January 18, 2021
Human Rights and Remote Volunteering during a Pandemic
“It’s not about supplication, it’s about power. It’s not about asking, it’s about demanding. It’s not about convincing those who are already in power, it’s about changing the very face of power itself.” Kimberlé Crenshaw
Hello! My name is Elise Thorlacius. I am a full-time student in my final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Human Rights, with a minor in Criminal Justice. I have been volunteering with MARL over the past four months for my practicum program. The practicum program, organized by the Global College, University of Winnipeg, and participating organizations, provides the opportunity for students to integrate the theory and knowledge they have learned in the classroom into work in an area of human rights.
My understanding and interest in human rights really began while I was in high school, when I was able to utilize the tools and resources available to me to begin understanding the systematic inequities and inequalities embedded within our society. For me, human rights, and by extension, real, transformative change, is rooted in the idea that knowledge is power. Only once we understand what the problem is, can we begin to fix it. History, especially, has shown us that our understanding of what human rights are comes from our understanding of what human rights are not. Today, for many people, their knowledge of human rights comes from the lived experiences of being told that they do not have any, which means that the rest of us must work even harder to change the systems and entities that uphold those beliefs.
It is not the problem of the oppressed to change the systems that harm them; instead, it is the job of those who benefit from said systems to bear the brunt of the work towards change. In recognizing my privileges, I recognize my responsibilities towards change. And to be clear, when I say change, I mean transformative, equitable change, not saviourism. Change that is led by the people with the lived experiences. In November, Vonnetta L. West held a seminar called Eradicating Racism, in which they said, “anything we have not put in the work to eradicate, we have accepted.” That is why I am pursuing a degree in human rights and why I did my practicum with MARL.
My experience remote volunteering with MARL has been nothing less than incredible. MARL is truly an organization that embodies the sentiment that knowledge is power and understands that education is an essential vehicle for change. Although, when I first began my degree, I did not picture my final year taking place during a global pandemic, I have still had the opportunity to participate in the community advocacy and action which MARL does. Despite being forced to adapt many of their initiatives to meet social distancing recommendations, such as the ethics cafés and educational workshop, MARL has continued their important work, which I feel lucky to be a part of.
I hope to continue to learn and to pursue positive, transformative changes in the expansive area of human rights by continuing my education in law school and volunteering in community-based initiatives such as MARL.
Global College Practicum Student
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