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Germany reaffirms commitment to human rights, education for poor kids and abuse victims

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Photos courtesy of Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Manila

To many of us, protecting and strengthening human rights sound like topics for debate, best dealt with by politicians or international organizations. It is, however, something that affects everyone’s daily life. Access to clean water, the right to education, non-discrimination, and freedom of expression are just a few examples. Human rights are also the very basis of a functioning democracy. 

Due to their high relevance in everyone’s life, the protection and reinforcement of human rights remain to be some of Germany’s major commitments to the international community. This is why it plays a significant role in German foreign policy and projects supported by the Federal Government abroad. 

The German Embassy in the Philippines actively advocates for the improvement of the human rights situation by partnering with trusted organizations. A core element in these projects is education and awareness to help improve the lives of people from vulnerable sectors.

“A robust education system is the basis of a country’s economic success,” said German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel. “Especially in a country like the Philippines, where the majority of the population is below the age of 30, it is essential to tap the full potential of the youth by investing in education.”

Following the long closure of schools as a reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is much to be done in making sure the quality of education for affected Filipino children is improved. 

“Education is the key to raise awareness for yourself and your rights,” Amb. Reiffenstuel shared. “It is important to know your rights and to fight for them.” She added that basic education which ensures a child’s literacy not only opens avenues for better paying jobs – it’s also a pre-condition for being able to access important information. “For example, social services that you have a right to benefit from,” she added. “Education also helps you detect and dismantle mis – or – disinformation which is imperative in every vibrant democracy.”

Starting young 

Setting children up for success is of utmost importance and one of the best ways to do this – as affirmed by Amb. Reiffenstuel – is through quality education. Through the sponsorship program of German charity organization Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners (Freunde), underprivileged children from the province of Iloilo are given a chance at education.

Waldorf School Gamot Cogon provides quality and holistic learning experiences to students who are encouraged to contribute to society and be a force for good. The school system takes into account the age and development stage of each child as the deciding factors in picking a teaching method. The curriculum also integrates physical education and the arts. This enables students to grow up as well-rounded and emotionally resilient adults. In the case of Gamot Cogon, they are given time to play outdoors and appreciate nature as well.

About one-third of the students are from Bgy. Libongcogon – a low-lying coastal area vulnerable to natural disasters such as typhoons and flooding. Their families struggle to make ends meet. Yearly, the school receives financial support from Germany through Freunde, allowing them to accept scholars and cover the costs of general school operations. Having access to education – a basic human right – has given the children of Bgy. Libongcogon is a great environment to grow and thrive, improving the overall quality of their life.

“Over the past several years, we have seen the community children thrive and excel in their studies and in many various aspects. We also take pride in knowing that there has been a strong culture of inclusivity, harmony, and equality among our students who come from various backgrounds and from all walks of life,” shared Gamot Cogon Administrator Angel dela Flor.

From November 30 to December 3, the Children’s Rehabilitation Center (CRC) brought their partner community-based organizations and young delegates from different parts of the country to Quezon City for a national conference. Dubbed Sidhang Malaya (free expression), the conference was held in partnership with the German embassy.

Delegates shared human rights violations (HRVs) they have experienced themselves or witnessed in their respective provinces. Key issues were also discussed – ranging from militarization, extrajudicial killings, torture of minors, child prostitution and online sexual exploitation, education issues, to attacks on indigenous children and their communities. 

The delegates participated in activities that helped them gain strength from one another. They were also encouraged to continue defending human rights in the country and fighting for justice. Sidhang Malaya’s culminating activity showcased creative performances that summarized their experiences and helped them better express their collective desire for a brighter future.

The conference also acted as a data gathering event to take note of HRVs reported by participating organizations. According to CRC, human rights work has been hampered due to militarization in some rural areas and the “red-tagging” of civil society and human rights organizations. To provide documentation assistance to the participating delegates and community-based organizations, CRC provided training on data gathering taught by veteran human rights workers, social workers, and mental health professionals.

“As a result of Sidhayang Malaya, the participating organizations have pledged to work together in upholding human rights and more particularly, children’s rights in their respective regions,” shared CRC Executive Director Olivia Bernardo. “Likewise, the active participation of the child delegates in the workshops and experience-sharing was seen as a positive outcome. These strengthened links to community-based organizations and will lay the foundation for a more active civil society and more empowered youth in promoting human rights in the years to come.”

Giving victims of abuse a second chance

The People’s Recovery, Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation, Inc., another partner of the German Embassy, was provided a grant worth 1.4 million pesos this year. The funding is being used for projects that reduce the vulnerability of 470 women in the province of Zambales. Of this number, 400 are indigenous Aeta women and 70 are young girls who were victims of gender-based violence.

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Along with helping out in preventing abuse in the area, PREDA is also raising awareness on the rights of women through community-based education interventions. Since July, the participants have increased their knowledge of their rights as women as well as the rights of children. Some of the topics that were heavily discussed include the prevention of early or forced marriages, sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality, and rights-based parenting practices.

Therapy services were also provided, especially for the victims of abuse and exploitation. Since the project began, PREDA has reported that therapy has greatly helped the 70 victims improve their resilience. Most have shown signs of recovery and were enabled to seek justice against perpetrators. 

PREDA is also providing skills training and marketing assistance to at least 400 women in the province, helping them increase their income and capacity to better manage economic opportunities.

“A woman’s economic empowerment means she will no longer be financially dependent on the male breadwinner, who in the majority of cases that PREDA has reported is the perpetrator of sexual abuse,” Amb. Reiffenstuel shared. “Both economic and psycho-social empowerment help young women and girls to find the courage to testify before the courts. This way, the girls supported by PREDA win an average of 15 cases a year, with most of the convicted perpetrators serving life sentences.”

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