“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” These words by Eleanor Roosevelt really encapsulate the sentiments of many human rights activists. When fighting for human rights, we have to start at home. A recent session on human rights and issues in South Africa brought life to Eleanor Roosevelt’s words.
Last week we had the opportunity to do human rights training with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). There was a focus on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and how using this framework we can address various issues that South Africa faces. Each team member chose a specific problem in South Africa and used the articles of the UDHR to try to address the problem. I was truly blown away by the enthusiasm and dedication with which my fellow team members spoke about various human rights issues. They inspired me with their passion for various issues which I had not necessarily known as much about. I felt at ease knowing such brilliant young minds are tackling these complex issues with such competence.
When tasked with picking an issue and having only a day to come up with a human rights analysis and possible solutions, it felt daunting. Given the caliber of leaders in the 2017 SAWIP team it was no surprise that this challenge was taken on wholeheartedly. I was extremely proud to be part of a time of young leaders who came up with possible solutions to challenges facing South Africa such as poverty, xenophobia, human trafficking, racism, access to adequate housing, access to healthcare, access to education, rape, and the difficulties facing domestic workers. Not only did everyone provide comprehensive analysis of these issues, but they also gave viable solutions to the problems. for me, this really embodied the sentiment of taking action to bring human rights to life.
Human rights and the UDHR are just words on paper unless we bring them to life and there is no better place to start than close to home. Thus far the American experience in Washington DC has been truly phenomenal, we are constantly learning so much about America and how things work here. However, we must not be quick to forget the reason why we are here. The sessions with AFSC were a good reminder to me of the importance of the journey I am on with SAWIP and that everything that I learn here should be purposeful and aimed towards helping my community and South Africa as a whole. It doesn’t end here, these issues are still very real and are far from being solved. We need to take back what we have learnt and turn words into action to address the numerous issues our country faces. I have absolute faith in my colleagues as the future leaders of South Africa to do this. They truly embody the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “We declare that human rights are for all of us, all the time: whoever we are and wherever we are from; no matter our class, our opinions, our sexual orientation.” Together we can make our country a better place and in doing this, make the world a better place.