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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 7, May/June 2005

Amnesty International: Getting involved and making a difference

by Noelle Lamoureux

In 1991, Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School teacher Marilyn Bergen decided to create an Amnesty club at the school. In that first year, the club attracted four enthusiastic students who kept busy writing letters and holding bake sales. Then, in 1997, Bergen decided to hold a noon-hour concert to try to reach more students with Amnesty’s human rights message. That concert featured three performers and was well attended. The following year, the concert was expanded to one hour and was held during school time. In 2001, it was lengthened to its current format of two hours and it is now a highlight of the school year. Bergen has been joined by three other teachers sponsors, Karen Johnson, Mario DeSandoli, and me, but every year the concert is organized and run by the students.

This year’s concert began with student Michaela Dickey singing Amanda Marshall’s Let It Rain accompanied by teacher Donna Forward on piano, and it continued with an eclectic mix of entertainment. Students and guests from the community were treated to performances of dancing, acoustic guitar, banjo and piano solos, an emotional poem about child abuse, and lots and lots of music. Napoleon Dynamite even showed up for a dance demonstration. Perhaps the loudest applause was for teachers Gary Carlson and Edda Brett’s folk interpretation of Sam Cooke’s What a Wonderful World.

Amnesty members make all major concert decisions. They decide on the theme of the concert; this year "Stopping violence against women and youth." The students also decide what to do with the money raised; this year half is going to Amnesty Canada in Ottawa and the other half is going to 100 Mile House’s Womens’ Centre. Students help with set up and clean up, create the program, collect donations and petition signatures at the door, and act as stage and sound crew. Grade 11 students Jackie Zelt and Casandra Jakubicc shared duties as emcees and created the wonderful banner for the stage. Club members also decided to give this year’s concert a more educational focus. Students researched causes and then gave short talks between performances on specific examples of human-rights abuse throughout the world: children killed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, abuses suffered by Aboriginal women, child prostitution in Asia, child soldiers in Africa, honour killings, and the effects of blood diamonds on women and children. Amnesty member Kendall Walters’ PowerPoint presentation provided another look at different issues that Amnesty International is involved in.

PSO’s Amnesty Club meets twice a month at lunch. Letter writing, petition campaigns, video presentations, guest speakers, and bake sales tend to be our focus throughout the year, as well as tackling crises as they arise—most recently Tsunami relief. Most members join because, as Grade 11 student Rebekah Sukkel says, "there is so much suffering around the world and it feels good to be a part of a group who seeks justice for these sufferers."

The traditional closing is a performance by the very popular teachers’ band—School of Rock (Shawn Meville, Bryan Ardiel, Geoff Butcher, Mark Doolan, and Gary Carlson).

PSO’s Amnesty Club demonstrates that one person can make a difference. In the last 14 years, the club has exposed thousands of students in 100 Mile House to the reality of human rights abuses worldwide. The club has given students a way to get involved and to make a difference themselves.

Noelle Lamoureux teaches at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School, 100 Mile House.

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