Tom Higashio was only three months old when he moved to Canada from Japan but this early promise of a life of opportunities is akin to his own dedication to empowering kids in his Vancouver community. For 14 years, Tom has been a Recreational Programmer for Youth at Vancouver’s Britannia Community Centre, known as a hub for vibrant community exchange. Tom’s goal: “to get youth to be the best people they can be.” His commitment to children and youth rights grew after taking part in Equitas’ national Play it Fair! training in 2006. Since then he has been implementing the program within Britannia Community Centre’s day camps. “Camps offer the opportunity to learn about rights in an informal setting through play,” explains Tom. Britannia being a very diverse community, this type of program is key to promoting a culture of respect and inclusion in the neighbourhood. “But every community needs it,” adds Tom.
Working with his team at Britannia, they have reached roughly 30,000 children and youth in six years through Play it Fair! Every week at the Britannia Community Centre you can see children playing with a purpose in the gym or in the park talking about respect for diversity, cooperation, inclusion and fairness. “Conflict is always going to be around but it’s how we deal with it that matters,” explains Tom. Taking things one step further, Britannia now has children’s rights incorporated into its hiring practices and communications with parents. Tom has also been working to make Play it Fair! annual training available to organizations across Vancouver. Through the years Tom’s commitment to children’s rights has inspired dozens of youth workers from his team to make a difference. Some have gone on to become teachers, bringing the Play it Fair! Toolkit to their classrooms, while some have taken part in international initiatives for children. “Many have become passionate advocates of children’s rights.” Tom’s team has also been one of the first in the province to adopt Equitas’ new Speaking Rights program for youth 12-18. For two years, they have used the new activities for their four-day Diversity Camp workshops, offering a chance for youth to learn about their rights, reflect on their shared values and differences, and seek opportunities to engage in their community. “It’s been thought-provoking and emotional; it’s a safe place for them to talk,” says Tom. On International Human Rights Day in December 2011, Tom was presented with the inaugural Play it Fair! Award marking the impact he and his staff have had on the lives of children and youth in Vancouver every day. “I’m fortunate to have a great team here. It’s this team that makes the program happen because they are so passionate and want to do what’s best for these kids. They are the reason why the program is so successful here,” Tom says. “We will continue our work to bring out these values in youth.”