It is customary at this time of year for people and organisations to look back at everything that has happened over the last twelve months, and to put some kind of perspective on the events of the past year that have brought them to this point.
So I have decided to do the same and to review everything that I have done in 2018 that has led to the launch of HumanRightsExplained, hopefully giving you, the reader, a bit of an insight in to my work this year and the personal side as to how and why this website was created!
There has been blood, sweat and tears along the way, AND a lot of fun and remarkable experiences too; all culminating with some amazing results that at the start of 2018 I could only dream of. Want to find out more?
The First Quarter
January came and I was halfway through my Foundation Degree in Community Leadership; I was learning about the teachings of Paulo Freire, I had delivered a presentation on Anne Williams, the activist who dedicated her life to clearing her son’s name, (and that of 95 others associated with the Hillsborough Disaster), and I had also completed work on how young people are being consistently failed by government policy and the devastating impact of the cuts to the essential funding of youth services.
However it is of course not just young people who are being affected, and it doesn’t take a Social Scientist to see this.
It is the whole of society. Young and old are being affected, central government enforced austerity measures has seen local services cut to the bone, and with the impact of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the corresponding rise in hate crime statistics, it seems we are living in dark times.
I was becoming increasingly incensed by the social injustices that were taking place and wanted to do more to become a defender of human rights but wasn’t quite sure how.
At the start of the year, I was also planning a trip to Italy with University. It had been arranged for us to volunteer with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the camps set up to support the refugees fleeing their homelands to head to Europe to escape war and persecution from their own governments after the Arab Spring in 2011 caused the outbreak of civil wars, and the largest mass migration of human beings since World War 2.
Italy and the ICRC
February came and off I went as part of a cohort from University, open minded and open hearted, determined to do something ‘good’ to help these people.
To say the trip was an inspiration would be an understatement. I spent time helping in camps in Rome, Turin and Milan, working with and learning more about the ICRC and in my own small way, supporting refugees who had fled their homes with nothing, now trying to start over and have some kind of the quality of life that everybody deserves.
Refugees that included families with young children such as ‘Rudi’ and his tiny brother, both boys under the age of 5 living in makeshift shelters with no home or possessions call their own, but at last in the safety of the ICRC.
Or the Syrian fellow who could speak brilliant English (with a startling American twang), who had worked for a large, international oil conglomerate. He had been brutally beaten as he tried to flee and showed us the deep scars on his legs where he had been cut with a machete. He was rightly so, very angry and upset at the world, his emotions were palpable.
Whilst I was with the Red Cross, I was astonished by work they do on a global scale, reuniting families, setting up field hospitals in war zones, supporting and helping to integrate the most vulnerable human beings, with deep psychological, emotional and often physical scars, it was truly humbling.
As a group we were also privileged to visit the International Office of Migration and an NGO that carries out the most remarkable work, Medicin Sans Frontiers, (Doctors Without Borders), to carry out additional research on their organisations and the work they do saving lives across the globe.
I returned from Italy energised and motivated, and had been home only a few weeks before my next research trip. This time a lot less harrowing but no less active!
March – Brussels and the EU
In March this year, I was part of a small group of students who were very fortunate to visit the European Parliament in Brussels. We met several MEP’s and had Q & A sessions with representatives of various political parties, including Labour, Conservative, Green Party and UKIP.
We attended a packed out plenary to listen to a discussion on human rights and we managed a visit to the EU Parlamentarium, a hugely interactive museum dedicated to the History of the EU, somewhere I would encourage anybody to visit.
April – June Reporting, Results, and Life in Between
April of course was then a frantic time, writing up all of my research in to academic work before submitting for marking. I just had a nervous wait until June to get my final results.
In the meantime, I was also supporting somebody fight the injustices that take place closer to home; discrimination is an ugly side to human nature that sadly affects many in the U.K. and often it is the most vulnerable who are discriminated against.
People such as my long-term partner who is diagnosed with Asperger’s, (part of the Autism spectrum), and who face injustice from uncaring people who do not recognise the struggles people with a ‘hidden’ disability face on a regular basis.
Or people who feel marginalised or isolated because of their ethnicity or religious beliefs who feel that society has let them down.
Or people who suffer at the hands of family abusers and end up turning to illicit substances to try and make sense of it all, often leading to mental illness and self-harm.
Or people who lose their homes and end up ‘sofa surfing’ or even worse, on the streets at night because of redundancy, family breakdown, or even a corrupt landlord meaning they no longer have a home of their own.
Or people who suffer because of a combination of some, or all, of the above.
This is often particularly challenging and upsetting to those affected and their loved ones, but thankfully, there is an army of charitable organisations and committed people out there who offer support.
Organisations such as Shelter, a national charity who work with people who face bad housing or homelessness, a crisis incidentally that has seen an exponential rise in the U.K in recent years and which shows no sign of abating, despite promises by government to end homelessness.
Or smaller, but no less important charities such as Understanding Autism Northwest, who offer a dedicated support service to people in need, and essential research in to what is a still a very misunderstood neurological condition.
There’s also the Jo Cox Foundation, set up to help end loneliness after the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016.
Following her death, they initiated the Great Get Together where communities are encouraged to come together in celebration of Jo’s life. I had the idea to hold an event in Blackburn this year and was lucky enough to work with an amazing group known as The Kiran Ladies, forming new friendships and learning about their culture.
The event was a huge success, and for at least one afternoon in June this year, people of all race, religion, ethnicity or background, came together to eat, drink and enjoy each other’s company.
June was also significant for another reason. I received my results for all of the hard work I had put in during the first half of the year. I was more than delighted to achieve a distinction in my Foundation Degree, and can admit this is when I shed a tear.
I also knew then I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life’s work to being a human rights defender. I had already signed up for my final year for a BA (hons) in Community Leadership, and I knew my dissertation piece would centre around human rights.
Little did I know, the second half of 2018 would be even better and take me to places I didn’t even know existed until I started to delve more and more in to the concept and the history of human rights.
Part two to follow….