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.