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.