“I’ve picked up a sense of empowerment to follow my new-found enthusiasm for human rights, and an appreciation for my Jewish heritage”

Posted on Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

By Freya Papadopoulos

On Monday morning I arrived at René Cassin preparing myself for a week of monotonous data logging and the occasional coffee run. It is now four days later and I can gladly say that I haven’t picked up a kettle once. What I have picked up, however, is a sense of empowerment to follow my new-found enthusiasm for human rights, and an appreciation for my Jewish heritage.

Entering the office, I was immediately made to feel valued and a welcomed part of the team, and despite my lack of prior knowledge surrounding human rights, a quick two-hour whistle-stop tour on its history ensured that I was well-equipped for the week that lay ahead. During this I learned that it was the Holocaust that moulded the human rights movement today, and this discovery lent a new-found pertinence to the persecution of my ancestors. This inspired a sense of duty within me to honour the history of my ancestors by joining the fight for social justice in this current day, which their struggles ignited. What I’ve continuously found refreshing about René Cassin though, is that the focus is not inwards: the organisation draws on Jewish experiences, but then utilises this irrefutable understanding of what it means to face oppression, in order to look outwards and empathise with others enduring similar mistreatment.

So, once adequately educated on the history of human rights and René Cassin’s role in the fight to protect them, I was thrown into the sphere of human rights advocacy. And, drawing parallels to the nature of the field, each day was entirely different, filled with a new task and topic altogether.

This was fantastic as whether it involved compiling background information on modern-day slavery in specific countries in preparation for awareness lectures, or being entrusted with crafting thought-provoking tweets promoting a weekly upcoming project on René Cassin’s behalf, each day I was introduced to the meaning of human rights, and the importance of being the voice for those who don’t have one.

Further than school society or lecture that I had previously attended, however, not only did this aid my recognition of the importance of solidarity, but in overseeing the dynamic work of René Cassin, through the course of the week I also became educated and empowered on how to ultimately act on this desire for change and justice.

This emerging passion to fight for fundamental human rights culminated for me when I visited Parliament on behalf of the organisation in order to attend the Traveller Movement’s first police report launch. Listening to emotionally charged accounts of appalling and un-provoked discrimination faced on a daily basis from members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) communities, as well as seeing evidence of racist police reports and social media use, it was shockingly apparent that discrimination against the GRT community is the last “acceptable” form of prejudice in our country. Even more worryingly, this abuse is so often directed towards the children of these communities, by both bullies at school and bigoted adults, who are then segregated from mainstream society further, thus causing a dismal cyclical pattern of prejudice then division. This abhorrent realisation of the harsh realities of everyday life as a member of the GRT communities has consequently inspired me to seek to continue my own personal involvement in their plight for social justice, with plans to bring the issue to my own school in an educative assembly, even once my time at René Cassin has come to an end.

In conclusion, although my time at René Cassin has been brief, every moment has been both exciting and enriching. Whilst work experience has undoubtedly provided me with a deeper understanding of the continued importance to participate in advocating human rights – especially with regard to honouring the legacy of my ancestors –, it has also, as René Cassin has pervasively emphasized the need for humanity amongst fellow humans.