“City Year” Jo’burg Volunteers Embrace Social Justice Through Human Rights

Johannesburg, South Africa
13 April 2007

YHRI’s Director for International Development, Tim Bowles, and YHRI-South Africa’s Alan Wohrnitz presented an enthusiastically received seminar today on the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to a standing room-only assembly of “City Year Johannesburg” volunteers.

City Year is the global community service initiative of the Clinton Democracy Fellowship (CDF), enrolling youth in their twenties for a wide variety of social betterment projects over a one year duration. The YHRI presentation was part of an all-day session of City Year workshops held in the rehabilitated Art Center district near downtown Johannesburg.

City Year’s program director first made sure Tim and Alan received a proper City Year welcome. Everyone in the room stood up and in unison gave three snaps in the air with the right hand, then three stamps on the floor, then pointed at the guests and announced “WELCOME!” in one booming voice that shook the rafters.

Tim spent the first half of the program with a full showing of the thirty human rights public service announcements. The videos were an unabashed hit to the assembly of some 200-plus, red-clad volunteers. The City Year youth were particularly taken with Article 29: The Right to Responsibility.

The remaining time for comments and observations yielded what Tim found the most perceptive and penetrating yet in his African travels over recent years. Very quickly, the City Year volunteers saw where several human rights might conflict and would have to be reconciled in particular community settings, e.g., clash between a child’s right to expression and a parent’s cultural rights.

The seminar boiled down to the assembly’s recognition that forthright communication of ideas is the universal solvent to address any human rights dispute. The City Year youth understand clearly that it is over to them and their peers to create a more tolerant, just society in South Africa.