It was a modest beginning, but many historical movements were started with a simple gathering of a few like minds.
Global Dignity Day was founded by John Hope Bryant, CEO of Operation HOPE, together with Prince Haakon Magnus, the crown prince of Norway, and philosophy professor Pekka Himanen. All three belong to the Forum of Young Global Leaders (YGL) under the World Economic Forum.
Why dignity? The official Global Dignity website explains: “A dignifying society dignifies everyone’s life regardless of the cards that fate has dealt you. In a dignifying world, one’s fate does not depend on one’s ‘reproductive luck’, that is, on the stars under which you happened to be born, the economic and social status of one’s parents. A dignifying world provides everyone with equal opportunities in life, thus leveling out haphazard circumstances. ”
20 October 2009 saw over 50 countries all over the world celebrating Global Dignity Day in a myriad of ways, all involving students from across the globe. The idea was to share the five core principles of a dignified life, and to get youth to internalize the power of these principles.
The five principles are:
1. Every human being has a right to lead a dignified life.
2. A dignified life means an opportunity to fulfill one’s potential, which is based on having a human level of health care, education, income and security.
3. Dignity means having the freedom to make decisions on one’s life and to be met with respect for this right.
4. Dignity should be the basic guiding principle for all actions.
5. Ultimately, our own dignity is interdependent with the dignity of others.
In Singapore, some 30 Year Three students from School Of The Arts (SOTA) at Goodman Road gathered to discuss and ponder passionately about what it means to have and to give dignity. The session began with a beautiful song on respecting other’s dreams, sung by Judy Ho and signed by Catherine, an interpreter for the hearing-impaired.
“Remember, today you are going to be ambassadors for Dignity Day!” announced Elim Chew, the YGL heading up Global Dignity Day (GDD09) in Singapore. Chew is also a board member of SOTA.
“When you have dignity,” said Chew, “nothing someone says can affect you. Remember today you are ambassadors for Dignity Day!”
Darryl Loh, President of CHCSA, was the perfect facilitator for the event, being honest, charming, funny, dignified and dignifying of all the young people in the room. Loh’s ability to direct the flow of discussion yielded some great results, and an authentic discussion among the 15-year-olds about what dignity is and how to practise it.
“Is there something you believe in that you are willing to die for?” asked Loh, as she shared about a recent trip to India where she met some “railway children” (kids who sleep in cardboard boxes at the railway station). She offered to send one of the railway children something, and when she asked for the girl’s address, she was given the exact railway platform as an address. Instead of feeling sorry for the girl, Loh found herself respecting her for “having an address”.
“Look beyond someone’s disability,” she exhorted. “Dignity is asking ‘you don’t ignore me, you acknowledge me for what I am.'”
The group broke out into subgroups and were all given a sheet to discuss what dignity was, from A to Z. Then Loh ran down the list in alphabetical order and the group that had the most to contribute would win.
It was heartening to see that these young people were able not just to explain what dignity was but to explain the nuances that came with it — the difference between sympathy and respect, for example.
The winning team won S$100 vouchers from youthwear chain 77th Street, while everyone else got S$50 vouchers.
Rebecca Chew, the principal of SOTA, explained that “part of our school curriculum is social, action, change”. Being socially conscious is very much of the syllabus, not just the green message but a message for a dignified world. The school was given 48 hours notice about Global Dignity Day, but Chew was happy to take it on because “we believe in it.”
|PHOTOS: Ng Xueqi|
Of the many insightful observations and comments from this group of 15-year-olds, dance student Lu Yi left the deepest impression.
“My sister has Down’s syndrome but she wants to be Hannah Montana. Even though it will never happen in reality, I support her — she has the dignity to believe she can be Hannah Montana.”
It was a privilege to watch the seeds of a powerful campaign being sown at SOTA. These young people participated heart and soul in Global Dignity Day 2009 — the future is already looking brighter.
Click here to find out more about Global Dignity Day.