[Human Rights Series] The Right to an Education
March 28, 2023
[Human Rights Series] The Right to an Education

We’ve all always known that not everyone has the same access to a quality education. We only need to look in our own communities to see the difference. But travel overseas and you’ll find children living in poverty that we can’t even imagine who don’t have access to some of our basic human rights, education being only one of them.

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala City to visit a school, Camino Seguro, that is trying to change this lack of access for children in its community. Known as Safe Passage in English, this school is just one example of what one teacher can do.

This episode is part one of a three-part series on our basic human rights. We’ll cover the right to an education and mental health services as well as how to start supporting initiatives to ensure every child has what they need to succeed.

In this first episode of the series, I talk about the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the loss of services many underprivileged areas saw as a result of the pandemic, and how one school is helping students disrupt the poverty cycle for their families.

Jump in the Conversation:

[1:46] – A reminder of my beliefs and mission
[2:47] – Safe Passage and the right to an education
[3:51] – Learning about Jane Walker and the quality of life in Tondo
[3:45] – Families have to choose between sending kids to school or to work
[6:06] – Fast forward to today and having a broader sense of what learners need
[6:07] – Looking at equity and learning opportunities with a global lens
[7:08] – UN Sustainable development goals, adopted in 2015 as a call to action
[8:36] – Local public schools in international schools are vastly different from private schools
[9:50] – Children in extreme poverty have no access to basic human needs, including education
[10:30] – The global educational impact of the pandemic
[11:33] – We see the learning gap and how it’s grown
[12:13] – Camino Segurio’s systemic and holistic support to the poorest families in Guatemala City
[15:13] – Hanley Denning’s story and how Safe Passage came to be
[17:02] – Safe Passage is a gateway out of poverty
[18:18] – Maureen’s Magic Wand

Links & Resources



Maureen O’Shaughnessy 0:03
Hello fellow parents and educators. Thank you for joining me at Education Evolution, where we are disrupting the status quo in today’s learning models. We talk about present day education, what’s broken, who’s fixing it, and how. I’m Dr. Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your host and founder of education evolution, micro school coalition, and co founder of active, I consult and train with schools and leaders who are fiercely committed to changing the narrative, reimagining the education landscape, and creating learning that serves all children and prepares them to thrive. If you are new, welcome to the podcast. Please subscribe on our website to get it delivered to your inbox weekly. If you’ve been around a while, have you left a review?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 1:08
Hello, Education Evolution listeners. It’s been a while since I’ve recorded a solo episode. I’m actually an introvert and enjoy listening and learning more than talking. Getting to interview such a wide variety of educational entrepreneurs is a source of growth and happiness for me. I learned so much. And it’s an honor to use my podcast as a platform to elevate and spotlight the work of my guests and provide my listeners with sparks for ways that they might be able to create educational options that are equitable, and work for every learner. Every now and then, something comes into our lives and shakes us up and gives us a chance to rate reorganize our values and perspective. Recently, something big has made itself present in my life. It’s providing me with an opportunity to re clarify my beliefs on what every learner deserves. And to broaden those beliefs. It also pulls in what I know from working in international schools in seven different countries. And it’s touching on the discomfort I always experience when I acknowledge my white United States privilege and relative of fluence. This is such a big topic that I am creating a three part podcast. This is part one. So please indulge me as I try to organize and express educational evolution through these lenses.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 2:46
In January, I learned a school that serves the poorest children in Guatemala City, Camino seguro also known as safe passage, learning their story, and my recent visit is the catalyst for the deep reflection on human rights, global service and a clear direction forward. That are the three topics of this podcast series. The Camino seguro children are part of the community that makes us living from scavenging at one of the largest garbage dumps in Central America. When I heard about this, I could actually picture it. In each developing country where I’ve worked, my daughters and I have been engaged in service. In the Philippines. That service was with the Smoky Mountain garbage dump community and school. I was able to visit this site and the school and provide teachers with resources for the school, including bringing them to our international school and training them on the use of math manipulatives that they could find around them for no cost. Jeanne Walker, the founder of this nonprofit, purple Community Foundation, which is in the shownotes taught me a great deal. She was a businesswoman from England, who was appalled by the quality of life of the families at the Smoky Mountain garbage dump in Toronto. She created a nonprofit to educate the Tonto youth, explaining to me her partnership with the British Embassy and benefactors. She explained that the children of these families work at the dump, picking out items that can be recycled to make money for the families so that the families can survive. She was in the process of raising money to create one of the first schools in the world built from railroad containers. This resource was available and much less expensive than building a traditional school.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 4:43
This was in 2006, asking how I could help she let me know that families are conflicted. They want their children to be educated and break out of the cycle of poverty. And they need their children to work and put food on the table. But the Parents know this work will not give their children the resources to have the better life that they wished for their young. Understanding this conflict, Jane compassionately found ways to motivate the students to come to school. She asked me to help in this process by writing a grant so that the students could have free breakfast. This was a vital enticement to help children and families shift from having the youth work at night, looking for recyclables, and items at the dump. They could earn money and going to school in the morning instead, and having food provided so that the family’s costs would be less, and they could make sure that their child had at least one meal a day. I was pleased to be able to write and be awarded a grant so that the Tondo, children would have this food and then be at school so they could learn. Education is a basic human right. And Jane’s nonprofit was helping make that right happen. My eyes were opened as I served the purple Community Foundation. Fast forward to 2023. After 10 years of working in leadership Preparatory Academy, the microscope I found it in the Seattle area. Plus over 160 of these education, evolution podcasts, and my work with educational entrepreneurs at the microscope coalition and active collective, I have a much broader sense of what every learner deserves. I also understand many of the educational innovations that are available to help our rainbow of learners. My lens has been primarily United States education, and English speaking options. But most of this transfers to possibilities for learners everywhere. My recent deep experience in Central America is leading me to rethink this basic global human rights of education. And I’ll be asking you also to think about how we look at equity and learning opportunities through a global lens. Before I describe my experience, let me unpack a key question. What do we believe every learner deserves?

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 7:17
The United Nations respond in their sustainable development goals? What are these sustainable development goals? These SDGs, also known as global goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015. As a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that by 2030, all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Go for of the SDGs is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education, and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all the 17 SDGs are integrated. They recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes and others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability. Countries have been committing to prioritize progress for those who are the furthest behind the SDGs are designed to end poverty, hunger, AIDS, and discrimination against women and girls. The creativity know how technology and financial resources from all of society is necessary to achieve the SDGs in every context. A link to more information on this as in the show notes. I have personally lived the inequity of inclusive and quality education in developing countries. While overseas, my daughters attended school and I worked in exclusive international schools and local children down the road had limited access to education. Our international schools provided world class learning, learning of other languages, extracurriculars, travel, and a pathway to higher education. They also allowed our learners to develop a network that would be important for future opportunities. Class sizes were typically around 20 students. In these local schools and other countries, private schools might have 30 or 40 students in a teacher lecture model, each child would have access to materials and support from parents at home. But in local public schools, class sizes might be larger materials might be limited, and parents at home might not have the literacy or time to support their children in completing homework. These three levels of education I saw overseas can be found in most countries in the world. And then there’s the fourth level. In places of extreme poverty or remote locations. Children may have no app access to their basic human needs and rights, including the human right of education. They are trapped in a cycle of poverty. And the high tech world is quickly leaving them behind with an impossible gap. And that was before the pandemic.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 10:21
As a result of the global COVID 19 pandemic, the crisis and education has grown. As the UN report states, severe disruptions in education systems have occurred worldwide. school closures have had worrisome consequences for children’s learning and wellbeing, particularly for girls and those who are disadvantaged, including children with disabilities, rural dwellers and ethnic minorities. An estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in person instruction over the first two years of the pandemic. As a result, this generation of children could lose a combined total of $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in current value. The report continues, stating government’s need to implement ambitious programs to ensure that all children returned to school, recover their learning losses, and have their psychosocial needs met. We know this here in the United States, we see how the learning gap has grown. And our children’s psychosocial needs are much larger as a result of the pandemic. Imagine being in a place where resources were limited to begin with, and youth are behind in terms of learning and having their holistic needs met a crisis. Indeed, I am using my discomfort with a fluence that I see around me and experience myself and the resource of this podcast to humbly challenge those of us in relative of fluence to look beyond our comfort zones and national borders and be committed to making sure that our precious learners, all of them around the globe, have the basic human right, have equitable and inclusive quality education. Now, back to the present moment. I have just returned from visiting Camino seguro in Guatemala City. I am blown away by the service. This nonprofit is providing not only as a school, but as holistic and systemic support to the poorest of poor families in Guatemala City. They are checking many boxes listed in this podcast to make sure the basic human right of equitable and inclusive quality learning is available in spite of extreme poverty. We know that all governance have to address possible corruption. Guatemala has had many challenges with corruption.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 12:57
So when I arrived and was given a tour of the Camino seguro garbage dump, I wasn’t surprised to see the exploitation of these workers. But not only do they have horrific conditions within the dump, no shade bathrooms. They also have to pay the government to enter the dump and do their search sorting. This exploitation is not known to the general public. I was looking down from the cemetery above this huge pit. To my left, I saw the shanty town that had been built upon the previous garbage dump. Behind me I saw a variety of tombs. I was told that when families cannot pay ongoing upkeep for members buried in the cemetery, that those tombs are emptied into the garbage dump below where the pickers are working. And the tomb spaces are offered to new families who can pay to have their departed loved ones buried there. Shocking, yes. Was I feeling incredible discomfort that the situation is so different from the privileged one I experience. Heck, yes. Luckily, my next stop was visiting the three campuses that housed the preschool through 10th grade students. I saw students and teachers in school T shirts and jeans, there was no sense of hierarchy of a fluence, such as I see in many other schools. I saw happy children engaged in learning and connected to their teachers. I learned that 99% of the students return each year. This represents a firm commitment by the parents. That means they sacrifice the earnings these children could bring them in for the long term dream of their children breaking the cycle of poverty and having more opportunities available to them. They also sacrifice a small tuition so that they really have an investment in the school.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 15:01
I learned that many of the teachers and staff have been there for over 10 years, with a fierce commitment to making an impact on the children living in the slums around the garbage dump. And I learned the beautiful story of Camino seguro Safe Passages founder, Handley Denning, a teacher from the US state of Maine, handling went to Guatemala in 97. To study Spanish. She loved Guatemala. Her one year volunteer commitment became two, but she never imagined she’d stay. Prior to her preparation to return to the US and 99. She accompanied a friend on a trip to the slums by the Guatemala city garbage dump. That same week, she sold her computer, she sold her car, she emptied out her savings account, and she opened the doors of safe passage in December 1999 When she was 29 years old. My goodness, my daughters are close to that age. Hanley started with just a handful of children in an abandoned church across from the Guatemala city garbage dump. Over the next eight years Hadleys program grew. The educational reinforcement program found a new home in a safe and beautiful building, further removed from the garbage dump. An early childhood center and adult literacy program were established, thanks to the commitment and ambition of staff, community members, donors, volunteers, and international supporters. handli known in Guatemala as El Amin hell, they’ll basalt arrow Angel of the dump, was killed in January of 2007.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 16:48
In an automobile accident in Guatemala, her life was tragically cut short, but her legacy lives on. Those she inspired continue to advance the mission she envisioned. Safe Passage with an office in Maine in the US now provides over 500 children and 100 parents with education, social services, and the chance to move beyond the poverty their families have faced for generations. It’s a refuge for children facing difficult situations marked by extreme poverty, neglect and abuse. Safe Passage, Camino seguro is a gateway out of poverty. Today safe passage Hanley story reminds us of the power of one person’s vision to make a difference. And children in Safe Passages care remind us that there is much to hope for I have been deeply moved by the Camino seguro and Hadleys story and the powerful work that safe passage community is doing to create equitable and inclusive quality learning for children who would otherwise be destined to perpetuate a cycle of poverty and despair. As you know, I conclude my podcast with a magic wand moment picking up the education evolution magic wand. My wish is one for our listeners and myself. I wish that we could let our discomfort with the abundant blessings we experience just because we’ve been born where we’ve been born. catalyze us into service for those with less that we value education and find ways to align with Camino seguro is vision of bringing hope, education and opportunity to the Guatemalan children of families working around the capitals garbage dump, ways to get involved are in the show notes. Or that we dive into any project that helps assure all children on this planet have equitable and inclusive access to the basic human right of education. listeners. Thank you for hearing my story, and Hamleys story, and also for being a part of this education evolution. parts two and three are yet to come.

Maureen O’Shaughnessy 19:27
I know how challenging it is to make changes inside your own school or community. I’ve spent years working with schools around the world on creating learner centered programs. And it always struck me how much schools were able to get done with the right tools and guidance. If you’re ready to make changes like this in your own school, let’s talk and put together an action plan. Visit educationevolution.org/consult for a free 15 minute call. And let’s see if we’re a good fit. For more work together. Thanks again for listening to support the education evolution. Subscribe so it lands in your podcast app and gets out to more decision makers. Then rate and review it. For more information and shownotes go to educationevolution.org. Education Evolution listeners, you are the ones to ensure we create classrooms where each student is seen, heard, valued and thriving. We are in this together and we need you. Let’s go out and reach every student today. Thank you for listening, signing off. I am Maureen O’Shaughnessy, your partner in boldly reimagining education.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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