Surrey students heard firsthand accounts of the hardship suffered during the Asia-Pacific War last week, as Guildford Park Secondary hosted an International Human Rights Day symposium.
The student-organized event on Dec. 3 welcomed 300 teens from various high schools, including Frank Hurt, North Surrey, Fraser Heights and South Surrey/White Rock Learning Centre. They participated in workshops and listened to speeches about human rights, peace and the Asia-Pacific War (the battle in the Pacific and East Asia during the Second World War).
The mission of this event was to raise awareness about human rights violations during the war, said Thekla Lit from BC ALPHA (Association for Leaning and Preserving the History of WWII in Asia), one of the event sponsors.
“This is a forgotten chapter of history that is rarely taught in schools,” Lit said.
Guildford Park student and event MC Jordan Knutson, 17, said it was great to learn about what happened during the war.
“The interesting thing is that the Japanese government today doesn’t own up to it at all,” Knutson said. “They say they didn’t actually do this, but we have tons of primary sources that confirm this happened, so it’s kind of interesting.”
A highlight of the day was a talk by 87-year-old Peter van der Veen, a survivor of the Asia-Pacific War. He spoke about how the Japanese invaded Bandung, Indonesia and he was put into a civilian concentration camp as a child. He was kept there for more than three years.
“It was really hard on everyone,” Van der Veen said. “Most people died from undernourishment or infectious diseases. There was no medicine.”
He spoke about the pain of being separated from family members.
“The news of the deaths of my mother and brother took a while to overcome,” Van der Veen said. “In the camp, we hoped we would be reunited one day.”
Knutson said hearing someone share their experiences and memories helped him understand more about that time period.
“It’s so much better and more real than reading it out of a textbook,” he said.
Brent Schieve, a history teacher at Guildford Park, said it is really important for kids to learn about their own histories and the histories of others.
“The more we get to know other groups and realize that we went through the same things, I think it will only bring us together,” he said.
Van der Veen said he shares his stories as a peacemaker and hopes younger generations will learn from the mistakes of the past to create a better future.
“We need to strive for equality among all of us,” he said. “We are all part of the human family.”