms that we have in Canada.