Cover image: Using The Awra Amba Experience to teach Human Rights

Using The Awra Amba Experience to teach Human Rights

Serdar Ferit and Paulina Tervo are two Co?founders of Lyfta, a digital storytelling platform. In this blog they introduce the Ethiopian village of Awra Amba and show how its story can be used to teach about human rights. Awra Amba is a village in Northern Ethiopia that was founded in 1972 by a small group of idealistic farmers. While none of the founders had gone to school, they had strong ideas about the way society should be. The group spent a long time discussing and co-creating a manifesto for their new village, which included principles such as women and men living as equals, all children having access to education, and religion and tradition not dictating every aspect of life. These ideas were seen as radical at the time, and the village was attacked as a result. But the group remained united and after many years of hardship, their perseverance started to pay off. Awra Amba, now a thriving village of around 500 people, has 83 university graduates, several successful businesses, a kindergarten, a primary and secondary school, and even a health centre with its own lab. We came across the village in 2004, and were struck by how fascinating their story was. Our first instinct, as film-makers, was to make a documentary to share their story – but we soon realised that this wasn’t enough. We wanted to take people to Awra Amba, so they could explore the village and experience it like we had. This drove us to learn new ways of storytelling, and we worked closely with the village to re-build the experience in a digital platform. Earlier this year, we released the beta version of The Awra Amba Experience – an immersive interactive documentary that invites the audience to Awra Amba. We have also worked with a team of teachers from Finland, the UK and the US, to develop a teacher’s guide and a series of lesson plans that helps connect the Awra Amba Experience to modern curricula. The Awra Amba Experience website image About a month ago, we received a lovely email from Elizabeth Sanchez and Devorah Sasha, who run International Solidarity for Human Rights – an organisation that works with schools in America and Spain, using art and storytelling to educate children about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They had seen an article about Awra Amba in Upworthy, and wanted to use the interactive resource as part of their “Human Rights in a Box” classes. After a couple of meetings over Skype, we made an agreement and ISHR began using the resource in their sessions. We caught up with Elizabeth and Devorah yesterday, to find out how it has gone over the last month. They have used the resource in various schools in Florida. Below is a transcript of our short interview.

1) How do you use the Awra Amba Experience for teaching human rights?

Awra Amba is a very useful resource for us. The videos, rich-media articles and manifestos, show in a visual way how it is possible to live in a society where everyone is respected and taken into consideration. That’s the core message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and the Awra Amba village is the closest example we have found to what the UDHR is about. Actually, the UDHR is often thought of as impossible to achieve – and here is a real life village, in the most unlikely of places, where they have managed to put the same principles into practice.

2) What kind of response have you had when using the resource in your sessions?

It’s incredible how easy it is for the students to comprehend what we are talking about when we relate the stories from Awra Amba to the 30 articles of the UDHR. It has helped us a lot, because the UDHR is quite theoretical – it’s a list of articles - and being able to show real-life examples that relate to the articles, all in the same small village, has made it more enjoyable for us to teach – and certainly more engaging and exciting for the students.

3) Why do you think it is important for children to learn about human rights in developed countries, such as the United States and United Kingdom?

We think it is hugely important for children to understand equality and human rights – their rights! We should discuss and consider how to treat others and how we would like to be treated ourselves, in the safe and open environment of our classrooms. The world is becoming more diverse, complex and interconnected each day, and we feel that it is more important than ever to help young people to open their minds to a fairer and more equal world. -- The Awra Amba Experience digital learning resource is featured in the GLP-approved CPD course: Exploring a progressive Ethiopian micro-society, which schools registered on the Global Learning Programme for England can access using their CPD e-credits. A one-year subscription to the resource is included for all CPD participants. For more info, please email