Students spend day at human rights fair

Chris Hamilton

A group of students spent the afternoon diligently drawing a scrolling picture show dotted with stick-figure children chained to machinery. One of the characters held a sign stating “Nike is Bad.”
This isn’t typical coloring book fare, but the children who sketched the scene aren’t dealing with typical issues.
About 450 children from around the state gathered Friday afternoon for the Human Rights Fair at the Como Park Pavilion in St. Paul. At the fair, prizes, puppet shows and petitions worked in unison to grab the attention of the students from second to 12th grade and to educate them on child labor practices around the world.
The event was sponsored by the Partners in Human Rights Education, a collaborative effort between the University’s Human Rights Center and The Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. The fair celebrated the organization’s achievements over the year. It was also an outlet for sharing knowledge, participating in 19 different workshops and activities, and watching skits.
“We look at the fair as an educational opportunity as well as a celebration,” said Johanna Allayne Ronnei, program and support services coordinator for the University’s Human Rights Center. “The students have been working all year on human rights,” Ronnei said.
“While they’re here, they can find out more about how to prevent child labor and get involved with different campaigns against it.”
The Partners in Human Rights Education brings lawyers and community representatives into teachers’ classrooms once a month to educate students about human rights. The classes also focus on community action and peoples’ responsibility to promote practices that are respectful of human rights.
“When people start realizing that they even have human rights, they can begin to take positive action,” said Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, director of the group.One way the program advocates positive change is by helping the students take action within their community.
Students in Lynn Schultz’s fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes at J.J. Hill Montessori were at the fair getting petition signatures.
The students developed the “Foul Ball” campaign, a resolution requiring the St. Paul School Board to only purchase soccer balls with a mark guaranteeing they were not made by child laborers. The students will meet with board officials on Thursday.
“It’s been easy getting support and signatures here,” said Kasi Paprocki, a sixth grader at J.J. Hill Montessori. “I think it’s really neat that so many people care about child labor and human rights.
“It wasn’t always easy, though. Some don’t take us seriously because we’re kids. Even if they don’t, they soon will.”
Along with the petition campaigns, the fair also presented a number of skits relating to child labor throughout the day.
Students from Johnson High School in St. Paul put on a presentation about a 19th century trial of an English child-labor boss.
“I think this is a nice time to point out the child labor issue,” said Mayka Ly, a Johnson High School senior and the author of the skit. “I don’t think many people think about it, and this gives us a chance to make people aware.”
Members of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet Theatre conducted workshops to create small theatre pieces about child labor. One half-hour workshop had the kids drawing scenery for a scrolling picture show.
“We’re giving kids a forum to express their message in their own show,” said Laurie Witzkowski, a member of the theatre. “We’re talking to kids about what they can do in this country to end child labor around the world.
“Once they become aware of what’s happening to other kids, they can take the power to develop concrete steps to get something done.”