The Syria Installation

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Just because it isn’t happening here doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

Just because we aren’t all adults, just because not all of our career trajectories involve humanitarian activism, just because we often shelve past disasters as new ones emerge, just because our lack of proximity to these catastrophes makes it easy to feel helpless, distant, and removed: these don’t mean we can’t make a difference.

The two above messages were taken from the International Human Rights class’s assembly last Monday—one quoted directly from a video they showed, the other inferred from the demonstration they installed in the pit. With their simulation of a war-torn Latin School, the class brought these messages and the devastation in Syria, literally, close to home.

The International Human Rights class, taught by Ms. Arif, began planning the installation a few days before Project Week. The process involved getting approval from Mr. Graf, who senior Grace Ebach said was “supportive and receptive to the idea,” talking logistics with facilities, asking Mr. Bowen for props and suggestions on how to execute the simulation well, and approaching Ms. Dorer for a slice of the assembly time LIFE had booked for that day. Inspired by the two Syrian activists who visited Latin earlier this semester—one of whom had organized a ‘flash mob’ on the Magnificent Mile and Millennium park to support Syria—the students toyed with putting together a similar demonstration. They wanted, Grace said, “a creative but informative way to get the school involved and thinking about the crisis in Syria.” This creativity ultimately drove the project, as the goal became to raise awareness in a bold, unconventional way.  As Ms. Arif said, “sometimes when you have speakers and a videoclip and someone talks about it, as heartbreaking as that is, I think we almost get desensitized to it. We get used to seeing all this media around us, we almost have blockers.”

The media, the blockers—these often contribute to our fickle response to disasters abroad. When Syria is replaced by Ukraine in the news, and Ukraine is replaced by the Malaysian airline, and the Malaysian airline is replaced by the South Korean ferry, and so on, it’s easy to get caught in the rapid cycle of media coverage. But airtime rarely correlates directly to need. Last week’s Talent Show is an example, as it returned to the crisis in the Philippines and chose to donate the night’s proceeds to relief efforts there. Ms. Arif said that a large part of assistance abroad and of the International Human Rights class is this continuing “of the discussion, so that those people don’t get forgotten. Then at least we can keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

The class itself, Ms. Arif said, developed out of recent service she’s done internationally and the non-profit administration masters degree she’s currently pursuing. Ms. Arif said the class covered domestic issues at the beginning of the semester, and has now ventured into the international sphere. “My goal for my class,” she said, “ is to communicate that you can graduate Latin, you can finish college, you can have a job that might have nothing to do with social issues or global issues. But at the same time you can still make a difference. You can take four other people, or four other colleagues, and start something on your own. There’s big things that individuals can do if they give themselves enough credit for it.” In a society that is accustomed to creating and following tracks, particularly at this age, I think this sentiment is very important; empathy and global citizenship can and should be a part of any career, not just those professions that revolve exclusively around it.

The other important take-away of the class’s project, to me, has less to do with the future and more to do with the present. “You see [the installation] on college campuses sometimes but it’s rare to see at a high school campus. I think its cool that they went there,” said Ms. Arif; to many, high school doesn’t seem as conducive to these types of bold statements as college does. But I think the high school environment is just as outfitted for making a difference; it’s a community of motivated people who share a global interest and global citizenship, who are immersed in education and surrounded by resources, and who are encouraged to explore and facilitate change. The atmosphere is as energized as it ever will be. Says Ms. Arif, “I want other students to know that they can recreate something like this, again, somewhere else […] You don’t have to be the head of a non-profit to create change. You can just be a group of students that have a goal and a vision. That’s enough.”

For more information on how to get involved with the International Human Rights class’s  project, please see Grace Ebach’s article from last issue: http://blogs.latinschool.org/forum/2014/03/17/3853/

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