MONTREAL -Virginia Salist Silayo clapped her hands and sang loudly with the other members of her group. Her voice, strong and joyful, was one of many with a distinct accent, as she stood side-by-side with 12 other human rights workers, all from different countries, at John Abbott College on Wednesday.
A native of Tanzania, Silayo is taking part in the annual International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) run by Equitas, a Montrealbased human rights centre.
"This is priceless for us," Silayo said. "We are learning how to create a culture of human rights in our own countries by integrating what we learn here back home."
The goal of the program is to help human rights workers from various countries improve the work they do within their own organizations and help them effect change worldwide.
"The program is meant to reinforce the ability of rights workers to promote human rights values and to explore ways to change attitudes and behaviours that don't reflect those values," said Ian Hamilton, executive director of Equitas. "It's more than knowledge and skills, it's about living human rights, it's a culture."
This was the 31st edition of the IHRTP, which has trained over 3,000 activists worldwide over the years. During the three-week program, rights workers share their experiences with one another and explore such issues as how to influence their governments and the international community.
"We don't focus on the Canadian experiences of human rights," Hamilton said. "We want our participants to learn from each other, and get them thinking that education is a lot more than just sitting a group of people down and talking to them."
Artistic expression through song or visual arts can be very effective in mobilizing people and helping them understand the message of human rights, he added.
In keeping with that belief, Equitas invites members from the Raging Grannies to put on a human-rights-themed songwriting workshop during the program each year...Oh, gawd. As someone who has endured the Grannies' witless warbling on more than one occassion, I think I'd rather pass a kidney stone.
Here's one of my many contributions to "human-rights-themed songwriting"--an "homage" to Canada's "cultured" "Human Rights" Commission and raging head censor, Jennifer Lynch.