Walking the walk: volunteering for human rights

- Melanie Groves

A new campus initiative to advocate for human rights has attracted interest from more than 100 UVic students and employees.

The Human Rights Volunteer Program, launched last December by the Equity and Human Rights office (EQHR), aims to promote a more inclusive, respectful and welcoming environment for all members of the campus community. Approximately 30 volunteers have already completed introductory and core skills training.

“The students involved in the Human Rights Volunteer Program have an infectious energy to work towards change,” says volunteer Mira Fahrenbruch. “Each volunteer comes from a different background, so the program is filled with diverse perspectives and personal experiences.”

The volunteer training workshops explore the concept of human rights and the dynamics of oppression at the individual, group, cultural and systemic levels. Volunteers can then get involved with EQHR in a variety of activities, such as liaising between EQHR and their unit, residence or student group to make themselves visible as a resource for others on campus. Volunteers may also provide educational workshops and resource materials about social justice and human rights issues to members of the campus community.

“The purpose of human rights education is to inspire, to tease our critical thinking and to celebrate the humanity in all of us,” says Moussa Magassa, UVic human rights education advisor. “We encourage our volunteers to follow their interests in areas such as health care, poverty, gendered violence, racism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism to develop workshops and education campaigns for the campus community.”

The volunteer program is planning several upcoming events, beginning with a human rights forum, Equality and Speech: Walking the Walk and Talking the Talk, March 10 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in Strong C122. Everyone is invited to come to listen and engage in dialogue around the issues of human rights and freedom of speech. Moderated by UVic Law professor Rebecca Johnson, the forum will feature speakers Jody Paterson and Tom Patch.

Paterson is the 2008 Harvey Stevenson Southam Lecturer in Journalism in the Department of Writing. A writer, editor and communications strategist, she is the former executive director of the Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society. Paterson sits on the coordinating committee of the Greater Victoria Commission to End Homelessness and the advisory boards of UVic’s Centre for Addictions Research and Office of Community-Based Research.

Patch is the associate vice-president of equity at the University of British Columbia and a director of the Community Legal Assistance Society. He was appointed to the BC Council of Human Rights in 1991 and was subsequently appointed to the BC Human Rights Tribunal. He has also been an adjunct professor of law at UBC, instructing a seminar on human rights.

For more information about the Human Rights Volunteer Program, please contact Moussa Magassa at mmagassa@uvic.ca or Kelley Logue, human rights volunteer program coordinator, at surfercarrots@gmail.com. For information on the human rights forum, call EQHR at 250-721-8488.

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Keywords: volunteering, human, rights

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