On Thursday, March 6, 2014, eight high school students from the United Nations International School were given an opportunity to participate in the inner city outing, “Window into University,” which provided a half-day tour and academic workshop at The New School. The students were a dynamic multinational group of students from China, England, India, Korea, Malaysia and Mexico.
Following a campus tour of The New School, Equity for Children’s Executive Director Alberto Minujin, and Director of Programs and Research Guenay Salazar, facilitated a special workshop on child poverty. Minujin and Salazar introduced the objectives of the Equity for Children initiative at The New School, and defined the concept of equity through a framework of modern-day human development issues with a key focus on inequity experienced by children. Through this lens, they emphasized pervasive social gaps that exist between the rich and the poor, and the urgent need to impact change in public policy.
A key emphasis of the session focused on Equity for Children’s attempt to actively seek ways to close the gap for the most disadvantaged populations by “promoting recommendations and analyzing needs in order to bring out key measures.
It is key to listen to those who are most disadvantaged to tailor programmes and policies accordingly. And Child participation is crucial in this.”[i] With this in mind, UNIS students had the opportunity to reflect on existing modes of child participation in society, such as student councils. While such councils do provide avenues for student expression and participation, one student noted that there is also a possibility for the student council to merely function as a “puppet voice”, effectively highlighting the power structure that exists between children and adults.
During the first group activity, the students were asked to brainstorm on the blackboard their understanding of the impact of poverty on children with the intent of creating a broader gamut of ideas connected to child/human rights.
The blackboard successfully transformed into a mural of powerful concepts about poverty and rights the impact children worldwide. Some of the expressions noted on the blackboard included:
- “The waste of childhood”
- “The worst of all is that they [the kids] blame themselves”
- “Emotionally, it is the most tragic”
Taking this into consideration, Salazar then asked the students to consider the future of children living below the poverty line – what could happen to these children? Some students thought that children could positively emerge from poverty through humility and hard work, while others like Nahnsu Dawkins, disagreed and said, “most people stay in poverty; people go on to work in these very low skill jobs and stay there.” This powerfully realistic idea moved the discussion towards the concept of the cyclical cycle of poverty that children can impact as agents of social change if their voices given the opportunity to be heard.Following this session, students were asked to ponder solutions that could help the most vulnerable groups out of poverty.
The solution reached by Group 1 entailed the provision of good government welfare, free counseling for children undergoing hardships of poverty, high-quality education, after school programs and recreational activities, social services, and the opportunity for children to have a voice for participatory power. Group 2 approached the task in a more systematic manner by creating a small table that separated “material” and “emotional” elements required to alleviate poverty. The “material” column included housing, clean water, electricity, food, education and extracurricular activities, while the “emotional” column noted motivation, positive environment, social activities, and counseling.
By the end of the workshop, it was clear that Equity for Children made a strong impression on the motivated and enthusiastic group of UNIS students about the importance of giving children a voice in order to break the cycle of poverty. The students showed a tremendous amount of understanding about the diverse nature of poverty and approached the issues with positive attitudes and demeanor. The workshop successfully provided a space to foment voice and active participation in youth and enabled the students to ponder key issues of inequity and its impact on children on a greater scale.
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[i] Verbatim from Guenay Salazar, 2014.