Even young kids can make the world a better place.
That was one of the messages conveyed to students of Bozeman’s Chief Joseph Middle School during its second annual Human Rights Day Celebration.
After the atrocities of World War II, the United Nations was created, and its members wrote a http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml">Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, explained student leaders from the school’s One Million Ways Club, which hosted the event.
The Universal Declaration says every human being should enjoy the right to vote, rights to freedom of religion and conscience, freedom from discrimination and torture, the right to marry, right to work, and rights to medical care and education.
“You have the ability to stand up and make a difference,” Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, one of nine speakers invited to the school, told about 60 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.
She told the story of Viktor Frankl, a Jewish psychotherapist imprisoned during World War II in a Nazi concentration camp, where most of his family perished. After the war he published the book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” and someone asked him if he could have cured Hitler.
Frankl replied that Hitler had dreamed when he was young of being a painter, and if someone had given him a kind word or encouragement to be an artist, it could have “altered the course of human history.”
Asked what they could do today to support other people and human rights, the students suggested donating to the food bank and homeless shelter, volunteering at Special Olympics, standing up when others are bullied and stopping the use of cruel words like “retarded” and “faggot.”
“Words can change the world,” Satchatello-Sawyer agreed.
She is executive director of Hopa Mountain, a Bozeman-based nonprofit that works with young people and tribal communities to improve education, ecology and economic development. She said she was shocked the first time she realized there were poor Indian reservations today where tap water isn’t safe to drink.
In 2006, the Human Rights Declaration was expanded to support the rights of Native Americans and other indigenous peoples to exist and maintain their cultures, she said. President Barack Obama recognized the document in 2010.
Linda Young, an associate professor of political science at Montana State University and an agricultural trade economist, told students about world hunger. In 1976, she said, the Human Rights Declaration was expanded to add the right to an adequate standard of living and adequate food.
Without food, people can’t enjoy their other rights, Young said.
There is roughly enough food to feed the world’s 7 billion people, she said. Yet today, 925 million people are seriously hungry — one out of seven people on the planet. One out of four children is underweight. Hunger, Young said, kills more people than AIDS, malaria or tuberculosis.
Hunger has gotten worse in the last five years, because of a “big shock” to world food prices, she said. The rising price of oil has driven up food prices. Climate change is creating more extreme weather, floods and droughts. And wars, especially civil wars in Africa, are creating millions of hungry refugees.
In the short term, the UN needs more emergency food for the hungry. In the long run, the expansion of democracy would help because dictatorships often cause the greatest famines, Young said.
Gretchen Rupp spoke to students about how a group of Bozeman women created Montana Connection for Afghan Women to help poor women in Afghanistan. The group provides job training for widows as midwives and creates cooperatives to market clothing the women sew and weave.
“This is something anyone can do,” Rupp told students. “It’s really tough, but we’ve got to persevere because it can really make a difference in people’s lives.”
The One Million Ways Club, started by teacher Jan Krieger, is already doing a lot to show that students can change the world. Club leaders Lila Rickenbaugh, Ali Garnsey and Isabel Bowen said the 30 club members do recycling, volunteer at the Gallatin Valley Food Bank and started a Polar Bear Project to reduce the school’s carbon footprint by getting people to turn off some classroom lights. They also planted a Friendship Orchard of apple trees on school grounds, working with special-education students. They say the orchard will absorb nearly a ton of carbon dioxide.
Today, six club members will visit Irving School to give Human Rights Day talks to younger children.
“We want students to become responsible adults,” CJMS Principal Diane Cashell said, “and to realize there are events and things happening in the world they can help with. This helps open their eyes.”
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.