Embracing Solidarity: We care, dare and share!

All humans are equal, but not all have equal opportunities.

Unfortunately some are less privileged for one reason or another. Some might have special needs such as learning difficulties or mental, physical or sensory disabilities. Others come from deprived backgrounds, live below the poverty line or have incurred severe losses due to personal tragedies or natural disasters. Many are marginalised because of who they are (refugees, immigrants, long-term unemployed,...), where they come from (educational, social or cultural background...) or what they might have done (ex-offenders, early school leavers...).

The sources of exclusion are manifold, and so are the obstacles the people concerned have to face in their everyday life. In many cases they belong to more than one vulnerable group, e.g. unaccompanied refugee minors or a single mother who has lost her home. What definitely can be said, however, is that for the people concerned life is more difficult to handle. They have to make far more efforts than others in order to e.g. get a basic education, find a decent job... And, often enough and despite all struggles, the barriers cannot be overcome. The affected people resign, simply because it is far too much for them to endure, or fail – given a “tight-is-right”-mentality.

aces aims for a society in which people care about each other, not only themselves or their kin, a place where people not only claim their rights but also see the responsibility they have for the wellbeing of all. It is in this spirit that they undertake initiatives for or together with those whose voices often aren't heard. Solidarity means different things to various individuals, philosophers, organisations and governments. In our understanding, however, it is not a one way process and has nothing to do with pure charity which always implies a one-sided power relation in which one person gives and another one has to accept gratefully, but might actually feel humiliated. Instead, solidarity has a lot to do with equity, respect, social cohesion and sustainability and it involves sharing the problems which face us all and realizing that we all must be part of the solution.

Thankfully, there are examples of people who have a sense of social responsibility and show solidarity – both in the past as well as in the present: In the last century, for instance, wealthy men advocated more rights for workers, during the National Socialist era people of all religions hid their Jewish fellow citizens and, later, white people shared Martin Luther King’s dream and joined the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Today, people of all skin colours engage in anti-racism work, straight youth identify with Gay/Straight Alliances and able-bodied promote and attend inclusive schools. Furthermore, we experience more and more that individuals or communities stand up for immigrants and refugees. The locals don't want to accept that their well integrated fellow-citizens are discriminated against or even about to be deported: There were several cases in Austria, for instance, where students showed solidarity with their classmates. In protest against their up-coming deportation, pupils and teachers launched internet petitions or managed to involve the media and local politicians with the result that their colleagues were entitled to stay.[1] Last but not least, the last years have proven that natural disasters can lead to overwhelming declarations of solidarity in the form of active support: During and after the massive flooding in Central and Southeast Europe in 2013 and 2014, neighbours and volunteers, individuals and organisations came to assist those concerned.

The above mentioned examples show that we must not only think locally, but that solidarity is also required given the global challenges and in a globalised world. What and where we buy and how much energy we need etc. has consequences somewhere else and sooner or later also for us.

aces school partnership projects 2015

Along with other organisations, the UNESCO underlines the importance of solidarity and states that “peace must [...] be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind.”[2] And, according to the UNESCO, education is crucial in this regard. At their best, school partnerships can trigger a wish for positive change, both on a local as well as a global level, and help pupils develop a sense of injustice and the commitment of overcoming it.

Having this in mind, the questions below might also be helpful to develop your own project idea together with your students and partner school:

  • What do you like/dislike about the world you live in (at school, in the peer group, surrounding …)?
  • Where can you locate unjust situations, barriers or discrimination (in the school, surrounding, world-wide…)?
  • How can you gain personal insights from those concerned and find out their specific needs?What can you learn from their experience?
  • What are your wishes and concerns for the future or the future of the world?
  • How can you personally contribute to overcoming these barriers and changing the situation for the better?
  • What are the skills required and what attitude is needed?
  • Who would be able to help you (other students, the media, local politicians…)? 

Of course these questions are suggestions only. However, note that you should develop your project idea based on the following steps: SEE (identify the problem), ANALYSE (what should be done) and ACT (take the initiative for a possible change)!

Find additional background material on the topic in our aces Toolbox!

[1] For details see: Wintersteiner, Werner: „Lernen für die Weltgesellschaft. Plädoyer für eine Neuorientierung in Schule und Bildungswesen.“ In: forum der unesco-projekt-schulen, Heft 1-2/2008 (German only).

[2] For the entire UNESCO Constitution of 16 November 1945 see http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=15244&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html