Rebecca Schmidtke

Rebecca Schmidtke

In Rebecca’s Own Words:

Rebecca taking action for the #RiosVivos communities during online event

I first discovered Amnesty International when I was in grade 10 after my teacher gave our Civics class a presentation on it. I instantly wanted to get involved, I’ve always been motivated to help others and to do my part to make the world a better place but I didn’t know how to affect that change on my own. I started looking into Amnesty after that and signed up to receive their Urgent Actions and began participating in their campaigns online.

It is when I got to university when I really got more involved. My school had an Amnesty International Club and it was the first extracurricular I ever signed up for and I would be heavily involved in it for the next four years. In my first year I joined the executive committee as the Events Coordinator, my first big task for Amnesty was to help plan our Genocide Awareness Month. The first campaign I really worked on for this group was for the Indigenous Peoples of Colombia who were at risk of genocide. I started a correspondence with the Colombian government in 2014 to put protective measures in place for Indigenous Rights Activist, Juan Pablo Gutiérrez who was being threatened for his work. Seeing how Amnesty’s letter writing campaigns, can have success really motivated me to continue this work and to be involved as possible. From then on I have been heavily involved with Amnesty’s participating the CNCA’s campaign ‘Open for Justice’.

In my third year of university and as President for our Amnesty Chapter, I organized an event on Indigenous Land Defenders in Latin America with a letter writing action to our MP, Mark Gerretsen to petition him to table a Private Members Bill based on the Open for Justice Campaign. We had around twenty-thirty letters that we went sent to Mr. Gerretsen and he took notice of our work. He asked to meet with me to discuss the campaign and how he could help. Myself and another member of our group prepared a report for him on the Campaign, the model legislation, and what we hoped he’d do. After our meeting he agreed to table the Bill for us, which was an incredible feeling. I had another experience where I got to see Amnesty’s work have an impact and again it motivated me to do more. In the weeks following this meeting, we found out the government actually had plans to create a Bill to enact an Extractive Sector Ombudsperson. Which has since been created (although not with the exact powers we want, so we’re still working on this campaign!)

After I left university, I wanted to make sure I could still be involved with Amnesty and I joined the Business and Human Rights + Indigenous Rights Team here in Toronto, after about a year with this team I became the Chair and I joined the National Organizers Program. Being in both teams have allowed me to connect with many like minded activists who motivate me everyday to continue fighting for human rights! I have gained more skills and learned more about the topics I am most passionate about. I am really proud of my BHR+IR Team, in the past year we have worked on many successful campaigns, one of our members created a letter to send out to MPs during our last federal election to ensure that the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples would be a priority and would get implemented after the election. This letter ended up becoming a national letter writing initiative for Amnesty International Canada. We are still working on this campaign and I hope that we see some positive progress with it soon.

I feel so lucky to be a part of the National Organizers Program. I have been able to work alongside so many inspiring youth leaders in activism and it has made my work better. I am in awe of my peers in this program and all the wonderful initiatives and events they’ve put on in their communities.

Being a part of Amnesty International has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, I am doing work that I can be proud of, and getting to meet incredible individuals that I am now lucky to call my friends. I am excited for my future with Amnesty and to see what comes next!

THANK YOU, Rebecca!

Monica Romero

Monica Romero

In Monica’s Own Words:

Monica smiling

When I moved to Toronto two years ago, I knew that I wanted to continue volunteering but I wasn’t sure where the best fit for me would be. The majority of my work and volunteer experiences have been rooted in social enterprise and working with individuals to reduce vulnerabilities associated with poverty and gender-based violence. Up until this point, I had focused my efforts primarily on working directly with individuals in my community. After hearing one of my classmates speak about Amnesty International by raising awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, I was interested in learning more about the organization and advocacy work overall.

In March 2019, I joined the National Organizers Program of Amnesty International Canada where I have been able to connect and collaborate with inspiring members from across the country. Since joining the program, I have focused my efforts on bridging awareness and advocacy to student groups and organizations. During my undergraduate degree in business, human rights was a topic that was never heavily mentioned in any courses that I took. Now in social work, I have been able to observe the integration of human rights and advocacy at a much deeper level. Through my work with Amnesty International, I wish to encourage participation and awareness of advocacy and human rights action by working with students that may not receive exposure through their academics or extracurriculars.

Monica in group photos with other volunteers

By working with Enactus York – a student-run entrepreneurial organization that seeks to create projects around social issues – I have been able to create a platform for discussions and actions on human rights to take place in an organization that is composed primarily of business students. In November 2019, the group engaged in a Write for Rights event where they were able to write letters advocating for cases involving youth. This was an exceptionally impactful moment for me as it brought a team of students together to truly use their voices for human rights defending.

Monica in group image with other volunteers

In addition to being involved with the National Organizers Program, I work with Amnesty International’s Action Network on Women’s Human Rights. This group focuses on issues that impact women both locally and globally that are rooted in gender inequality. My work with this group has further inspired my future goals of continuing to work in the area of gender-based discrimination and violence through a career in law and social work.

Although it has only been one year, I have learned a great deal from being involved with Amnesty International. I look forward to continuing to grow and learn from others while working towards promoting advocacy and human rights activism.

THANK YOU, Monica!

Shantel Watson

Shantel Watson

In Shantel’s Own Words:

Shantel holding small poster.Following my experience in high school as a member of a human rights initiative created to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, I knew that I wanted to further my dedication to human rights advocacy and activism, and that Amnesty International would provide me with a credible platform to accomplish this.

Since joining Amnesty International, my human rights focus has expanded to include efforts supporting the work of Earth and Land Defenders in Latin America and Canada. As a member of the Amnesty International Toronto Business&Human Rights and Indigenous Rights Specialized Team, I have been involved in the organization of various events such as a screening of the short documentary “Uprivers” which highlighted the environmental and social impacts of the Mount Polley Mining Disaster in British Colombia. We also organized the “Indigenous Issues Are Election Issues” event in 2019, where individuals from the GTA were invited to write letters to federal election candidates, urging them to make the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples a priority if elected.

Shantel with another volunteer holding poster.

Since joining the National Organizers Program of AI Canada, I have been supported in my own endeavors.  In 2019, I partnered with my alma-mater to educate high school students about the significance of the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This action – supported and inspired by the Red Feather Project- is an art-based initiative created by digital arts and photography instructor Heather Reid, to raise awareness about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada. I worked with members of the Red Feather Committee to ensure that this initiative was inclusive of members of the 2SLGBTQQIA community. We invited Laureen-Blu Waters, a grandmother elder advisor to the National Inquiry to join us in a discussion panel at Cardinal Leger Secondary School in Brampton. The panel taught students about the history of colonialism and how it has informed gender and racial based discrimination and violence against Indigenous peoples. On the National Day of Action for MMIWG on October 4th, we had two-spirit Ojibway performer Neenokasi, also referred to as Hummingbird, share their talents and knowledge with us during a vigil which was held for students and members of the public to attend.

Shantel in front of slideshow projection giving speech.

Recently, I was chosen to represent Amnesty International Canada as the only youth member of the Canadian English-speaking delegation to this year’s Global Assembly. This is an incredible honour for me, and a role that I remain committed to through intense preparation leading up to the Assembly this summer.

Following the completion of my undergraduate degree in International Relations, it is my intention to study international human rights law, after which I hope to not only practice law, but to also specialize in human rights and anti-corruption investigative research.

Being involved with Amnesty has helped me to craft my career path and to fulfill what I believe to be one of my key purposes in life. From fundamental skill building to networking and mentorship, this organization has provided me with all of the critical tools that I have needed to be successful in my human rights activism and advocacy.

THANK YOU, Shantel!

Cassandra DeFreitas

Cassandra DeFreitas

In Cassandra’s Own Words:

    In my first year of university I decided that I wanted to get involved in school clubs and find out what I was truly passionate about, as there were not many opportunities to do so in my home town. Entering my first year of social work, I knew that I wanted to help people; but that was very broad. Before the annual club’s fair at my university, I spent a Sunday afternoon reading through all 500+ clubs York has and made a list of which organizations I wanted to go talk to and find out more information about.

    Amnesty made my list, along with many other ‘helping’ organizations. After the fair, I had joined 4 clubs all with different focuses; one on youth mentoring, one on governance, my student association, and Amnesty. After seeing the first-year representative executive application open for Amnesty, I decided I wanted to apply- and if I did not get the position, I would stay a general member and also get more involved in the other clubs I joined.

    I had gotten an interview with two executives that I still stay in touch with today. I showed up in a blazer, dress pants, and flats, had woken up extra early to do my hair and makeup and printed off my resume. I was a first-year student in my second or third week at a university that had more students than my entire town, I really did not know what to expect. Upon walking into the Amnesty office, I knew two things. One, I was overdressed, and two, that this would be a space I would make memories in for the rest of my university career. The posters up on the wall of protests, messages of solidarity, placards on the floor, and two outspoken women sitting across from me conducting my interview; I knew this was the place I wanted to be, not in my stuffy blazer and mascaraed eyes.

    Throughout the interview, I had an amazing conversation about the issues with modern approaches to concerns over missing and murdered indigenous women. I was successful with my first-year representative position and hit the ground running. By the end of my first year, I was co- coordinating events with directors and was already employing the Amnesty way of thinking in my studies and daily life.

    From here, I ran for a director position in my second year. I was originally set on becoming the director of events and campaigns, but unfortunately lost to an amazing candidate who I still have the pleasure of working alongside today, and became the administration director (secretary). This position was a blessing in disguise and really helped me in understanding the behind the scenes aspects of advocacy and aided my in learning to navigate bureaucratic spaces, especially when fighting for ‘radical’ causes. My third year would be my final year in classes before moving onto field study. It is common that presidents are in their fourth/ final year and have been with the club for longer than two years. However, I knew that I needed to run because I would forever regret it if I was not able to finish off my last full year on the York campus without carrying the Amnesty name on my back. I went out on a limb and ran for the position and was successful; which has brought me to where I am today.

    Today, I am the president of Amnesty International at York University’s chapter. In my second year, a staff from Amnesty Toronto and I had a discussion about me getting more involved in Amnesty as an organization outside of the University community. I then became the co- chair (president) for Amnesty International’s Action Network on Women’s Human Rights where I work with amazing people in the GTA around issues directly affecting women and support/ creating local events around similar topics. Most recently, I was chosen as one of 8 other youth in Canada to serve on Amnesty International’s National Youth Action and Advisory Committee to work towards implementing the Youth Strategy nationally and internationally to better equip youth to conduct these important conversations around human rights.

    Now, I have been asked to declare ‘one experience’ that really inspired me as an activist with Amnesty International, and I honestly do not think that I can answer this question. Amnesty consistently amazes me at how they are able to conduct themselves on a global scale. Time and time again I have been reading a textbook and I see Amnesty quoted up and down the page and I am inspired. I read their reports, articles, petitions and I am inspired. When politicians do something awful for human rights development, I think, “how is Amnesty going to tackle this one?”. They have always amazed me with their publications.

    I will say, however, I do not really know if 2016 Cassandra knew what she was getting herself into until I attended my first Write for Rights event. I had heard the current president, executives, directors, and team talk about how it was the biggest and most important event of the year. However, I do not think I realized how large and important this event or Amnesty was until I attended my first Write for Rights in November of 2016. Sitting beside someone else who was writing for the same case as me and getting to know why that person decided to take 5 minutes out of their busy university day to write a letter for someone they had never met, and will probably never met, really meant something to me and made me realize the beauty of human rights defending.

    Before attending Write for Rights, I was questioning whether or not human rights advocacy was for me. Would I ever even be able to make any sort of impact? Should I just go into something that would make me money? I was also feeling a little low at that point because I was now in midterms and finishing final case studies and papers for my social work and human rights classes. We never covered any ‘happy’ topics because there always is some sort of injustice going on. I was discouraged that not as many people cared and that there were people dying and suffering and there was virtually nothing I could do about it. After going home that November night of Write for Rights, I had done more research on Amnesty, on Write for Rights, on some of their campaigns like No More Stolen Sisters and I Welcome and had a restored amount of faith in the future, and knew that my future included me in the scene fighting for human rights.

THANK YOU, CASSANDRA!

Roshni Khemraj

Roshni Khemraj

In Roshni’s Own Words:

roshni holds a small white board with the words      I got involved with Amnesty in my first year at York University. I remember walking past the Amnesty International at York (AIY) table in the major hub of campus several times and often pausing to sign a petition, hear more about their current campaigns and events and chat with the executive members. However, it wasn’t until my second year that I got more involved with AIY as an Events and Campaigns Ambassador. The warm welcome I received and the empowering feeling of support and believe in my ability to advocate for human rights helped me find my place on campus, discover a lifelong passion for human rights and build my confidence. 

    In the years since I became involved with Amnesty, I went on to be the Promotions Director and later, the President of my campus chapter. During this time, I’ve had the honour and privilege of seeing AIY grow to new heights; from a small, grassroots club, to one of the largest and most recognizable clubs on campus. In a commuter campus of 55 000 undergraduate students, it can often be hard for clubs to establish a strong presence and successful outreach to the broader student population. However, in the 3 years that I’ve been involved in Amnesty, I can’t count how many people have seen us running an event, or even just putting up a display, and instantly messaged or sought me out to say ‘I just saw Amnesty again, you all do such great work on campus!’ From the bold yellow displays to our open-door meetings and proudly wearing our lit candles on sweaters, t-shirts, lanyards, stress balls and phone wallets, AIY has truly become a symbol of hope, strength, and friendship in a world that can sometimes seem too big to fix.

Roshni Khemraj stands infront of an Amensty International booth holding a sign-up form.

As I’ve since graduated from my undergraduate degree and am now in law school, I’ve built upon my passion for human rights advocacy and my knowledge about the work that Amnesty does globally, and I now sit on the National Youth Action and Advisory Committee (NYAAC) for Amnesty Canada along with eight other passionate and dedicated youth across the country. I look forward to the working for the next two years to expand Amnesty Canada’s sustainable youth engagement projects and build a stronger youth base for human rights activism in Canada.

When I started volunteering with Amnesty, I remember reading about the case of a woman from El Salvador named Maria Theresa Rivera who was sentenced to forty years in prison for simply suffering from a miscarriage and being charged with having an abortion. In El Salvador, abortion is banned under all circumstances – even when the pregnancy is a result of rape, incest or when the life of the woman is at risk. However, with Amnesty’s coordinated global action in the form of petitions, letters and spreading awareness, she was released in May 2016. The case of Maria Theresa is the one I think of most when discussing why I care about human rights and why I continue to do the activist work I do. Human rights advocacy, at face value, can appear to be disheartening when you consider the magnitude of injustice you’re taking on. I can’t count how many times I’ve been challenged by critics attempting to point out the apparent naivety of human rights work –

“You honestly don’t think you can rid the world of child labour, do you?”,

“Do these letters actually work?”,

“One signature doesn’t matter”  

Roshni Khemraj is sitting on the floor with a group of other volunteers while laughing and speaking. To all the critics, I say, yes. Yes, I do believe we can rid the world of injustice. Yes, these letters work. And yes, every single signature matters and plays a significant part in Amnesty’s global advocacy. The work we do undoubtedly has an impact, and it is cases like Maria Theresa’s that keep me motivated to take on large injustices faced by millions around the world- with a determined and optimistic mindset.

Joining AIY over three years ago was the best decision I made as an undergrad at York. It was at the beginning of my second year and I still had that lingering feeling of being a bit lost and feeling so small in such a big campus. With AIY, I found my voice, my best friends and most importantly, a sense of purpose. It is so empowering to know that every single day, I am a part of something bigger than myself and every day I spend collecting signatures and spreading awareness is part of a worldwide movement advocating for positive change and ensuring that everyone in the world can have their basic human rights granted. For me, AIY, and eventually Amnesty Toronto and Amnesty Canada, has become more than just a club and an organization I volunteer for. It has become a family full of passionate and unrelenting activists.

THANK YOU, ROSHNI!

Feerass Ellid

Feerass Ellid

In Feerass’ Own Words:

Picture of Feerass infront of two monitors with the AITO website on them.I have been learning about human rights since I was a young child and continued to develop my knowledge while in university as a drama student. Many of the plays I studied were concerned with the humanity of people, often depicted against a political backdrop marred by human rights violations.

After university, I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in technology. In 2017, I completed a course on modern website development. I wanted to find a way to bridge my passion for human rights and my tech skills, so I emailed Amnesty International Toronto to see if I could help with their website.  I am now a member of the AITO Web Team and in that capacity I regularly update the site with new information as well as perform site maintenance as needed.

I participated in the 2018 AITO Regional Meeting and found it particularly inspiring. A researcher and an activist specializing in web technologies were speakers at the event. They stressed the problems of internet security and privacy for human rights activists. I believe that the dissemination of information on an increasingly closed internet will be a growing concern for human rights organizations. To see both activists and researchers speaking about this topic left me feeling more informed as well as more hopeful.

I thoroughly enjoy my time volunteering with Amnesty International as it exposes me to human rights issues not just in faraway countries but right here in Canada. I highly encourage anyone to volunteer!

THANK YOU, FEERASS!

Corey Smith

Corey Smith

In Corey’s Own Words:

Corey is standing at a podium, smiling and speaking into a microphone.I was inspired to become involved Amnesty International after attending the protests at the Toronto G20 conference in the summer of 2010. At these protests, I witnessed the violation of civil and human rights that occurred on that day. When a violation like that can happen in a country like Canada, where we take for granted that our rights will be protected, it became all too clear to me how fragile the concept of “fundamental rights” is, and how easily they could be taken away. This inspired me to learn more about human rights issues and opened my eyes to the egregious abuses happening with impunity around the world. As the world’s most prominent human rights organization, I learned more about Amnesty International. I was inspired to get involved to help give a voice to people who suffer these abuses for simply standing up for what’s right. 

Corey Smith and two other Amnesty activists holding sings with pictures of imprisoned journalists and activists.

 

I initially joined the Reel Awareness Film Team, as it seemed like a great way to marry my love of documentary film with activism in support of human rights. I have since assumed a leadership role on the team, as well as a Director-At-Large position on the AITO board. In the past, I have also volunteered in-office supporting the activism team, the fundraising team, and at various events such as Hot Docs and Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market.

 

Corey Smith with four other Amnesty activists smiling at the camera in a group photo.Volunteering with Amnesty International has opened my eyes to a much bigger world, and helped me to think more critically about global events. It is inspiring to work with such committed people to further a cause you believe in. It has helped me to understand that when individual people work together, they can create significant change and act as a voice for the voiceless. On a practical level, it has also allowed me to develop my leadership skills within a non-profit environment, which recently helped to shift my career from the private sector into a more fulfilling one; supporting an incredible local charity.

 

I would recommend anyone who has an interest in global issues and human rights to volunteer with Amnesty International. It does make a difference in the lives of others around the world. In a world that is increasingly volatile, Amnesty International provides an outlet for concerned citizens to take action and truly have an impact.

THANK YOU, COREY!

Nisa Aliyeva

Nisa Aliyeva

In Nisa’s Own Words:

Picture of Nisa Aliyeva sitting at table smiling with two other Amnesty activistsI am a first-year student at the University of Toronto, St. George Campus, with a great passion for human rights. My interest in Amnesty International and community involvement was inspired by my mother. She worked with the UNHCR for many years and would bring home stories about refugees and their path to finding safety. Those stories had a huge impact on my life, and I developed a desire to help those who are in need of justice and safety.

I am currently a Youth Organizer with Amnesty International Canada and have volunteered with Amnesty in the GTA for over three years now. With every event and meeting I attend at Amnesty, I learn a lot about global issues and also meet inspiring people.

Nisa with fellow activists holding up signs with Human Rights solgans.For the past 3 years, I raised awareness in my high school about what is happening in the world, inspiring them to learn and to help bring justice to those in need. Due to my involvement with Amnesty, I helped get my school involved in different campaigns. One of the biggest one was the Butterflies for Mexico Campaign in support of the families of over 27,000 missing people in Mexico. For this campaign, I had the school students and staff draw over a hundred butterflies with messages of support for the families affected.

I have taken part in a number of Amnesty events and initiatives such as Pride Toronto, Women’s Marches, street actions in Kensington Market and represented the organization at the annual Volunteer Youth Expo Toronto. Currently, I am part of The Matchstick Newspaper Team (newly created AI youth newspaper) and recently joined the Amnesty Club at UofT.  

The community work I have done has affected me positively and motivated me to do more! Amnesty International Canada has helped me develop my experience and knowledge of human rights and taught me life-long skills – which I am sure I will use in the future. I hope to continue volunteering with AI and possibly take on a research role (which is a dream goal of mine). I want to become a Human Rights Lawyer and work for the United Nations. I want to defend victims of human rights abuses and become an advocate for social justice. I strongly recommend others to join Amnesty, to help those in need, and possibly grow a career path in the field of human rights.

THANK YOU, NISA!

Maha Asad

Maha Asad

Youth Leader, National Youth Advisory and Action Committee, AI Canada

In Maha’s words:

Maha at a protest holding a sign that has the Amnesty International logo on it.

I first found Amnesty International through an online posting for a youth council in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area). I was 15, had never heard of AI before, and was just looking for a worthwhile place to get my volunteer hours for high school. I was always passionate about social justice.

However, AI gave me the opportunity to meet the most supportive and incredible student activists and staff and learn much more about human rights issues. Knowing my work could save lives couldn’t have been more worthwhile!

Maha with fellow activist holding signs about Mexico and Canada solidarity.

I started out with simple campaign actions – petitioning, going to AITO events, letter-writing and meeting with the GTA youth council. In 2017, I went to the Human Rights College and AGM in Calgary, which was a really great training event that enabled me to do a lot more as a youth activist. I was happy to find out about a small AI section in my hometown. However, after I attended a meeting in Ajax I was concerned as everyone else was probably three times my age. To counter this, I contacted one of the leaders and worked with her that summer to create a youth group for the Durham region. A few other girls from the GTA group and I were also working on a project called The Matchstick, a human rights newspaper by youth, for youth. I moved to Montreal in the fall for University and joined AI’s chapter at McGill. In May 2018, I had the privilege of representing AI Canada at AI’s first international youth summit in Nairobi, Kenya. Now, I’m working on re-establishing NYAAC, the National Youth Action and Advisory Committee. Young activists have a spark-like energy and unwavering persistence that I find so uplifting – I couldn’t be more content working to make sure they’re effectively included in AI’s human rights movement.

Maha smiling in group photo with other Amnesty activists.

Maha at a protest holding a sign saying

It can sometimes feel very overwhelming and disheartening to keep hearing news of human rights violations despite all the effort you’re putting in. So when you read about the small success stories, it can make a huge difference! A prisoner of conscience finally being released, a change to a discriminatory law being made, or seeing that the letters you wrote made someone feel safer and heard. They’re a reminder that my volunteer work can have a real and meaningful impact. It teaches you so much more than being globally informed; joining AI has taught me (and is still teaching me) to be a more humble, empathetic, and resilient person.

THANK YOU, MAHA!

Sharmila Setaram

Sharmila Setaram

Super human rights activist

I first met Sharmila at the 2000 AI Annual General Meeting during an icebreaker which she attended as a youth delegate. She made an impression on me immediately with her wonderful smile and friendly demeanour. Since that time, I have had the privilege of working Sharmila in the Fieldworker program and making a dear friend. Her strength of character, passion, commitment and determination make her a great Fieldworker, Vice-President of the Executive Committee and most importantly a super human rights activist.

Corinne de Reland

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AI Canada Fieldworker

Sharmila’s commitment to and knowledge of human rights issues, and of the Amnesty movement, continues to inspire me. She is a creative, insightful thinker. She is a strong leader, an extremely supportive team member, and a great planner. I am very glad to have had the opportunity to get to know her through her work at AITO and on the Executive Committee!

Margaret Flynn

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AI Canada EC Board member

In Sharmila’s words:

“I became involved with Amnesty International in high school – and I remember my first trip to the Toronto Office. I was nervous and overwhelmed but successfully managed to get a photo collection that documented the abuse of street kids in India. It was a cool experience. I put these posters up in my social science class and gave a presentation as part of a school project. At the time I was very interested in the rights of women and children and beginning to learn about female genital mutilation which I continue to find very disturbing. I was honoured with a Humanitarian Award in high school for my involvement with Amnesty International. I didn’t make the award show because I was busy having a life changing experience at Amnesty’s first Human Rights College. It was amazing to be surrounded by other youth from across Canada who were passionate and knowledgeable about human rights issues – I had never felt this kind of connectedness.

Fast forward 15+ years and I’ve taken on many roles from being involved with my group at the University of Waterloo; to becoming a Fieldworker and enabling and supporting the activism of others’; to an elected delegate to the International Council Meeting and now as a board member responsible for the overall governance of the organization. I don’t always have the chance but I love getting out to the schools and community to deliver workshops to help inspire others to take action towards a better world.

I have had the privilege to meet several human rights defenders over the years and I cannot fathom the courage it takes to fight for what is right in an environment where their lives and the lives of their family and community are often at risk. This renews and drives my passion and commitment to support whatever education, campaigns, and leadership I can to collectively have the greatest impact possible in securing human rights for all.

To keep balanced I have guilty pleasures like waiting in line to meet Hulk Hogan – that seemed to be hit on facebook from my friends and Amnesty family. I love travelling and climbing up mountains no matter how slow”.

“I first met Sharmila in 1999, at Amnesty’s first Human Rights College (HRC) for youth. At that time, Sharmila was a student leader of the Amnesty club in her high school. I was really impressed with the passionate way that she approached social justice issues. At the time, I was just starting to work on our Branch’s diversity program. I noticed that Sharmila had volunteered to facilitate a discussion on diversity and human rights with her fellow HRC students, and I decided to sit in. I was blown away by her facilitation skills, her commitment towards cultural diversity, and her courage in challenging discriminatory attitudes. I remember thinking: “I wish I could insert Sharmila into various programs and structures in Amnesty, so that she can continue to challenge us as we carry out our diversity work.

Well, my wish became true. Sharmila was involved in the HRC Planning Committee the following year and led sessions at subsequent HRCs. She joined the Fieldworker Program, and became the Chair of the Fieldworker Coordinating Committee from 2003-2005. I had the pleasure of working directly with Sharmila during that time. I was impressed with her leadership skills, with her ability to handle all the things thrown at her (including dealing with conflicts), and her analytical skills in helping us transition the Fieldworker program into the vibrant program that it is today. Sharmila chaired a number of working groups, including a working group that proposed many changes that helped AI Canada to fully value and include youth at all levels of the organization. This model has now expanded into the international levels of Amnesty.

Sharmila was elected by our membership to represent our Branch at two International Council Meetings (2007 ICM held in Mexico and the 2009 ICM held in Turkey). Now that she is on the EC, she is a member of our Diversity Committee as the EC rep; and I feel that we have come full circle.

My fondest memories of Sharmila include the time that the two of us were chosen to attend an Amnesty meeting on activism in Paris. This was the first time that Sharmila had travelled overseas, so I wanted to make sure that I could help her make her way from the airport to our meeting place. My flight from Ottawa arrived a couple of hours before her flight from Toronto; so we had arranged to meet at the airport. When Sharmila emerged from passport control, the breadth of her smile was matched by her ginormous red suitcase! We managed to lug that suitcase through the Paris subway system, to the Amnesty office in Paris, onto the train to Marly le Roi, and on our return, throughout Paris.

When I think of Shamila, I always see her with a big smile and a glint in her eyes; ready to take on the world in the cause of human rights for all.

Lily Mah-Sen

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Former Activism Coordinator, AI Canada

THANK YOU, SHARMILA!