From 16 – 24 April the 2nd phase of a 3-phase Human Rights project ‘ART4HRE’ took place in Bansko, Bulgaria. It was organized by Bulgarian organization ‘Provision International’ and was funded within the European Commission programme Erasmus+ by the National Agency in the Netherlands. During the training week, the participants learned that art, photography, and crafts can be used in human rights education, to battle hate speech, promote acceptance and solidarity and to promote freedom of speech. More explicit project reports from our participants can be read below.

Wesley van Oirsouw: “The human rights part together with the art part created something really special.”

My motivation to apply for this project was a little bit more complicated. I was asked to film a promotional video for this project, that was how I came in contact with this project. I have a lot of interests in political situations in different countries. Especially as a journalist/cameraman, so this project really fits me. Last year I already made a documentary about the situation between Eastern European countries and Russia. It really interested me to do more with politics. My aim for this project was, first of all, to try and make a great and realistic promotion video for my NGO EIDP. This means making a script, preparing the shots and eventually (of course) film the shots and put together a short promotion video. Second I wanted to learn more about the different political situations in other countries.

I had some general expectation of this project, but I tried to keep my mind open and didn’t want to think about it too much. I expected a lot of working together in different sessions. I also expected some sessions would be more theoretical and others more practical. But I didn’t have any particular expectation. My general expectations were pretty close to what the project really was. We had a lot of different sessions about human rights. I learned a lot about human rights and how they work. Actually, almost everything about human rights was new to me, so I really liked to learn a lot more about that. The art part was the part which I knew a lot more about. Especially making photographs and video’s is the topic I really like. The human rights part together with the art part created something really special. When working together with other participants you can learn a lot from each other. They could tell me a lot more about human right, while I could tell them a lot more about art and cinemaphotography. The result of one team project with both things coming together was shown when we had to make a story with art which had to do with human rights.

I learned a lot more about human rights. But I think the session which I remember the most was a session in which we had to describe the current situation in our own country (human right situation) to the other participants. I realized when I was listening to their stories that I can be really happy with the situation I live in know. At the same time, I thought about how we could solve these problems. I think I won’t particularly be able to solve it, but as a journalist/cameraman, I would love to see more (honest) stories like these in western media. I think that’s one of the most important lessons I can take with me in future video projects.

Emy Theuws: “One of the things that I really loved about this project was its international setting. As the program took place in a country I had never been before (Bulgaria), with people from countries I had also never been before, I knew that I was going to learn a lot from the experience.”

This April, I have participated in the project ART4HRE (Art for Human Rights Education). The project took place in Bansko, Bulgaria and participants came from the Netherlands, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and Estonia. One of the main goals of the project was to help young people better understand the value of human rights through arts education.

For me, the human rights aspect of the project was the main motivation to apply. I wanted to learn more about what human rights are and why they are important. We did not learn about human rights in the way that people usually study, we learned through non-formal education. This means, that there was not one teacher telling us about human rights, but that we mostly learned by talking about the topics with other participants.

This project has made me more conscious of human rights. Before I participated, I did not really know what they were, but also not why they are so important. By hearing the stories from the other participants, I realized that many human rights are very well protected in the Netherlands, but also that we are not there yet.

Every afternoon, we would have art sessions in which we could work together with other participants, or on our own, on a creative piece which we would show to the others in the end. Examples of this are poems, drawings, creative writing pieces, movies, photos, songs and so on.

One of the things that I really loved about this project was its international setting. As the program took place in a country I had never been before (Bulgaria), with people from countries I had also never been before, I knew that I was going to learn a lot from the experience. Additionally, we had several cultural evenings that were informative, but mostly fun. I have danced on Armenian music, tasted Georgian wine, sung Russian songs and tried to speak Polish. As every participant talked about how their countries, I feel like there still is so much culture to discover, right in Europe.

Anne de Vries: ” The worst thing humankind could ever befall is misunderstanding and alienation. Which is when human rights violations are most at play.”

At the start of April, I was lucky enough to get on a plane to Bansko, Bulgaria to participate in the project ART4HRE (Art for Human Rights Education). When hearing of this project I was immediately motivated to participate. I have always had a heartfelt interest in human rights, gender studies and writing and theatre, and thought this to be an excellent opportunity to combine these.

ART4HRE, to me, sounded like a project that would make it possible to put aside the Western goggles many of us wear when looking at societal concepts such as human rights. Getting together with talented and motivated people from countries far from and different from your own to learn from one another truly attracted me to it. Being able to apply arts in this collaboration and exchange even more. To me, art is a method to display your own words but also to get to peek inside those parts of a world that are deemed important by members of that culture. As such, I hoped the project would be an excellent opportunity to learn about others’ cultures within the theme of human rights, as well as obtain methods to help others understand the versatile and sometimes even vague concept that is human rights. I hoped to learn how different
people are affected by infringements on their human rights and how gradations of human rights can be changed or influenced through the application of art.

While I would have appreciated receiving a more theoretical foundation during the week in Bulgaria, I sincerely enjoyed the youth exchange that it was. As I had expected, I learned so much from others from Belarus to Armenia, and not just their quality of life and wine, but also their political relations and cultural values. Games and exercises such as Take a Step and Fair Talks enlightened me on the cultural expectations and situations in many other countries. For example, I came to learn the difference between the treatment and judgments of Roma people or homosexual individuals in Georgia or in the Netherlands. Activities such as Where do you Stand? and even the arts sessions resulted in interesting discussions and opened up the floor to our prejudices that sometimes seem universal but are often fed from our (national) cultures.

Several sessions I would love to use in the future, such as the Walk & Talk session. Everybody received two pieces of paper with questions on them and during a walk, through town, you had to exchange these questions. As a consequence, we got to know each other beyond our nationalities. While it does not necessarily connect to the topic of human rights, it opened up our personalities and perhaps shared interests to one another, making it significantly easier to talk about our opinions and experiences. The art session I valued was one in which we had to draw visual definitions of concepts such as sexism and stereotypes. It was a really helpful tool to concretize something as abstract as human rights.

Thus, besides an incredible amount of new friends and especially knowledge on other countries, I have participated in many valuable experiences and sessions. The best thing I could have learned from this project is something that I have always carried within me but has been amplified in Bulgaria. We cannot learn enough from other cultures, people, and situations. It is necessary to keep seeing other individuals and nationalities as human beings and at least provide a basis to try to understand one another. The worst thing humankind could ever befall is misunderstanding and alienation. Which is when human rights violations are most at play.

Therefore, next to continuing my work at Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland (the Dutch refugee organization), I hope to organize several activities in which I will apply the tools learned in Bulgaria, such as Take a Step and Where do you Stand, to foster understanding and cooperation. Additionally, I wish to incorporate visual tools such as the illustration session we attended to make human rights accessible to others. Within my field as a journalist, I hope to contribute to the mutual connections between cultures and peoples and I wish to contribute further to the universalization of human rights.

More photos and upcoming project call-for-participants can be found on EIDP’s Facebook page!