I don’t remember when I first met Duncan. I have a vague memory of him hanging out during coffee time at Church of the Redeemer in downtown Toronto. I know for sure that when Amnesty International member Susanna Jacobs suggested we start an Amnesty Action Circle at Redeemer, Duncan was there from the beginning. He has been a faithful presence in the group; always asking probing questions, wanting to know more, about Indigenous people, refugees, Iran, corporate responsibility and other human rights issues. Susanna suggested Redeemer send a representative from our group to the AI Toronto monthly meetings and Duncan was quick to volunteer. The summer he began attending the AI TO meetings was the same summer that he had a landscaping job in Mississauga. He would be up at 4:30 in the morning to catch buses to get to the Mississauga job, and once a month somehow managed to also get to AI Toronto meetings… most of the time. I remember his disappointment one evening after rushing through the two cities and catching multiple buses and subways, the door to the AI Toronto office was locked. What impressed me most was that he was so disappointed at missing the AI meeting. I know that if I had been up at 4:30 am, I would have been heading to my bed, not a meeting.
And Duncan continues to impress me. In the two or more years the Redeemer group has been meeting, I don’t think Duncan has missed a single meeting. I know I can count on him. His commitment extends to AITO. In the past two years he has leaped from attending a monthly meeting to being an active member of the executive, a willing, keen, and talented member of the speakers’ bureau, with a willingness to attend any meeting and help in any way that he can. It is rare for me to attend an Amnesty event in Toronto when Duncan is not present. But it is more than simply being reliable and present. Duncan is a gracious, gentle and inquiring person. Amnesty International is privileged to have Duncan as a part of our team.
In Duncan’s words:
“Little squeeks. My association with Amnesty started in a church basement two and a half years ago, first by signing petitions and writing letters. I’d always considered myself somewhat well informed and certainly well intentioned when it came to world events. But it took the formation of an action circle at my church to inspire me to take the plunge and get involved. Or should I say to dip my toe in. It was small and hesitant at first, just an hour a month. Looking back, I often wonder what took me so long. How did I spend this much of my life, thinking, caring, and talking about human rights but never taking action. In the end, I think it might have had to do with little squeeks.
At various times, many of us are defeated by a feeling that our lonely, solitary voices when raised will simply be lost in the wind. But there is a trap in that way of thinking. A big trap. A trap more powerful than any dictator and more destructive than chronic indifference or ignorance. It is the crushing belief that we’ll never be heard amidst the din and cacophony of oppression, hate, and intolerance.
Amnesty has been an amazing organization for me. It has encouraged me to develop strengths that I never knew I had, to find my own special niche, and with gentle, steady encouragement and mentoring, to gradually take on more responsibility. For me, that began to take shape by expanding on my hour a month letter writing in the church basement to becoming the bad penny that just kept showing up at the AITO monthly meetings. From there it evolved to being present at as many Amnesty events as possible, learning the issues, and eventually to taking on more of a leadership role.
In 2013 I joined the AITO Executive as a Director-At-Large and became a member of the Speaker’s Bureau. Both roles have come with a learning curve that has been both humbling and exhilarating. As part of the Executive, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and working with many of our volunteers in groups and action circles throughout the city. I am forever inspired by their commitment and dedication to people from around the world and around the block.
With the Speaker’s Bureau, I’ve been invited to speak in schools. A lot of schools. I’ve spoken to large and small classes, to students that are engaged and to some who are secretly trying to tweet the time away. But what inspires me most is that in virtually every class I go to, there is at least one student sitting quietly, not speaking or raising their hand. Some will muster the courage to respond as the session gets going, but many will come to me only after it is over to ask how they can get involved, while many will wait to ask their teacher long after I’ve left.
Perhaps I relate to them most because these small, gentle, and nervous voices are very much like my own not so long ago. They may be little squeeks, but together they, and we, can change the world.”
“It is with great pleasure over the past few years that I have observed Duncan Garrow growing into an AI leader in Toronto. He first began participating in AITO in 2010. He consistently attended AITO meetings and AI events in the GTA- enthusiastic, eager to learn, and always helpful. I often think he has the template down for how to become an active volunteer for Amnesty International: as with many things in life, intentions will only get you so far – you have to show up. Duncan shows up, and when he does he always has a warm smile and some quick wit at the ready!
In a very short period of time Duncan has become one of the most reliable AI volunteers in the GTA, actively taking on leadership roles and becoming an invaluable member of our Speaker’s Bureau and the AITO Board of Directors. He continues to find his own voice as a human rights activist and in doing so, he promotes human rights for those who are voiceless.
I can’t say exactly when it happened, but it feels like Duncan has always been a part of the AITO family and now I cannot imagine AITO without his thoughtful reflections and hands-on-support.
Congratulations Duncan, I expect to continue to see more great things from you in the future!