All aboard the human rights bus

Rolling classroom teaches children valuable lessons through Holocaust history lesson


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Teaching children about heroes triumphing over hate in 45 minutes from inside a motorhome is a big job, but the Tour for Humanity is doing it — one classroom at a time.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/05/2019 (1245 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Teaching children about heroes triumphing over hate in 45 minutes from inside a motorhome is a big job, but the Tour for Humanity is doing it — one classroom at a time.

A 30-seat, wheelchair-accessible classroom on wheels, Tour for Humanity is an outreach and education centre from Toronto-based Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. It rolled through Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday, stopping at Mulvey School and St. Emile Catholic School for presentations to a total of 300 students in Grade 3 through 8.

Led by teacher/FSWC education associate Emily Barsanti-Innes, students learned about the life of Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal (who used his adult life to become a human rights advocate and Nazi war criminal hunter), the Holocaust, and the importance of human rights, diversity, democracy and the power of one’s own voice.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Students from Mulvey School watch a video on Hope while seated on the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Humanity Bus while it's stopped at their school for classroom teaching sessions on Thursday.

“For the younger students, talking about bullying and discrimination helps them understand that Hitler was the biggest bully in history is a pretty solid message,” Barsanti-Innes said.

“They see that bad things have happened and a lot of people were hurt in the process, but we always have the power to make change in the future to make the world a better place. They see solid examples of people who saw discrimination and saw intolerance and stood up against it and did something. Hopefully, they can start practising that now while they’re young, so hopefully they carry it with them when they’re older.”

Teacher Carrie Vander Graaf and her 21 Grade 5/6 students from Mulvey boarded the motorhome parked outside their Wolseley-area school on Thursday morning.

Nasra Noor, 12, said the program showed the importance of learning kindness and acceptance of others from what happened in the Holocaust.

“It made me feel sad because so many people were killed for no reason. It wasn’t really fair for somebody to judge them just because of their faith,” she said.

“It showed how people have their own rights and they don’t always need to be hiding and they can be expressive about what they believe in,” Nasra said, referring to the presentation’s conclusion, which highlighted world-renowned human rights heroes such as Harriet Tubman, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malala Yousafzai.

The presentation included slides on three large screens with facts such as six million Jewish people were killed by the German Nazis, as well as millions of others such as gypsies and disabled people, in the late 1930s to the mid 1940s.

The wall behind the students’ seating area displayed photographs and quotes by some of those human rights activists. “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world,” read a quote from Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945.

Vander Graaf said she wants her students to know the power of their own voices, which was one of the messages in the Tour for Humanity presentation.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Mulvey student, Nasra Noor, listens intently with her classmates while in class on the Humanity Bus on Thursday.

“It’s important for the students to develop an understanding about human rights. The message about kindness is hugely important, and the fact that they can make a difference with their own voices,” she said. “I really liked how they ended with the segment on heroes and how individual people can make a big difference.”

Benny Sutherland-Dyck said learning about how people were targeted in the Holocaust because of their religion and how they looked gave him a lot to think about.

“I learned about how many people actually died,” 11-year-old Benny said. “It makes you want to be nicer to people in general.”

The Tour for Humanity will travel next to Saskatchewan.

Since its launch in 2013, the tour has visited 670 schools in Ontario. It expanded in 2019 to include schools in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.


Updated on Thursday, May 9, 2019 5:28 PM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Thursday, May 9, 2019 7:13 PM CDT: Updates story.

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