-Ron Lapitan, Community Outreach Coordinator
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights often says that an individual has the right to a culture that supports the “free and full development of their personality.” What does the right to the growth of personality mean to a refugee high schooler in Maryland, versus a student in the well-resourced schools of North Virginia?
This morning I planned the implementation of the Health as Right Program with administrators at the International High School at Langley Park, MD. Every student here has one thing in common; they had to leave their country because of poverty, conflict, or other disastrous social condition. IHSLP was founded two years ago specifically for immigrant and refugee students.
“All of our students are either in an ESL program or have recently left ESL,” said the vice-principle and co-founder Daniel Sass as we sat in his office, which was also the sports locker.
“Our students represent 25 countries and speak 15 languages,” he described. Every student here has their own story of trauma and experience of witnessing the violation of human rights.
They were equally excited about the program’s concept; to empower youth to imagine solutions for the public health problems of their community, while at the same time fostering conditions in their lives that reduce risk behaviors such as sex, drug and alcohol use, and gang participation, such as a strong sense of integrity and involvement in service.
We spoke for a few hours about implementation. One version of the program will be offered during a 45 minute block reserved for clubs during the school day, for the students who cannot stay after school due to the need to work to support their family or for lack of transportation. A more robust version will be offered after school for 2 hours, on the days when Langley has access to busses that can take the students back to their houses. “If you want, you can take a break during that time by walking with your students to the 7/11 to get a snack,” commented Daniel. We laughed. The sense of solidarity at this school, between classmates, teachers, and programs like ours offering spaces for the “free and full development of one’s personality” is ennobling.
I next drove back to VA and planned the program with George Mason High School, which was my high school. “The realities of the different schools I am visiting for this program are so diverse,” I commented to an old teacher who hugged me in the hallway. But everywhere I go, the passion to work for a better world in all the youth I meet is the same.
Before meeting with the service coordinators, I strolled nostalgically through the halls. Mason is well-painted, clean, and expansive. The International School at Langley is composed completely of trailer classrooms. I walked past an alcove where my friends and I used to sit at lunch block. Who would have known then I would be connecting my own school one day with a school like Langley, I thought to myself. “I love how this program empowers students to do so much more than just throw money at problems. They have to create meaningful solutions,” said Seniora Planas during our meeting, the service coordinator and Spanish teacher. The realities of youth are diverse, but the desire to serve, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, is what unites us.
Before leaving Langley, Daniel and I talked about planning an event before next year for the students to get physical exams at our clinic for sports. “So you have experience working with patients without insurance?” Daniel asked. “Every sports practice is like walking on eggshells, because getting injured is so much more complicated when you don’t have insurance. Things I took fore granted when I was a kid. You just hope everyone gets back on the bus without incident,” he said. We laughed. And yet sports is something they emphasize for their students, because they refuse to let added obstacles deprive them of their right to explore such interests. The right to the free and full development of one’s personality. The drive of people to practice such rights, whatever the circumstance or setting, is uplifting and unmistakable.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
(Image: an encouragement board at Langley)
#healthasright #CHHR #youthteams