In a time of great turbulence in which Egypt has been shaken by violence and political instability lately, people have become increasingly desperate and frustrated every day especially when the media’s focus has been only on negative and disturbing news. In such a critical time, I seized the opportunity to engage my students and inspire action. On Wednesday 4th of January of 2012, more than 100 students (17 – 20 years old) from the College of Engineering, in Alexandria University, participated in a “Celebration of Human Rights through Art” to promote, defend and raise awareness on human rights issues through the medium of art. Through this event, we sought to shine light on human rights and send a clear and positive message to our society.
As a human rights educator, I encourage my students to relate human rights issues to their own lives and experiences and become aware of their rights and be active participants in human rights, not only recipients of rights granted by others. My focus is on empowering my students to realize their own potential to effect positive change in the world. Since I understand what it means to be a change agent and how crucial this role is social transformation, I thought that we can use art as a creative tool for the dissemination of knowledge and to influence public opinion on violations of human rights and global issues. The idea of planning for this event came upon the desire to urge young students to raise their voice and to become agents for change, and to send a positive message to our community and call for action.
The aim of the event was to give voice and bring about greater awareness on our human rights and enable young people to develop critical understanding of their life situation, and bring about attitudinal change and action. “In this event, we want to show our commitment to the promotion of human rights ethics and values”, an 18-years-old Nada Mamdouh commented on the facebook group page. The event invited young students 17-20 to explore their beliefs, judgments and vision of social justice, discrimination, child labor, gender inequality, human trafficking, poverty, climate change, education, democracy, diversity and freedom of religion, conscience and opinion. The aim was to celebrate young people’s talent and give them a platform to address and explore the causes and effects of inequality and paint a future based on dignity and respect.
More than 100 students gathered in the garden in front of the main Electricity building to campaign for human rights and represent their vision on human rights through the art. The drawings made by students ranged from caricatures, cartoons, portraits, slogans, simple drawings that criticize the negative aspects of our everyday life, and send a message of peace to our society. Concurrently, a gallery took place at the back of the main building on the other side of the garden where more than twenty students displayed posters that express key articles from the UN conventions. Posters describe real stories of violations supported by pictures and brief guiding lines.
All students enjoyed that cooperative experience and felt positive about the meaningful contribution they made to their society. Karim Ismail, a freshmen student, stated: “I feel very proud that we could really enjoy our right to use our voice and express our opinion freely probably for the first time ever. We never participated in something like this before, and we were never encouraged to take part actively in our community”. They liked working with their friends and sharing and analyzing with others their vision of the world. The group work and participation in one campaign increased positive interpersonal peer relationships, self-esteem and sense of security.