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Teach-in focuses on human rights in Central America

February 11th, 2010

The InterReligious Task Force on Central America hosted its annual teach-in at John Carroll University in Dolan Science Center on Saturday, Feb. 6.

 The teach-in attracts between 150 and 200 participants each year. The event provides participants with information, practical skills and resources to support social justice programming.

Students and faculty from different parts of Ohio came to network with others who are involved in social justice. The event provides education and advocacy for human rights and economic justice in Central America.

“The teach-in brings in a lot of students, both college and high school. We [JCU] wanted to provide a space for IRTF to teach,” said senior Andy Trares.

According to Trares, who previously interned with IRTF,  hosting the convention at JCU is a way for JCU students to network with other students and gain a wider understanding of issues.      

“It’s exciting to see so many young people who are passionate and engaged in social issues,” said Brian Stefan-Szittai, the program coordinator.      

Stefan-Szittai put together an entire program of activities involving different workshops such as “The Body Shop,” which was about palm oils causing deaths in Colombia, or “Murals,” which educates participants about social change through public art.     

“We also do this so students in particular can network,” Stefan-Szittai said. 

People from beyond JCU and other institutions can get together and talk about the ideas that they have to improve social justice, especially in Central America, which is a focus of IRTF. 

In these workshops, people interacted and shared their feelings about what they thought social justice involves and how to help spread knowledge about these issues.

“I was interested in what it was all about and excited to learn ways that I could help those in need,” said JCU sophomore Dana Stratz.

Stratz attended the event for a class. She went to a workshop called “Exploited Labor: The Wilting Truth about Flowers in Columbia.”

The workshop discussed labor in Colombia, where workers are paid almost half of the minimum wage to work in hot garment factories for 12 hours a day, sometimes with no breaks. Some flower pickers pick around 350 flowers per hour, earning $8.25 a day.

Emily Ferron, a senior at JCU, attended the workshop on the flower pickers.

“I believe much of social justice must incorporate action and compassion, but you also need education to support others as well as to educate people about your own cause.”

Ferron said learning new ways to help others on campus is what she took away from the workshop. 

Students from other universities attended the event as well.

Elliot Phillips, a junior at Baldwin-Wallace, said he has been to IRTF workshops before and feels it helps to look at something from a different perspective.

“It’s good for the spirit. I just had to come,” said Phillips.

Phillips hopes that the IRTF programs are able to expand in the future.

The program was not the first IRTF event to take place on campus. In September, JCU hosted a Fair Trade Expo that was co-sponsored with IRTF, which led to hosting the teach-in.

Chris Kerr, Campus Ministry coordinator of social justice initiatives and immersion experiences, helped to organize the event on campus.

Kerr said, “I am glad that we can continue our partnership with the IRTF. Their efforts to engage the Cleveland community in issues of human rights and social justice are invaluable.”