Nepean students rally to put an end to human rights violations 

By Cindy Lam – 

Thursdays at Nepean High School are usually buzzing with students excited for the coming weekend, especially during their lunch hour. Students are usually found socializing at their lockers, going out to lunch with their friends, or zipping through the halls. On this particular Thursday in December, masses of students took part in Amnesty International’s letter-writing event.

Amnesty International is a well-known non-governmental organization of more than seven million people who stand against human rights violations. They investigate and reveal the truth about abuse that occurs all over the world. According to Amnesty International, it is “better to light a candle than curse the darkness.”

Every year on Human Rights Day, Amnesty International holds a letter-writing event that encourages people to write letters and sign petitions in order to seek justice for those in need.

In Nepean’s library, neat stacks of legal paper, envelopes, and pens were organized on a large table for students to collect. Spotlight issues were highlighted on individual sheets so that students could choose to write about a topic that mattered most to them. Whether it was about young girls being married as young as eleven or students being jailed for their sexuality, there were many issues that students felt passionate enough about to write not only one, but several letters.

Nepean High School students put pen to paper for an Amnesty International letter-writing event. Photo by Zoe Krovac
Nepean High School students put pen to paper for an Amnesty International letter-writing event. Photo by Zoe Krovac

From the front of the library, an enthusiastic voice could be heard throughout the room. Gwendolyn Smid – a teacher at Nepean – was the organizer of the successful event. She explained the importance of having a voice on an issue, so that those that are experiencing injustice can be freed.

For Ms. Smid, the importance of the Amnesty event  was personal. When she was pregnant with her baby, Amnesty put spotlight on the issue of a pregnant Sudanese woman, Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who was imprisoned for apostasy and sentenced to flogging and death for her crime. She even had to give birth while being chained in prison. Due to the mass of voices and outrage over her treatment, she was eventually freed.

“The connection I felt to this one woman – an individual I will never meet – was profound,” says Ms. Smid. “Any of us could have been born into situations such as these. I could only hope someone would act out on my behalf.”

There are plenty of high school students who feel strongly about human rights issues and work hard to spread awareness and action. Among these students is Nadia N.B, a student organizer of the letter-writing event. In the library, she could be seen organizing the letters, and informing students on the event and the types of issues. Nadia considers students to be the leaders of tomorrow, and that interest in social justice, politics and other humanitarian causes is essential for the world to change.

“It’s a myth that young people don’t care about the injustices happening around them. I believe that many of us do care and want to help these causes, but may not have access to resources or people who allow them to,” says Nadia.

By the end of the day, over 300 letters were written. This year’s  turnout for the letter-writing event was twice that of last year’s.

“Young people, particularly high schoolers, are the ones who are often most passionate about causes. I love seeing students rallying their support for various injustices,” says Ms. Smid.

Cindy Lam is a grade 12 student at Nepean High School.

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