By Denise Deby –
Plenty of people send cards and letters this time of year, but a few Kitchissippi residents have been penning a different kind of letter. They’re writing to governments around the world asking them to uphold human rights, as part of Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign, and reaching out to neighbours as well as people far away.
Sue Smee, who lives in Westboro, is participating in Write for Rights for the first time. For two or three hours on December 13, she sat at her dining room table and composed letters to four heads of state, with copies to ambassadors or ministers, referring to individuals whose human rights have been violated and asking the authorities to take action. She also wrote directly to several people who’ve been imprisoned for their beliefs or for their peaceful activities.
“I come from a family that was always keenly interested and involved in social justice and human rights,” explains Smee, a retired public servant. “And you see that Amnesty has had an impact. So I wanted to be part of that.”
One of the people Smee wrote to is Miriam López, a young mother in Mexico who was seized, imprisoned and tortured by soldiers in 2011. “When I write to them personally, I really feel a personal connection,” says Smee. “It really—maybe all of us—touches our hearts.”
As well as writing letters, Smee went one step further: she opened the doors of her Dominion Avenue condo to other condo owners in her building who wanted to join her to write letters. She didn’t have any takers, but one neighbour did come by to find out more about Write for Rights.
“I explained what it was all about, and she was interested,” says Smee, who plans to host a letter-writing session again next year, and open it up to more people in the community. “I think every effort counts, no matter how small,” says Smee.
Lana Vuleta, 14, is also making a difference. The Grade 9 Lisgar student participated in a Write for Rights event for teens at the Carlingwood branch of the Ottawa Public Library on December 10. She wrote six letters to government officials in as many countries.
Courtney Mellor, teen services librarian at the Carlingwood branch, and Mandeep Masonde, a page at the branch who’s also an Amnesty International volunteer, organized the event with the support of the branch’s Teen Advisory Group (TAG), – 20 youth from the community who make recommendations on library programs and services. Library staff thought the letter-writing session would be a good way to engage young people to read and write.
Lana and two other youth who’d seen a sign posted at the branch attended. In less than two hours, the three had completed 19 hand-written letters.
“The human rights thing, it’s something that we take for granted here,” says Lana. “I hadn’t actually known how bad things have been in other places.” She refers to a case in which a community’s homes were bulldozed for a slum upgrading project in Nigeria. “There were people whose homes were being destroyed without them being told that it was going to happen. Putting myself in their shoes, it would be just ridiculous if that ever happened to me—it would be just horrible.”
Lana, who lives near Carlingwood in McKellar Heights, is active in science, dance, band, karate and volunteering, but says Write for Rights was her first foray into human rights.
“I’ve always been interested but I’ve never had a really good chance to do it. Human rights, I don’t know, it just struck a chord in my heart.”
For more information about Amnesty International’s Write for Rights go to www.amnesty.ca/write-for-rights.