Friday, August 25, 2017

Empowering children and adults to build an inclusive society

CATS 2017

‘We are the citizens of today and tomorrow,’ stated Kehkashan Basu, 17, winner of the 2016 International Children’s Peace Prize, as she opened the fifth edition of Children as Actors for Transforming Society (CATS). Empowering children to become the leaders of tomorrow is what CATS is all about. CATS 2017 gathered 264 children, young people and adults of 34 nationalities to promote inclusion and to give children experiencing exclusion a voice.



The week-long event kicked off with games through which children and adults learned how to collaborate in order to reach their goals, while also bonding and having fun. Learning Spaces gave participants the opportunity to explore different types of exclusion and inclusion and where we might encounter it: in school, at home, in different institutions. In one activity participants were blindfolded so as to experience what it is like to play a sport blind and to understand exclusion. In another session participants were asked to use playdough to share their experience in Caux. Mohamed, 16, from France explained: ‘I made a heart because even if it’s the beginning of the week, I know I’m going to leave this place with a bigger heart.’

‘You need to listen to everybody in order to create spaces for everyone to feel included,’ said Gerison Lansdown, Chair of Child to Child, as she led a session on unpacking inclusion with Dutch journalist and children’s correspondent Tako Rietveld. ‘Don’t focus on the person, focus on the barrier,’ she recommended.

Participants explored diversity and inclusion during interactive Let’s Explore sessions, which included juggling, music, art, theatre, storytelling, peacebuilding and intercultural dialogue workshops. In one workshop on exploring gender and how it can be a source of discrimination, children and adults used newspapers and magazines to help them discuss gender exclusion and stereotypes.

Evening programmes offered an opportunity for everyone to have fun together. There was a disco night, enjoyed by the Kittens, aged between two to ten, as well as the older participants, and a talent night in the Caux Palace theatre.



What does an inclusive society look like? On the last afternoon of the conference, children and adults built a CATS city, where everyone feels included, out of cardboard boxes and creative materials.   

Participants worked all week to develop their project for the CATS 90 Day Challenge. ‘In 90 days, you can plant a seed, water it, watch it grow and flourish,’ said Julie Ward, children’s rights champion and Member of the European Parliament, as she encouraged participants to take action after the event. ‘You don’t have to be a billionaire or a president to make a difference, you just need motivation.’

As the week came to an end, participants shared their experiences of CATS. ‘I was a book at the human library and I thought my story was perhaps too personal and that it would not interest anyone,’ said one young participant. ‘It was quite the opposite actually. Here [in Caux], I understood that even when you are at your lowest, you must not give up because the best is yet to come.’  

‘My experience here transformed me: we laughed together, reflected together, shared together and cried together,’ said another participant. ‘But we also built hope together. I could hear how children see the world. There is no word in the dictionary to express the impact this week had on me, on my life.'