By Nicky Parker, Publisher at Amnesty International UK

It was in the wake of World War Two that world leaders got together and agreed a legal framework for international justice in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). It was a hugely significant attempt to say ‘never again’ to atrocities such as the Holocaust.

The UDHR says that all of us - no matter our age, gender, ethnicity, faith or country – are born free and equal, that torture is never acceptable, that we have the right to our own faith and to express ourselves freely. It is an expression of moral conscience held by people of all faiths and none. It is a supremely important document.

‘Everyone has the right to education … [This] shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups…’ UDHR Article 26.

Yet despite these troubled times and many threats to our human rights, few of us are familiar with them. They are entrenched in legal language and can be difficult to understand – though you can read Amnesty’s simplified version of the UDHR here

Many adults resist the concept of teaching children to understand and value our freedoms, thinking that it’s inappropriate. But children have all the rights of the UDHR plus a few extra that take account of their vulnerability, which were agreed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children need to understand and value human rights so that they can uphold them now and in the future. They are the next generation of leaders, after all.

‘Dreams of Freedom is a feast of visual stories – brave words and beautiful pictures, woven together to inspire young readers to stand up for others and to make a difference. It gives me great hope for the freedom of future generations.’ Michael Morpurgo, former Children’s Laureate and War Horse author

Sometimes the easiest way to explain something complex is to go to its heart. And at the heart of human rights are core values such as truth, equality and justice. These values are also integral to great story-telling.

At Amnesty – like Chickenshed - we treasure stories. It’s why we work on children’s books. Stories in words and pictures can spread messages far and wide, inspire minds, broaden horizons, grow empathy and encourage solidarity, activism and kindness. They allow children to imagine themselves into different situations – to explore what they might do and to develop confidence to stand up for themselves and others.

How Dreams of Freedom came into being

Dreams of Freedom originally started life as a book. At Amnesty we wanted to encourage children to think about notions of freedom. So we looked for inspiring words by people who had experienced extraordinary things and we asked artists from around the world to illustrate these quotes. It was beautiful to see their pictures breathing new life into the words – each double-spread page telling its own story, to be pored over by a child hungry for ideas.

Authors range from the Dalai Lama and Malala Yousafzai to Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca tribe, whose words led to a landmark judgement whereby Indians were recognised as human. Illustrators include Australian Aboriginal artist Sally Morgan, UK Children’s Laureate Chris Riddell and Brazilian Roger Mello. Images and words reflect a multitude of human experiences.

Amnesty and Chickenshed: exploring freedoms together

There are many ways of telling stories and the Chickenshed Theatre team work to deepen children’s understanding through performance. Their principle of inclusivity is one that that naturally underpins human rights, so we at Amnesty find great joy in collaborating with them.

Chickenshed have gone into many classrooms and encouraged children to explore Dreams of Freedom and to express their own ideas for the future through drama. The project will culminate in a performance at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 June. 

This is truly important and exciting work, because for children to build their own capacity to make positive change, they need to feel empowered. Through exploring other people’s stories, we can encourage children to discover the story within themselves. This enables them to make sense of their worlds and to value the contribution they can make to the future, both individually and collectively - no matter who they are and whether they are aged 7 or 17.

‘To achieve great things, we must dream as well as do.’ Anatole France