In Small Places, Close to Home

This is my first original post on World Moms Blog

Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world.”

She knew what she was talking about.  Eleanor Roosevelt was the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission and even wrote part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948).  Eleanor Roosevelt was also the mother of six children.

Mothers have an important role to play in making the world a better place for all children.   This is not to minimize the roles of fathers or grandparents or guardians or anyone charged with the responsibility of raising children. But I do believe wholeheartedly that mothers have a special role.  It is our job to change the world, one kid at a time.

Often mothers are the most vocal advocates for the rights of their children.  This is true whether you are a mom trying to get your special needs child the services she deserves or trying to get your child out of arbitrary detention in Iran (like Shane Bauer’s mom).  There are many examples of mom/human rights advocates-  Mothers of the Disappeared in Argentina, Mothers of Soldiers in Russia .

I personally have had the chance to meet and interview mothers involved with the organization ANFASEP in Ayacucho, Peru.  These are mothers whose sons were disappeared during the long, violent conflict in Peru.   For nearly 30 years, these women have been trying to find out what happened to their family members and where their remains are.  One of the women we talked to had four family members who were disappeared.  She wants to know where they are and who killed them.  “We’re looking for justice,” she said, “and we want to know the truth.”  As Mama Angelica Mendoza, President of ANFASEP, told us, “We’ll never forget about all the killings.  We’ll fight to the end.”

Mothers of the disappeared (ANFASEP) in Peru.As Eleanor Roosevelt implied more than 50 years ago, the most important place for human rights to begin is at home.

Human rights are the standards that allow all people – each and every one of the 7 billion of us on this planet- to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice and peace.

Aren’t these the principles that govern the way we want our children to be treated?  And, in a nutshell, aren’t these also the core values that every parent wants to instill in their children?

The secret to a better world is not only protecting our children from human rights abuses inflicted on them by others, but also by making them better citizens of the world.  Caring about others, judging right from wrong, standing up against bullying or racist comments or sexist jokes. These are the human rights that are essential to the full development of each child as an individual, as well as to the community in which they live. This is the human rights work that changes the world.

Here are my three reasons to work for human rights.  I’d love to see and hear about yours!

So … What Exactly Is It That You Do Again?

Interviewing refugees in Ghana
It all began, as so many things do, with a misunderstanding.  I was putting my son Simon to bed one night when he said, “Mommy … What’s it like to be a human rights warrior?”  “But I’m not a human rights warrior. I’m a human rights lawyer.”  He waited a couple of seconds – this kid has an uncanny sense of comedic timing – before wrinkling up his little nose and saying skeptically, “What’s a LAWYER?”     
I may never know what kind of weapons he thought I was secretly carrying in my briefcase because my description of my actual job put him right to sleep. But this bedtime exchange got me thinking.  For 15 years – more if you count my student experiences – I’ve worked with survivors of human rights abuses, documenting stories of unbearable loss from every corner of the world.  I have observed the absolute worst aspects of human nature, the dark side in each of us that we would rather not acknowledge.
You might think that this would make me pessimistic about the world in general and Homo sapiens in particular, but the impact has been quite the opposite.  It has been my privilege to bear witness to the very best characteristics of humanity – our capacity to overcome adversity, to hope, to forgive.  I’ve heard inspiring acts of courage; seen the precious gift of faith. 
At the UN in Geneva
While I have many stories from my experiences in human rights work, I realize as I write this that most of them have never been shared with anybody.  Stories of human rights abuses don’t exactly lend themselves to cocktail party conversation.  How do you convey the complex political and social conditions that lead to human rights abuses, honor the victims, and avoid grossing people out with the horrible details – all in a two-minute elevator speech? And how do you even stop talking about injustice once you start?
As a parent, however, I am challenged to distill these experiences into something that Simon – along with his brother Sevrin and his sister Eliza – can understand and profit from.  My goal in writing this is to think more intentionally about what I’ve learned from my work in human rights so that I may one day pass these lessons along to my kids.  Perhaps these reflections will be interesting or inspiring to others as well. 
While I am proud to be the Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights, this blog reflects my personal views rather than those of the organization.