beyond bearing witness

The People’s Movement for Human Rights Education divides the various human rights guidelines into categories. This organization lays out the general themes that human rights and media activists tend to focus on in their work. The documentary filmmaker is no longer a removed outsider who captures an aspect of life on film with not other involvement. Nowadays, media activists who look at human rights related topics bear witness in such a way that causes systemic change. These films are not solely for the dissemination of information but rather they constitute forms of education that empower the victims or subjects to create their own change. So what is the role of the human rights activist and the media educator in the framework of sports and youth development?

In class we talked about the 2 core ideas of human rights: Dignity and Integrity. While dignity refers to the sacredness and worth of life, integrity is the idea of the wholeness of life – of developing and nurturing the physical, intellectual, and aesthetic elements. In the PDHRE under “Development“, the following is included as a universal right: “The human right of the child to live in an environment appropriate for physical and mental development.”Through and with sports, children around the world can create their own change and protect their integrity. Sports teach a set of principles and values – perseverance, teamwork, respect, etc. – that will then translate to other aspects of their future lives – professionally, economically, and socially.

In all of this, we encounter the idea of “politics of representation”. How are we as media educators supposed to represent children suffering through difficulties we’ve never experienced? And through a sports lens above it all. As youth workers we are given the power and privilege of representing another person – of representing a child whose life is sacred and unique and whose rights have been violated. Despite the difficult living conditions, children tend to highlight the positive things in their life, on the things they are proud of and want to share with others. Scoring a goal, assisting in a crucial play, running a mile – these are all things that can give kids hope and build pride in themselves. So these physical/athletic achievements end up meaning so much more to a child who doesn’t have much to begin with. Throughout all this, the filmmaker’s responsibility goes beyond simply bearing witness and becomes an attempt at capturing the change that happens through aspects like sports in the lives of youth.

article 31

Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture): Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.

We shouldn’t need the Convention on the Rights of the Child to tell us that children have a right to be children and play. It’s pretty obvious. But in so many parts of the world, children are dealing with hardships and sufferings, and issues that they shouldn’t have to worry about. One’s youth is a precious, limited time and should be consumed with explorations and aimless adventures – not with financial concerns and political struggles.

One way kids can regain control of their childhood is through sports. By discovering a game that they are passionate about – be it soccer, baseball, rugby, anything active – they create a positive dream to strive towards. Sports become this magical part of life, where everything else is forgotten and the only thing that matters is the intensity of the game in that moment, scoring that goal, playing as a team. Personally, I think it is incredibly important to focus on sports and physical activity in the work on youth rights. Sports have the ability to transform, and when the response moves towards transformation, that’s when positive peace begins. Obviously sports can’t resolve hunger and poverty but they can heal part of a child’s soul, a child who has endured all sorts of violence.

As we talk about human rights focusing on the youth of today in the Global Youth Media class, I will try to take a sort of “sports therapy” approach to many of the issues discussed. In this scenario, media acts as the channel or vehicle bringing the sport to the child – the championship game on TV or the radio that inspire the child to pick up the sport. The power of media and the magic of sport can change a child’s life.