Words have power. This is especially true for the Campbell River Amnesty International Writers group. They meet once a month to write letters addressed to various officials around the world regarding human rights violations.
At their most recent meeting in November meeting, cases came from far-away places like Burundi, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Mozambique and Nicaragua detailing human rights violations.
Heather Cowper says it’s an eyeopener to see all the cases. While most are positioned in countries overseas, a few are located in Canada and the U.S.
The group of about nine meets once a month to look at the cases and pick the ones that speak the most to them to write about. The letters are always handwritten – “We believe that writing a letter freehand is more powerful,” the group says. If it’s urgent, a few of the members will email, or tweet, but the majority stick to pen and ink. They pay for materials and postage themselves.
Claire Hunston has been with the group since its start roughly 10 years ago. She was inspired by the founders’ dedication to writing about human rights cases.
“I thought, even I can write a letter too,” she says. “We have a voice and we can stand up.”
Some of the worst cases the group sees are about rights advocates just like themselves, but working in other countries.
The subject matter can be dark at times, but many say that meeting as a group to write helps.
For Brenda Wagman, it’s also the act of writing, of taking action, that helps.
“It feels like you’re doing something that makes a difference,” says Cowper.
“Everybody’s got a voice,” adds Faye Hurrell.
In December, the group will be hosting an event open to the public called Write for Rights.
More than 150 events just like will take place across Canada, with even more taking place internationally. The event’s goal is to shine a spotlight on 10 human rights cases affecting people under the age of 25.
Attendees are invited to write a letter, sign a petition or card in support of one of the cases.
Kathy Cullen, one of the event’s local organizers says your level of participation is up to you.
“We try to make it as easy as possible for people,” she says. “You don’t have to write a letter.”
They’ll also have petitions and cards and large sheets of paper that you can add a short message to.
The 10 cases that are being focussed on this year for Write for Rights are:
- Emil Estrauko, 17, jailed for 10 years in Belarus for a minor drug offense
- Grassy Narrows community, Ontario, Canada for 50 years of mercury poisoning
- Yiliyasijiang Reheman, a young father “disappeared” Uyghur from China (forced from Egypt)
- Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, 26, “disappeared” from the streets of Cairo, Egypt
- Sarah and Sean, 24 and 25, jailed in Greece for saving lives of refugees on boats
- Yasaman Aryani, 24, imprisoned in Iran for protesting the force veiling of women
- Jose Adrian,17, Mexico, demanding justice for a police incident when he was 14
- Nasu Abdulazis, 25, Nigeria, community was bulldozed for luxury housing
- Marinel Sumook, 22, Philippines. Surviving climate change, demanding action
- Magai Matiop Ngong,17, South Sudan, on death row for an accidental shooting
And the letter-writing does make a difference.
Yecenia Armenta, a 2015 Write for Rights case said, “When I [received] all these letters saying that I’m not alone, it [made] me feel great. And I think, yes, it’s true. I’m not alone. They really are supporting me.”
To get bags of mail is “totally empowering for them,” says Cullen.
Join the Campbell River Amnesty International Writers group at the library on Dec. 10 between 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. to participate in the Write for Rights event and learn more about the group’s efforts.