Laila Jafri

Laila Jafri

In Laila’s Own Words:

My very first introduction to Amnesty International began with questions about the death penalty. In November 2010, Aasia Noreen, a Christian woman from Pakistan, was convicted for blasphemy and sentenced to death. Reading Amnesty’s 2011 report on the case gave voice to a reaction I did not have the language for yet. It echoed what I had assumed every human would naturally believe: that the death penalty breaches human rights, the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The case opened my eyes to the many injustice structures that led to her sentence: the prevalent dangers of caste systems, religious persecution, and gender violence.
When I left home to study for school in Vancouver, fundraising for Amnesty International was one of my first jobs and remains a profoundly influential experience. Every day, I would go into work and ask a stranger what they believed their human rights were, and every person would answer the same way. Talking to people about Amnesty’s campaigns taught me that while people are deeply aware of their rights, exercising them does not always include ensuring that others are able to do so too; not because they don’t care but because human rights issues like the death penalty, climate injustice, and genocidal wars seem beyond their influence.
Sharing Amnesty’s achievements and progress allowed me to remind others (and myself) that our powerlessness is a fragile myth that thrives in our extractive capitalist society. There is no shortage of proof that injustice can reverse its course when we show up to defend each other inherent dignity, right to life, freedom, and safety. Connecting people with this sense of empowerment enabled me to think bigger and recognize that solidarity is, and always must be, a verb.

Eventually, my career led me to work for an incredible food security organization in Toronto. It was here that my colleague, an exceptional leader in the non-profit industry and activist, encouraged me to apply for the National Youth Organizer program.
From solidarity actions for the +61,600 disappeared in Mexico, to demands for the immediate release of Saudi Women Human Rights Defenders, we have been working on actions every month despite COVID-19 restrictions. I continue to be stunned by the capacity of digital activism and the creative dedication of my peers who stop at nothing to get the job done! The most recent of our efforts is a community letter-writing event which aims to hold the police accountable for its violence against Black communities in the U.S and Canada.
A project I am eager to kick-off involves re-launching ‘The Matchstick,’ Amnesty’s youth newspaper, as a bi-annual, digital art + literature magazine featuring content produced by young artists and activists who bring light to Amnesty’s ongoing Human Rights campaigns.
Volunteering as a National Youth Organizer gives me the space to use my most authentic voice and allows me to work on what I stand for! Every action we execute supplies me with more faith in our capacity to take responsibility for one another’s right to a just, safe, and sustainable world. I am looking forward to learning more and building community within this program.

THANK YOU, Laila!

Luna Cardenas-Ibarra

Luna Cardenas-Ibarra

In Luna’s Own Words:

 

My passion for human rights started from a very young age. In 5th grade I started my own club for Because I am a Girl which lasted 4 years; the club fundraised enough money to sponsor a young girl in Colombia. I realized I wanted to continue my involvement with non-profit charities and organizations. It wasn’t long after that I found out about Amnesty International. Every year my church hosted a large letter-writing campaign and everyone in the congregation would participate. Once I was old enough, I began to read the case summaries for the campaigns, and I was shocked. Even as an immigrant I had still grown up in the bubble of Canadian privilege. My parents had always been careful to mute the news broadcasts when they started speaking about heavy world issues. Once I broke that bubble of “a perfect world”, I pledged to learn more and educate myself. I realized that the cases Amnesty was petitioning for weren’t stand-alone cases of human rights abuses; they represented a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of human rights abuses happening daily. They were the indicators of a pattern that held hands with corruption and replicated itself time and time again. For me this was a scary revelation. It was the sort of revelation which at first made a young girl like me feel small and powerless. It was the sort of revelation which turned into a sense of responsibility. I got in contact with the national organizers coordinator at Amnesty who was happy to take me under her wing and introduce me to the hopeful world of activism.

Since my involvement with Amnesty I’ve been granted so many opportunities like attending the annual general meetings, regional meetings, letter writing events and so much more. One of the highlights was in 2019 when I was invited to AI Canada’s Human Rights College; a week-long intimate setting conference specifically for youth. I got to meet more young people like me with dreams as big as the ones on my shoulders. I learnt about the power of letter-writing, and why such traditional means of activism in a digital world are still so effective. I learnt about legality obstacles in human-rights cases, about government corruption cover-ups, OKA and so much more.


With so much information in my head I was able to take it all back and apply it to the community and people that surrounded me. I didn’t need to go across the world to make a difference and that was a much-needed reassurance for the young restless activist in me. At my high school, RH King Academy, I hosted multiple letter-writing campaigns, petition-signings, documentary screenings and one large-scale Red Dress Awareness Campaign which got the attention of the whole school and a local newspaper. I was able to apply my activism toolkit outside of Amnesty campaigns to real issues affecting my generation including the cuts to education, and the environmentalist movement of “Friday’s for Future”.

Since graduating from high school and moving to Ottawa, I’ve been able to expand my knowledge and community. Being in a city passionate about social justice has given me even more opportunities to attend large-scale rallies, protests, visit embassies and work with other young people to organize campaigns. As a Conflict Studies & Human Rights student I am now able to dedicate myself full-time to doing what I love most! I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me, and grateful for everything I’ve learnt along the way.

THANK YOU, Luna!