In an increasingly challenging global world, it’s important we teach young people empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, is an important life skill. It helps us connect with people on a deeper level, build stronger relationships, and respond to their needs in a more compassionate and effective way.

Beyond benefitting our immediate relationships, empathy also creates the foundations for a just and peaceful world. When society has more empathy, more understanding, and less of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality, we can overcome the underlying drivers of inequality and forced displacement.

Why is it important to teach young people empathy?

The last few years have been tough globally, with the impacts of the pandemic, ongoing conflict and the climate crisis exacerbating inequalities in society. Developing empathy is especially important for today’s youth as they navigate these many challenges with understanding, compassion, and resilience.

A growing pool of research shows that school-age students feel increasingly disenfranchised and anxious about the state of the world. The impacts of climate change on their future, the health and economic repercussions of the pandemic, and the ongoing and escalating refugee crisis are all issues where young people’s thoughts, opinions, and feelings are so important in the decision-making process.

Ruthann Richardson, Act for Peace

It’s important that young people have opportunities to develop their empathy by learning about the experiences of those most affected by these issues. Then together, they can feel empowered to take collective action and work towards solutions that are inclusive and effective.

How to teach young people empathy?

A powerful way we can teach empathy is through encouraging perspective-taking; asking young people to put themselves in others’ shoes and consider how they might feel or react.

The Act for Peace Ration Challenge gives young people an empathy-building glimpse into a refugee’s experience while empowering them to turn their empathy into action.

During Ration Week (19th – 23rd June 2023), students eat the same rations as a refugee living in a camp in Jordan, just rice, lentils, beans, chickpeas, oil and fish (or tofu for vegetarians or vegans). Students also take control of their own fundraising initiative and start important conversations with their peers and communities about how it feels to eat only rations.   

“Young people’s voices are so often sidelined by political leaders on a myriad of important social issues. The Act for Peace Ration Challenge aims to empower students to find their voice and feel like they can make a real difference”, says Ruthann Richardson from Act for Peace.

Registrations for the 2023 Ration Challenge for Schools are now open. Register here.

Combining learning with practical action

Since the Ration Challenge Schools Program began, schools across Australia have raised nearly $1.6 million to help support refugees and other displaced people around the world. Moreover, students across Australia have developed their advocacy skills and raised vital awareness. 

The Ration Challenge has proven to be an exceptionally powerful tool for teachers and students.

Anything you can do as an educator that you can engage young people with, anything that you can do to teach your students and children about the world and not just the bubble that they may be living in their own suburb or in their own school area in Australia, to make them more worldly and to be able to be people who go to those margins and work with people living on the fringe, whether that be in a local community, city, the country they live in, and/or the global world, then the world’s going to be a better place.

–          Chris Goodman, Director of Mission at Oakhill College

Teaching empathy to young people has the power to change the world for the better. The Act for Peace Ration Challenge is a powerful way to combine the important goal of building empathy in young people with the practical action of supporting refugees in need. And while it offers only a glimpse into the experience of being a refugee, the experience has a beneficial impact on a student’s ability to feel they — as an individual — have the power and capacity to do something in an increasingly challenging world. 

Registrations for the 2023 Ration Challenge for schools are open now.

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