I am not a natural optimist. I have to work hard to be hopeful, especially when it comes to human rights, because it seems that most of the time, when we talk about human rights, what we’re really talking about is human rights abuse. It’s hard to engage with trauma every day and not get despondent.
It’s difficult to believe that things will get better when all around us we see things getting worse. Yet every now and then, when I least expect it, small things arise that remind me that though the path we’re on seems long and difficult, we are making progress, even if it is slow.
I had one such moment recently while I was volunteering at an Amnesty stall. We were invited to a multicultural festival that had been organised in response to the recent rise in public xenophobia. We were told the festival was about celebrating diversity and inclusion, and asked to make our stall interactive and provide children’s activities.
Being low on volunteers, we chose to place rugs in front of our stall with pencils and images for children to colour in. Throughout the festival there was face painting, a magic show, a smoking ceremony, dancing, craft, fire circus, and a multitude of other exciting events and activities. Given the variety of children’s activities, I didn’t expect that our stall would be too popular. However, I had clearly underestimated the appeal of a free badge.
From the very beginning of the event, we were inundated. Children came to ask for a badge, then came back to ask for badges for their friends. Small children, too young to talk, gripped the edge of the table with tiny hands, pulled themselves up onto tip-toes, stretched their arms as far as they could to point in the direction of the pile of badges and looked at us expectantly.
Small children, too young to talk, gripped the edge of the table with tiny hands, pulled themselves up onto tip-toes, stretched their arms as far as they could to point in the direction of the pile of badges and looked at us expectantly.
Between collecting petition signatures and chatting to people about human rights, I looked out at the diverse sea of children happily running around, mashing the rainbow of homemade Play-Doh into one ambiguous colour, sitting still as statues while their faces were painted, and sprawled on mats focused intently on the vital task of colouring outside the lines. I was heartened to be surrounded by such diversity and joy.
Then a friend leaned over from her stall, pointed to a group of children, and said to me, ‘See those kids? They’re Syrian refugees. They’ve only been in the country two or three weeks.’ That’s when it hit me. The boundaries these children cross are not just in colouring books. These children took their first steps in the debris of war. They learned to walk fleeing armies and bombs. They’re part of the largest refugee crisis since world war two, and here they were, resettling into childhood in the winter sunshine.
These children took their first steps in the debris of war. They learned to walk fleeing armies and bombs. They’re part of the largest refugee crisis since world war two, and here they were, resettling into childhood in the winter sunshine.
It’s easy to feel hopeless when we think of the mammoth task of social change. Constantly coming up against governments who are closing borders and locking refugees and asylum seekers out gets exhausting. However, we must remember that every action has the potential to change the world, to save a life. It wasn’t governments who first chose to increase their intake of refugees. It was people who demanded it.
The children collecting badges were too young to really understand what ‘I ❤️ human rights’ means, but they know what it means to have to flee their homes to survive. Now, thanks to people all over the world who stand in solidarity with them, those children also know what it means to be welcomed into a new community.
By guest blogger Ruby Lee