“These young poets understand the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Their eloquent poems spark hope and inspiration for all of us.”
– Sandy Sohcot, Director of The World As It Could Be Human Rights Education Program

The World As It Could Be is proud to share the forward for “I Have Wings/Yo Tengo Alas,” published by the Chapter 510 and Dept. of Make/Believe in Oakland, CA. Read the book’s forward, written by TWAICB’s Creative Director, Ellen Sebastian Chang!

Chapter 510's Dept. of Make / Believe Online Bookstore logoBook description: In this new anthology of poems, ten Oakland fifth graders rewrite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in their own words. With frank and exquisite language, the young poets offer rich insight into what it means to have the freedom to move, rest, think, seek a safe place to live, be cared for, and have a family. Nearly seventy-five years after it was drafted by the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clarified and humanized by young voices.

Forward — Excerpted from I Have Wings/Yo Tengo Alas 

Dear Ana, Britney, Bryan, Damir, Eric, Elijah, Janney, Jose, Loniah and Piper.

Why does it take lifetimes and more lifetimes for humans to change the laws and systems of society in a manner that invests in loving families, safety, rest, and the freedom of movement?

I imagine that, if allowed the time, you all might have some ideas. This is the time.

In 2006 I was fifty-one. And you all were not born yet. I was invited to attend a meeting about the creation of a project called The World As It Could Be (Human Rights Education Project) inspired by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This incredible document was adopted on December 10, 1948, by the United Nations. What?! I had never heard of this document, or its ideas of what should be all rights for all humans around the world. How did it take fifty-one years for me to find it?

Here you all are in 2022, aged ten and eleven, all of you having access to the awareness of the UDHR forty-one years sooner than me. I believe that matters. I believe your education in these rights matters because once you know, your awareness changes how you relate to the world around you. You are aware and responding to this 1948 document, reimagining it in the words of your poetry. Poetry and the arts are the gateway to the human heart: the heart of the feelings that we all share in common.

Now that you have become aware of the UDHR, it will continue to be important to remind yourselves and us of what we need to be to be fully valued as human:

When children are born, they are free and each should be treated in the same way. They have reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a friendly manner.

You have the right to live, and to in freedom and safety.

Each workday should not be too long, since everyone has the right to rest and should be able to take regular paid holidays.

You have the right to have whatever you need so that you and your family: do not fall ill; do not go hungry; have clothes and a house; and are helped if you are out of work, if you are ill, if you are old, if your wife or husband is dead, or if you do not earn a living for any other reason you cannot help. Both a mother is going to have a baby and her baby should get special help. All children have the same rights, whether or not the mother is married.

Your poetry informs us that we should seek these rights. Your poetry warns us that we should never think of these rights as an impossible pursuit. Your poetry demands us to “make believe” that this is the world as it could and should be. Today your poetry is proof to me, at age sixty-six, that human rights can and should be taught in elementary schools.

Today I am stronger because you said, “because I passed kinder / I read them a book / their eyes were wide open like owls.”

— Ellen Sebastian Chang

Director, Writer, Educator
Advocate for human rights