Rights of Passage - 2005 competition


A rude awakening

By Marissa Santikarn, 16, VIC WINNER star

Human rights are a concept that many of us have taken for granted, everyday we go around in ignorance of what luxuries we are born into. I never sought to question why I could say what I wanted, never thought about how lucky I was to have a roof over my head or even how lucky I was to be alive. Wrapped in the bubble of a first world country, images of abuse are erased by movies and screams of terror are drowned out by iPods. For years I had preferred soap operas to the news and picked up the tabloids rather than the newspaper.

As blissful as ignorance was, I was finally forced to wake up one day when I saw an article on the massacre of Rwanda, rows and rows of human skulls, bleached and cracked from the sun were splashed across the front page. I realized that abuses of human rights were happening all around the world, everyday, and I had managed to miss them all for fourteen long years. It completely changed my outlook on life. I couldn't believe events like this took place without being noticed, I realized then how lucky I was to be able to live life with such carefree abandon where my greatest fears were failing an exam, but their fears were a constant battle for food, water and their very existence. I remember that for a long time I became withdrawn, depressed and angry, angry that no-one would do anything to aid those in need. I couldn't understand how they could simply ignore the desperate pleas for help.

I raised the issue with my friends and discovered that they were even more unaware of the world than I, some not even knowing where Rwanda was. I tried in vain to talk to them about it, but always the topic would stray into more exciting realms of conversation such as the latest clothes or couples. It is these sorts of attitudes, I believe, that have bred the cyclical effect of ignorance amongst many wealthy nations. The youth of today, certainly myself included, remain on the whole unaware of such gross atrocities. Perhaps it is because adults believe that we cannot handle the reality of the world, yet the truth must be known sooner or later. Possibly many believe that in shielding us they are helping us but I believe that this denial and protective nature contributes almost single-handedly to the lack of knowledge amongst youth. Furthermore, many of us who want to know more about world affairs and genuinely want to help, feel insignificant and unwanted amidst an arena that is largely dominated by adults. Perhaps even more significant is the fact that there is an outlook on youth where issues of human rights are for the adults and adolescents get left with fashion and romance. This outlook is socially acceptable.

Although many might try to convince students to join non-profit organisations most of us don't. I believe the reason behind this is because of the image that is stereotypically fixed with world affairs and issues of justice and human rights. The power of peer pressure is completely unparalleled in the adolescent world and if you take an interest in human rights and current affairs, you also take along with you the label of nerd, geek or loser. It is these silent consequences that mainly deter many people from reaching out and making a difference. However, even if some people can get past the fears of peer pressure there is always the issue of exactly how much difference one can make. We are not a patient race and we expect results from our actions, otherwise there seems to be no point. I remember joining Amnesty International, writing letter after letter and it didn't seem to be making a difference. We weren't stopping genocide in Africa, we weren't decreasing the rate of poverty in Asia. In fact all we were doing was writing letters, or as my friend called it, wasting forests.

It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I, as an individual, cannot make much of a world difference. Despite what others might say I know for a fact that I won't. However, I can make a difference in a few lives, save another individual perhaps, even a family. I suppose it's better to save one child than to do nothing at all. Who knows, perhaps writing that one extra letter just might change the governments' mind, or at least give them some serious food for thought. I believe it is this sort of mentality that needs to be encouraged amongst youth, for we are the next generation and the future is ours for the taking.

So I suppose my point in relation to human rights is this; for most of us, living in comfort, human rights is an abstract idea, a cliche © called upon by politicians when stirring us into action. Yet for many people who do not receive them, human rights are a joke, only a document that reminds them of what they don't have. We know that this is not true but in order to change the lives of others we must first change ourselves. We cannot continue to live in ignorance and pretend that the world is perfect; neither can we continue to shift the blame. We have to recognise also that the world will not significantly change overnight. Yet what we must recognise is that we have a voice and we have a responsibility to those whose voices cannot be heard. It doesn't matter if we only save one child, at least we have made a difference and stood up to those who try and take away those basic human rights. It may not change the world but at least we have changed their world.