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.
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!
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.