I believe in the power of being a voice for the voiceless. I learned this through activism and service to those whose dignity and humanity might otherwise be forgotten.
I was extremely naïve my first semester of college. Having more freedom than I knew what to do with, I spent my time going to class and meeting as many people as possible. I began college without a declared major, so I was open to trying new things in hopes of finding something that I really felt passionate about.
Spring semester, I was enrolled in a philosophy class. Rather than discussing Aristotle each class, we discussed our thoughts, beliefs and values on everything from the then impending war in Iraq to the effect of our actions. Never before had I been challenged in this way. What did I believe? What did I think? I was 18 years old and had never really felt strongly about anything that I would passionately and knowledgably defend if challenged. I was beginning to think, beyond the surface of everyday life, and it scared me.
When I started college, my sister, Mary, was already a junior at the same school. Just when I was struggling to figure out what my core beliefs were, Mary invited me to go with her to an Amnesty International meeting on campus. My sister was friends with a graduate assistant for University Ministry who was starting a chapter at our school, and she said it would be worthwhile. I took a chance at something new and went to a meeting.
From its inception, one of the main activities of the group was to write “Urgent Action” letters for “prisoners of conscience”—people imprisoned for “the peaceful expression of their beliefs” (www.amnestyusa.org). Through these letters, I learned the importance of being a voice for the voiceless. Whether that meant writing a few lines to the head of a foreign government asking that human rights be upheld in the case of a political prisoner, or even educating others on campus about violence against women, I understood the importance of using my voice to incite hope for those facing hopeless situations.
It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the idea of having one’s basic rights taken away. I mean, if our internet is slow, we feel like our rights to this service are being violated, so we’ll call our internet provider and raise hell. But how often do we raise hell about things that are significantly important to our actual welfare, or the welfare of others? We use our voices because we can, and we know that by speaking up, we’ll get something accomplished. I’ve learned that the same applies when writing letters to heads of states asking for prisoners to receive proper medical care or calling for fair trials for the accused. Those persecuted do not have a voice, so it’s up to people who do to do double duty with theirs.
Thousands of letters later, our little group has been a powerful voice where silence pervaded. I have learned the importance of upholding the rights of all human beings, and through this work, I’m no longer naïve, but determined. Whether I’ve received good news and responses or heard nothing at all about those for whom I’m writing, acting as a voice for the voiceless has challenged me to consider my actions more closely, and has allowed me to discover the dignity in every person.
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