By Frankie Meehan, Gemma Elford Dawson and Kate Woodford
It was an awesome week of writing for rights — well done and thank you to all who joined the WRITE for RIGHTS campaign in the second last week of the school term. It was heartwarming to see so many students, staff and parents taking the time to write thoughtfully on behalf of people who could so easily be forgotten and left to suffer further hardships.
Dover Campus held a week-long focus event, starting with a student-organised Focus Day for Rohingya refugees on Monday, 4 December which raised $16,700. A week-long display in the Tent Plaza, organised by Head of Local Service Frankie Meehan and students Ella McAuliffe, Hila Davies, Lorelei Cairns and Zoe Fuad, featured a number of different Human Rights causes including the production of palm oil, housing rights in China and illegal logging in Madagascar. Letter writing stations were up all week in the Tent Plaza, Middle School pods and the Primary School library, and many students returned daily. Some students also made the effort to do further research and write about additional cases. Some wrote letters of support to the victims of oppression; indeed, a few Middle School students emailed Shackelia Jackson, a Jamaican whose fight for justice for victims of police crimes was inspired by the shooting of her unarmed brother by police, and were rewarded with a reply. A couple of determined "blue shirts" were still writing in the Tent Plaza as we took the posters down on Friday afternoon! In all, Dover Campus wrote 1,665 letters during the week-long event.
On the East Campus, the Voices of Refugees Focus Group organised an overnight ‘write-a-thon’ for rights. At 5pm on Thursday, 7 December, the advocacy group and their supporters began a 24-hour writing challenge, which saw them produce an astonishing 2,158 by 5pm the following evening. This dedicated focus group emerged from a shared sense of horror and impotence at the refugee crisis in 2015, and has since become a powerful - often provocative - voice in defense of human rights.
In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, East Campus students chose the seven human rights issues they wanted to address, including cases in Finland, Myanmar, Libya, Madagascar, Chad, and Guatemala. Many visitors to the displays were surprised to learn about the treatment of transgender people in Finland, and there were passionate debates amongst students on the day about the role of Bangladesh in the Rohingya crisis. For Grade 12 student Elika Somani, it was the case regarding slavery in Libya which stood out: "Most of us say 'oh slavery is something of the past', but the Libya case just highlighted one example of how it is not."
During the 24 hours, students and staff from Voices for Refugees were joined by classes from Primary, Middle and High School, as well as individual students, teachers, and parents who felt moved to contribute. As time wore on, students only become more determined in their efforts, with some - like Elika and organiser Nayantara Lamba - individually writing more than 250 letters. They were supported in their efforts by Acting High School Principal Cathy Jones and Acting Head of Campus Nick Alchin, as well as voices on social media from as far as UWC Costa Rica, Amnesty UK, and the UNHCR Nairobi.
While celebrating their achievement for Voices for Refugees says Elika, "What we need to take away is that this is just the beginning; this isn't the accomplishment because nothing has been done yet. I reflected a lot during the event on the purpose of it, and I realised that the event is very egocentric. So that's my take away: it's that the event isn't over, it was just the beginning."
The really rewarding part of the focus week was that the initiative involved so many students, and was open to the rest of the community. For students, writing a letter is both a powerful experience in terms of engaging in action for change and a useful "life skills" experience (how to write a letter, address an envelope etc). In fact, this week was the first time that many students had written a "real" letter.
The funds raised on the Dover Campus Focus Day will go to Save the Children, which was nominated by the student organisers as the recipient of the funds. Michel Anglade, Campaigns and Advocacy Director at Save the Children, said, "Thanks for your mail. I am in fact replying to your mail from Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, where Save the Children’s relief operations have now reached 535,000 Rohingya refugees, including 312,000 children. It is really great to hear that UWCSEA has raised over $16,500 in support of Save the Children’s work for the Rohingya crisis. We are extremely grateful for this.”
It was a week of putting our UWCSEA profile quality "Commitment to Care" into action. But don't stop there. During WRITE for RIGHTS week we were among thousands of activists worldwide who were writing letters during December. You can write a letter any time to protest against an abuse of human rights. Believe in the power of the pen and use it. Every letter can make a difference.