PAO Heird Awards Student Human Rights Advocates

PAO Janel Heird (Second Right) at Beakanyang Human Rights Quiz Awards

On April 18, United States Embassy Banjul’s Public Affairs Officer, Janel Heird, presided over the finals of a human rights quiz at the Charles Jow Memorial Academy in Kanifing.  The PAO conferred awards on the student finalists and underscored that human rights education must be embedded in the everyday Gambian experience.

The event was organized by Beakanyang Kafo, which has been working with U.S. Embassy Banjul’s Public Diplomacy Section in strengthening human rights education in 10 Gambian schools across the country.

Public Affairs Officer Heird’s full statement reads: “It gives me a great pleasure to preside over this occasion, which marks the end of an exciting quiz among 10 participating human rights clubs across the country.  I am honored to represent the United States Ambassador to The Gambia, Patricia Alsup, who regrets that she is not able to be with you this afternoon.  Nonetheless, she sends her greetings and heartfelt congratulations to the quiz finalists and their schools for their commitment to human rights.  She is also grateful to the Beakanyang management for spearheading this important project.  I want to thank the organization’s Executive Director, Nfamara Jawneh, for his resourcefulness and commitment in implementing this project throughout the country.

I am thrilled to know that all ten human rights clubs are participating in today’s quiz.  I want to recognize the school delegates, including teacher coordinators.  Thank you for your hard work in establishing these clubs, preparing your students for today’s event, and organizing all the arrangements to get them here safely.

Ladies and gentlemen, human rights are a core foreign policy priority for the United States Government and our Mission in The Gambia.  We were excited at the opportunity to strengthen human rights education in Gambian schools, and I was so pleased to receive such a strong and compelling proposal from Beakanyang Organization.  This project promotes a culture of human rights and education across the country and will touch up to 12,000 Gambian students.  I am indeed heartened that the project has recorded this much progress within such a short time.

Distinguished guests, this project could not be more timely.  The Gambia is transitioning to democracy after more than two decades of human rights violations under the previous government.  People were arrested, detained and jailed without court charges.  In the worst cases, they disappeared without a trace and some were even murdered.  May those victims rest in perfect peace.  Communication was not free, either for journalists or for ordinary Gambian citizens.  Reporters were not able to do their important work of reporting the truth and holding the former government and its institutions accountable.  Media houses were closed in an effort to muzzle the press and hide the truth.  All of this fostered suspicion and fear.

Finalists and school delegates at the human rights quiz finals

Now, The Gambia is emerging from that dark time and has the chance to be an example for the region in upholding human rights and meeting international obligations.  To be that example, human rights education must be embedded in the everyday Gambian experience.  Conversations about human rights must begin in Gambian schools and households, and expand into institutions.  That is why my Mission supported this human rights school project; because it provides vital channel to promote these values.  Mainstreaming human rights values and principles into Gambia’s education system will allow students to build critical thinking skills and strong perspectives about what is right and acceptable for humanity.  This will also allow them to build strong values of tolerance and a deeper understanding of complicated ethical issues.  I am convinced that when the culture of human rights is nurtured at the grassroots, you can be assured of a stronger Gambian society and a brighter future for everyone.

All of you here today, especially the quiz competitors, are engaged in this work.  You are building a strong foundation of respect for human rights which will benefit The Gambia for generations to come.  I am so glad that the United States Embassy in Banjul could play a small role in supporting you on your democratic journey.

Thank you all so much for joining a Human Rights Club.  Thank you for participating in today’s quiz.  Keep learning and promoting the values of human rights in everything that you do.  Congratulations to all of the competitors, and congratulations to the winners.”