In Ellen’s words:
“I grew up in a middle class Anglo neighbourhood in Montreal. The only remarkable thing about it was that my parents instilled in me a sense of social justice. Recently a cousin said that I was like my parents on steroids. They found a way to live their beliefs, have a family, contribute to “culture” (classical music, theatre, dance, art), and do some travelling. I haven’t yet found that balance, as now everything seems to clash; travel = not good for the environment, classical anything seems colonial, and beliefs are urgent top priorities.
Amnesty International rose into view for me soon after I left a so-called spiritual community. As an Indiaphile, I had always wanted to find out what had happened with the Bhopal disaster, and contribute to that. I had travelled in India on meditation retreats; now I turned my attention to the work that really needs to be done. 2004 was the 20th anniversary of that disaster, and AI came out with a report that remains one of the important writings on Bhopal, almost 10 years later.
After exploring other issues and learning more about AI, I realized that Bhopal falls under the “Business & Human Rights” category, and so joined the BHR group. However, I found that unlike other issues, there was, it seemed, only I who wanted to work on Bhopal. To satisfy that inquiry, I joined the North American wing of International Coalition for Justice in Bhopal, and became part of the Advisory Committee. For the AI December 10th 2006 event, I helped organize the making of a solidarity banner for Bhopal. Three months later I presented it in Bhopal to a group of survivors and activists. There I met some of the amazing people who work on this issue, and resolved to return.
I finally got that opportunity in the winter of 2010. After a month in Andhra Pradesh on a team writing for an ESL curriculum, I headed up to Bhopal for the annual meeting of all the organizations working in various ways on the effects of the disaster. I was to spend the next 6 weeks there as a volunteer.
Enter the twist: on the evening of the second day I was walking back to the Sambhavna Clinic, an internationally funded clinic and research centre that provides health care free to all gas and water-affected people. In spite of the fact that I had been in India for almost 3 years off and on, and that I’m good at crossing streets there (it’s almost fun), I looked the wrong way and got hit by a motorcycle. Poor chap, he really didn’t have an opportunity to stop – I just walked out right in front of him. I heard a shout, and the next thing I knew I was down on the ground with a horrible pain in my left foot. A crowd of young men gathered around me, looking. Eventually a couple of the fellows got me up, asked me where I was staying, and helped me to an autorickshaw. They rode with me to Sambhavna, ensured that people were there, and left. They wouldn’t even let me give them some rupees for the auto. Satyu, one of the leaders of the clinic and Bhopal movement, smilingly said that I had insulted his countrymen by offering money.
Since then my other human rights work – teaching children with dyslexia – has taken priority. This means that my eco-destroying trips to India haven’t resumed, although my heart is often there, and I enjoy listening to others’ experiences. I’m more involved with the current work of the AI BHR group, Corporate Accountability for Canadian mining abroad. My lens remains Human Rights, and each day I work to provide others with the means by which they can make informed decisions to participate in our eroding “democracy”. I am always grateful to AI for its vision, leadership, and opportunities to make a difference.”