By KEEARA OFREN and MADELEINE FOUNTAIN.
We are all people. People with rights. People free to go to school, learn what we like, live safely, be ourselves and recognise our full potential.
I am Keeara Ofren, the founder and current leader of the Amnesty International group at my high school, Baradene College. We are part of the Amnesty International youth network, which is a network of young human rights activists who are part of Amnesty International groups and youth groups in high schools around the country. I discovered Amnesty International in year 10 and started up a group in year 12. Now, in year 13, the group has grown from 30 to 100 members.
Amnesty International is a non-governmental organisation with a history spanning more than 50 years, including the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize in 1977. It aims to share awareness of human rights abuses around the world and bring about accountability and protection.
To put it simply, I chose to be a student activist with Amnesty International as I no longer wanted to be a bystander in the face of injustice. Circumstance should never dictate whether or not a person has their rights.
Being student activists for Amnesty International has been our chance to help make a difference and speak up against injustice; we can use our freedom and resources to help others.
In our time as a student activists, we have been able to see this intent actualised. In 2014, student activist groups in New Zealand campaigned for the release of eight NIDA Civic Movement youth activists in Azerbaijan. Following petitions, protest lobbying and writing support letters for prisoners of conscience, we found out the incredible news that two NIDA activists were released. Later that year after Christmas, two more of the remaining activists were released.
Another highlight was meeting up with the members of the Philippine Embassy. This came after a petition campaign to implement plans for investigations and monitoring of alleged torture in jails and prisons, to bring about justice for torture survivors.
In light of the recent refugee crisis in Europe, Amnesty International NZ has begun a new initiative calling for the NZ government to double its refugee quota, which for the past 30 years has remained at 750. We have spent the past month campaigning both in and out of school, encouraging people to sign our petition and fill protest postcards. On August 28 and 29 we held a letter writing marathon, with considerable success.
Along the way, not only was our journey with human rights, but with members learning leadership, active collaboration with different skills, appreciating and utilising creativity. A large part of making the most of school is being motivated to be yourself and be your very best. Being with like-minded people supporting each other, listening to what each other has to say and feeling a strong sense of belonging has been a very rewarding experience.
What events are considered the most prominent through the course of history? Change is always initiated by individuals or groups that feel the need to make a difference in some way. However, some of the biggest changes in history don’t necessarily start with people in power signing documents.
Think of the 1930 Salt Marches of India, South Africa’s National Day of Protest, the American Civil Rights movement of the ‘60s, the Women’s Liberation movement of the ‘70s, the independence of any nation — all were carried out by the grassroots, the civilians, people who started out with an idea.
Something important to remember is that many who took part in such actions were young people, just like you and I.
Change is possible, change can be done and most importantly, no matter the source, and no matter the age, people together with a singular idea can create a better future.
No matter who you are, where you are from, or the so-called ‘inevitable’ paths of world events, there is always a call for you to use your individual talents and strengths to make your difference.
You are a person. A person with rights, free to learn what you like and live safely. That call will lead you through learning experiences, knowing yourself and realising your potential.
Why I joined Amnesty: Rafaela, year 8, Baradene College
“I chose to join Amnesty International because it goes towards a good cause and because I thought it would be fun raising awareness and doing petition work.
“I think it's beneficial for young people to join groups like Amnesty International because when we all grow up we will recall what happened in the past and we'll know not to do them again. I also think young people should join because it gives us an awareness of what's going on in the world and the society.”