I have been through a few “phases” in life, where I was obsessed with, say, a band, or a sport, or the idea of something. I trust that everyone has been through those phases in life. To me, that’s where past-times stem from. You don’t actively try to pursue a habit until you start needing it, looking forward to it as part of your day, and going to sleep thinking about it.
My involvement with these rather transitory subjects renders me a bit unreliable when defining life’s passion. That, plus I am only 16. But the reason why I took up human rights was different from all of these past obsessions; it was part of my family’s history, and future.
Human rights are generally no more than the 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by former First Lady of the United States Eleanor Roosevelt and signed into effect by the United Nations in 1948. However, even before I read that little-known document, and prior to obtaining a clear conception of “universal truths” as they pertain to humanity, I heard stories. Stories, first, of the teary past of my grandparents. Stories of starvation, arbitrary torture, and deprivation of education. Then there were stories on the internet of so many lawyers, journalists, doctors - people of all professions and gender and ages, being silenced and killed for exposing something called “human rights abuses”. Moving to the United States and feeling the shackles of intense propaganda through education of my home country slowly fade away, watching activists with their hands up in the streets - that was what human rights was, at first, to me.
Quarantine was a turning point. Not only had I gotten involved with programs such as TWE and mock trial, but I had also developed a much fuller understanding of human dignity. Staying at home gave me the opportunity to research, attend online webinars hosted by prestigious professors, watch discussions, and spend time with my grandparents. Through all of these sources, I learned more every day. I realized that the starvation of 500 million for over 20 years was never compensated. I understood that individuals around the world were speaking out for the masses, and being silenced by authorities. So, I became an activist for Amnesty International. This is a human rights program that began in 1961 for activists of all ages, covering many human rights issues in all countries on Earth. I joined their “Write for Rights” campaign and wrote letters to authorities to release individuals at risk. I attended meetings, including their annual “Activism Alliance Conference”, to learn more. I looked forward to starting a student group at my own school, and bringing human rights activism home so I could uphold it more easily.
Yet the forces of reaction are forever on the move. Last fall, I was warned by my mother that we had relatives in China still, and that posting inflammatory messages on social media, such as news and truths about the pandemic as reported by now dead journalists, could involve all of them and make life very difficult for our loved ones. She also stopped all letters going out to the embassies because she feared that such appeals would attract attention to our household and invite uncalled-for troubles. I shared her fear. I lamented over my naiveness and the mistakes that I made by not being careful enough. Further, I noticed the way my grandparents adjusted their volume when they are talking about certain things, as if the walls had ears and the trees could speak - for, in the past, they did. And so I stopped.
Had I been less stubborn, that would’ve been the end of the story. I was offered research positions at a nearby cancer research hospital, and preparing and attending to that would’ve been a great opportunity for me in 2021. But the more time I spent with my family and cherished their company, the more I feel it terrible that children like me should be deprived of such joy and that my grandparents, hardworking and benevolent, should be reduced to mere ants in front of authoritarian governments. The more I looked into various issues, the more I heard and saw, and the less I could contain the fury within myself about the lack of action and awareness regarding injustices in this world. Around the same time, I joined the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force, which is a branch of Human Rights Watch based in California, United States, and became very intrigued by their new campaign of “Human Rights and the Climate Crisis”. I had felt the burning of my lungs when I stepped off the plane to Beijing, and I had watched how my beautiful hometown, Qingdao, was turned into a putrid, smoggy mess by the power plants an hour’s drive from my home. Thus, I was drawn back into human rights activism.
Just last week, the Human Rights Club I started at my school had our first meeting. Despite all that I’ve done, I have only taken my first steps to human rights activism. I am ready to do much, much more. If anyone is interested in standing up against injustice, here are some advice that I have you might find helpful:
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers worldwide with an online platform to share their own experiences to be able to help, inform and educate others on a variety of different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all young people. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.