Between 1989 and 2016, a total of 317 human rights advocates from 88 countries attended HRAP. In recent years, advocates have ranged from early career advocates who have cut their teeth in very urgent human rights situations to mid-career advocates who have founded organizations.
Below are the biographies of current Advocates and descriptions by select alumni as to why they became human rights advocates.
To see a list of additional past Advocates click here.
To read about more about the work of our Advocates click here .
Executive Director, Groupe d’Appui aux Rapatries et aux Refugies
During the 1980s, Colette Lespinasse became an advocate as she learned about the plight of peasants and the urban poor in Haiti. She started attending meetings and activities to improve Haitian society. She quickly found an opportunity at the Catholic radio station, Radio Soleil. “I was inspired by the role of Radio Soleil to make changes. The information and education awareness programs it broadcast nationally made it the only radio [station in Haiti]to do this.” She later began to focus on migrant rights after discovering the discrimination against Haitians in the Dominican Republic. She says, “When the Dominican Republic expelled over 80,000 Haitians during the Aristide administration, I created my organization GARR because I wanted to improve relations and offer humanitarian assistance.” She has since opened up constructive dialogue between Haitians and Dominicans in the Dominican Republic. She said, “I discovered I need to keep working not just with Haitians but with Dominicans as well, to advocate not only within Haiti but within the Dominican Republic too.”
She concludes, “Human rights has given me a passion. Now, I can’t work somewhere without passion.”
South Africa, 2010
Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology, Stellenbosch University
Glenda Muzenda is a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocacy Program. She is a Ph.D. student in Sociology at the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. Her research focuses on the intersection of sexuality and gender in social development. Currently, she is working on a research project that explores sexuality and the role of agency among young women in South Africa. Before matriculating into Stellenbosch University, she received her Masters of Arts in Development Studies at the Erasmus University Rotterdam through the International Institute of Social Science (ISS). She writes that HRAP provided her with many new opportunities, including a scholarship to study at the Erasmus University Rotterdam.
HRAP is a four-month program held at the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Throughout the program, Advocates meet with a myriad of human rights organizations, institutions, donors, foundations and policymakers in New York City. Glenda writes that these networking opportunities were one of the greatest benefits of the HRAP program. They provided her with valuable information and connections that have shaped the course of her career.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, March 2013
February 2017 Update: Glenda is currently serving as the director of Women Act Now in South Africa.
Program Assistant, Sexual and Reproductive Rights , Center for Women’s Rights
Andrea Nuila, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, recently received her Master’s Degree in public international law at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands. While in Europe, she has worked with Dutch grassroots organizations and student movements in order to raise awareness against gender violence and inequality, as well as supporting a national campaign that seeks improved labor conditions for young workers.
She writes: “There is much work to do, even being outside my own country; after all, there is injustice in all parts of the world.” When she participated in HRAP, she was working at the Women’s Rights Centre, Centro de Derechos de Mujeres, in Honduras.
Upon her return after the completion of the program, she was appointed to the Honduras Commission of Truth, Comisión de Verdad. The Commission of Truth was composed of national human rights NGOs and honorable commissioners from the American region, including Nora Cortiños (co-founder of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (Winner of the Nobel Peace Price) and founded by international organizations and EU governments. Andrea writes: “In the beginning I was part of the research team that interviewed victims of political persecution, torture, and other human rights violations. In a second stage we identified emblematic cases of human rights violations that could eventually be brought before national and international courts. Before the final report was published I was also part of the editing team regarding these emblematic human rights cases.”
Reflecting on her participation in HRAP, Andrea notes the benefits of her collaborations with activists in NYC. While here, Andrea met with Emily May, Executive Director of Hollaback!, an organization dedicated to publicizing and ending street harassment through an online forum of documenting and sharing instances of harassment on smartphones. Andrea went on to start a Hollaback! in Honduras under the name Atrevete Tegus, and is currently part of a group that will be starting the first Hollaback! in the Netherlands. While in New York she also met with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was a partner with her organization. They collaborated on a report detailing the banning of the morning after pill in Honduras, which was presented before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.
She describes how the program has affected her work: “My participation in HRAP provided me with advocacy tools for every job I’ve had after coming back from NY, and opened several doors for me on a professional and personal level. The strategic campaign workshop we received has always been a reference when brainstorming on possible human rights campaigns back home. The fundraising skills that we learned were particularly important for me…HRAP was the first time I was actually taught how to do international fundraising. The opportunity to take a course on campus was also fulfilling, I had no idea that only few months after the program and taking the course ‘History & Reconciliation,’ I would be working at an actual Truth Commission in Honduras, where of course everything I learned was very useful.”
She also values her interactions with her colleagues, recalling the multicultural environment and the “lived experience and historical backgrounds of the rest of Advocates, which was also an eye-opener as it exposed me to struggles in other parts of the world.
-Article composed by Caroline Doenmez
November 2016 update: Andrea is now living in Heidelberg, Germany where she has been working at the International Secretariat Headquarters of FIAN International for a year. Her work, which takes on a holistic approach, centers on peasant rights, the rights of human rights defenders in dangerous situations, and the justifiability of the right to food. Of course, even from afar Honduras remains a priority for Andrea. She is an ad-honorem member of CLADEM Honduras, which is a regional women’s rights organization, where she assists other NGOs and grassroots organizations on legal issues associated with human rights.
United States, 2010
Carl Wilkens Fellows, Genocide Intervention Network
Azra Smailkadic-Brkic, a 2010 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, has continued her work on genocide education and prevention. A former Carl Wilkens fellow with the DC-based Genocide Intervention Network, she has since been working as a journalist in New York City, including a role as a correspondent for the magazine Novo Vrijeme from 2012-2013.
Azra is proud of her role as the initiator and coordinator of the Srebrenica Genocide Commemoration in July 2011, which was held at Columbia University, Rutgers University, and the Turkish Cultural Center. She writes: “The project aimed to raise awareness about the worst case of genocide in Europe since World War II that took place in Srebrenica, the world’s first United Nations ‘safe area,’ as well as wider Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995. July 11, 2011 commemorated the 16th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in which more than 8,000 innocent Bosniak civilians were summarily executed and 30,000 were expelled from their homes. This anniversary raises awareness of the tragic suffering of the Bosnian and Herzegovinian people and honors and remembers those who died as a result of the policies of ethnic cleansing and aggression.”
The Srebrenica Genocide Commemoration included several screenings of films that dealt with the topics of justice, war, and genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The films included: “The Angel of Srebrenica” by Ado Hasanović, “Statement 710399” by Refik Hodžić and “Mother” by Elmir Jukić. Each screening also featured a display of the Srebrenica Memorial Quilt made by widows from Srebrenica, who are members of The Association Bosnian Family - BOSFAM, a non-governmental organization which aims to help war-affected women in Bosnia and Herzegovina cope with psycho-emotional traumas and poverty. In addition, there were two photography exhibits titled “The Shadows of Srebrenica” by Andy Spyra, and the “Mass Graves in Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
Azra reflects on the greatest benefits of HRAP as being “the people that I have met and knowledge that I have gained,” also noting the value of establishing firm connections during this time with several organizations. She also writes that HRAP: “Opened up my mind and helped me with crossing the bridge between theoretical knowledge, which I gained while attending the MA program in Human Rights at the University of Sarajevo-University of Bologna, and practice.”
One of her favorite memories from the program is the project she participated in in the History & Reconciliation class. She writes: “I was part of a project (together with several other classmates, mainly from former Yugoslavia) where our task was to explore ‘The Role of Chetniks in the Second World War.’ I understood that until that point I only had folk knowledge about this topic. This class and this particular project helped me to approach this topic more academically and it was definitely an eye opening experience. This journey that I took with several other classmates in order to try to come to the shared narrative among different stakeholders is simple unforgettable.”
Case Manager and Policy Advocate, African Services Committee
In reflecting on his participation in the Human Rights Program, 2010 Advocate Bakary Tandia writes, “Receiving the HRAP certificate from the Institute for the Study of Human Rights is a constant reminder that one must take more responsibility for human rights protection and demonstrate effective leadership in human rights promotion.”
Since leaving HRAP, Tandia has continued working as both the Case Manager and Policy Advocate at the African Services Committee, an NGO dedicated to improving health and self sufficiency of the African community in New York City and beyond. As Case Manager, he provides assistance to African immigrants in accessing health and legal services. As a Policy Advocate, he works to raise awareness of public health and human rights issues in the African community through participating in advocacy and lobbying activities at city, state and federal levels.He also represents the African Services Committee at the United Nations.
In summarizing the impact of HRAP on his current work at the African Services Committee, Tandia writes, “HRAP has assisted my work in human rights in many ways. It significantly increased my level of confidence when drafting press releases, media advisory or petitions. In addition, the program broadened and strengthened my network.”
His participation in the Human Rights Advocates Program has led him to become involved with numerous advocacy initiatives. Recently, he was on a panel for a congressional briefing on comprehensive immigration reform in Washington D.C. Earlier this year, he led a group of African community leaders to the Immigrant Leadership Summit in Albany, New York. He sits on the board of the New York Immigration Coalition, a coalition of more than 200 organizations advocating for comprehensive immigration reform. During Immigrant Heritage Week, Tandia received an award from the New York City Police Department/Community Affairs Bureau for his continued support to the NYC immigrant community on April 22, 2013.
In April of 2012, he was awarded a fellowship that allowed him to attend the International Human Rights Colloquium organized by Conectas Human Rights in Sao Paulo, Brazil. This conference provided him with the opportunity to meet with human rights scholars and advocates from the Global South. He shared his valuable experience at HRAP with the conference participants and strongly encouraged them to apply for the program.
In collaboration with the Justice Initiative Program at Open Society Institute, he attended a conference on transitional justice in December of 2011. The conference attendees had a productive meeting Nouakchott, Mauritania with the representative of United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights. Besides these conferences, he has attended numerous meetings with various national human rights organizations to learn more about their perspectives on the human rights conditions in their home countries. In April 2011, he was featured on The White House Blog for his work in advocating for immigrant’s rights.
Tandia is well-connected to both the Advocates and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. Tandia remains in New York City, which allows him to frequently attend events hosted by the Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He also facilitates workshops for new advocates every year. He writes that these workshops, “keep me actively engaged with the Institute while providing me with an ongoing opportunity to learn from the rich and inspiring experiences of advocates.” He adds that the continued support from Advocates and the Institute for the Study of Human Rights is the greatest benefit of HRAP.
-Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
February 2017 Update: Bakary has continued to lead the fight against slavery in Mauritania, going on to co-found the Abolition Institute in 2013 with fellow human rights advocate Sean Tanner. The organization was highlighted by CNN.
Community and Government Liaison Officer, Winrock International
“I am more empowered to handle issues of good governance, human rights, and development head on,” states Evalyne Achan from Uganda, a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program. HRAP is a four-month training program for human rights advocates. Based on the campus of Columbia University in New York City and utilizing the many NGO and rights networks available throughout New York, participants follow graduate courses, take part in skills-building workshops, and attend networking meetings among other program activities to advance their advocacy careers. Since completing the program, Evalyne remarks, “I can now talk with confidence on the rights of human rights issues and know which stakeholders I can work with in order to have issues of human rights addressed.
While in HRAP, Evalyne joined her current organization, Winrock International, a nonprofit organization that empowers the disadvantaged, increases economic opportunity, and sustains natural resources. She had previously worked for CARE International and the Agency for Co-operation and Research in Development. At Winrock International, Evalyne is serving as the Community and Government Liaison Officer for the organization’s Northern Uganda Development of Enhanced Local Governance, Infrastructures, and Livelihoods (NUDEIL) Program. NUDEIL is a USAID Program that has been sub-contracted to Winrock International. In her position, Evalyne acts as advisor and facilitator for all programmatic aspects of NUDEIL. Her work is helping local communities and governments in northern Uganda to develop strong and transparent processes, build roads and schools, provide drinking water, and establish rural health and sanitation facilities. The result of Evalyne’s work provides employment, income, and a higher quality of life for communities in northern Uganda.
When asked about the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP, Evalyne fondly recalls one of the opportunities that she had during an event sponsored at the United Nations. “My greatest benefit,” she says, “was that my self-esteem was highly lifted, networks broadened, and meeting with key personalities in the world, like when I met UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.”
Evalyne reports many wonderful accomplishments since her very recent participation in HRAP. She says, “I have been able to accomplish key things in my life, was able to raise funds for charity for Rural Development-Uganda, a community-based organization I co-founded to help in promoting and protecting the rights of the formerly abducted child mothers, widows, and women and at the same time improve their livelihoods.” Additionally, she explains how HRAP has advanced her personal work, saying, “Through the networks created while at HRAP, I have been able to sell more Paper Beads. The number stands at 2600 beads per month from 600-700 per month. It has helped me to broaden my understanding of human rights work and the roles of being human rights defenders.” Reflecting on her accomplishments and participation in HRAP, she concludes, “As much as the HRAP Program empowered me as an individual, the effect has trickled down to the communities in Northern Uganda.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, August 2010
Executive Director, Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center
Mary Akrami is a 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocate Program from Afghanistan. After finishing the program, she returned to Afghanistan and resumed her role as the Executive Director of Afghan Women’s Skills Development Center (AWSDC). AWSDC advocates for women’s rights and enhances Afghan women’s livelihoods through educational classes and trainings.
As Executive Director, Mary works tirelessly to increase awareness and resources devoted to promoting and protecting Afghan women’s rights. In this capacity, she also manages AWSDC’s women’s shelter. Located in Kabul, this shelter was the first women’s shelter in Afghanistan. It provides a haven for women experiencing violence and other human rights violations. It gives legal aid and on-going counseling as well as offering computer, dressmaking and English classes. Under Mary’s leadership, several women at the shelter have courageously denounced their abusers publicly and filed court cases against them. AWSDC also provides sensitization trainings to police women and men. She writes, “These trainings not only brought visible change in their attitudes toward female victims but it also led to the creation of a referral system for women to have access to shelters and to seek justice.”
HRAP is a four-month capacity-building program based in New York City that trains Advocates in practical human rights advocacy skills, deepens their academic knowledge and develops their international professional networks. In reflecting on how her participation has enhanced her work in human rights, Mary writes, “This program strengthened my communication and advocacy skills.” During her participation in HRAP, Mary enjoyed her time with the Advocates in her cohort. She adds, “HRAP was a forum for experience sharing. HRAP consciously facilitated exchange among Advocates to encourage them to learn from one another.” Through HRAP, Mary was able to build lasting relationships with human rights advocates and defenders worldwide.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, June 2013
Researcher/Project Manager - The Global Justice Program, HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley
Recent 2009 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Elsadig Elsheikh from Sudan, remarks, “HRAP has increased my understanding to the larger framework of human rights work and advocacy, and the applicability of human rights framework to several aspects of our modern global and local social problems.” Upon entering HRAP, Elsadig was acting as Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University. The Institute pursues among its goals to deepen the understanding of the causes and consequences of racial and ethnic disparity with a focus on racially and ethnically marginalized population.
HRAP allows admitted advocates to expand their knowledge and capabilities using international human rights mechanisms and applying international law frameworks to their career and work objectives. The Program administers workshops and seminars in public speaking, leadership, and networking, among others, which impress upon many of its participants a renewed sense of commitment and fulfillment to their personal causes. For Elsadig, “To be able to articulate the immediate needs to employ the human rights framework to tackle global challenges and to believe in the collective actions to challenge injustices and structures in so many different fronts” has been a personal accomplishment since his participation.
After leaving HRAP, Elsadig went on to serve as a Resident Director at the Office of International Affairs/Honors Scholars Program in Bolivia. He has recently returned to his post at the Kirwan Institute as a Senior Research Associate to lead the institute’s Global Justice Program. His responsibilities include supporting the Institute’s short and long-term research projects, maintaining awareness of emerging research methods and investigative frameworks, and effectively representing the Institute’s directors with the Institute’s partners and collaborators at local, national, and international organizations.
Another feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for its participants to experience life in New York City, meet with other advocates and practitioners, and possibly make new lifelong friends. When asked what he felt was the greatest benefit of participating in HRAP, Elsadig says, “I think beside the great exposure to Columbia University, it was the fact to be able to know and to interact with the staff of ISHR and my colleagues in HRAP 2009 who added tremendous touch of humanity to my knowledge and enable me to reach new horizons.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, July 2010
April 2017 update: Elsadig is currently Researcher/Project Manager of the Global Justice Program at the HAAS Institute for a Fair & Inclusive Society at UC-Berkeley.
Updated by Gabrielle Isabelle Hernaiz-De Jesus in 2017.
Executive Director, Association Unity of Judges of Georgia
Recent graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Nazibrola Janezashvili from Georgia, states, “The main result of my participation in HRAP is increased awareness about human rights issues and activities of the USA-based human rights organizations.” When Nazibrola entered HRAP, she was serving as Project Director for Article 42 of the Constitution, an NGO in Georgia composed of professional lawyers who provide pro bono legal assistance and representation in courts and other state agencies to the victims of human rights abuses.
HRAP provides its participants with the opportunities to take part in training seminars and workshops for proposal writing, leadership building, and public speaking at Columbia University. According to Nazibrola, “After the program, I realized that my presentation skills are absolutely different and improved. The experience received during the program helps me to exercise my work more successfully and qualified.”
Upon her return to Georgia after HRAP, Nazibrola received higher professional recognition because of the education she had acquired. She was appointed from her position as Project Director of Article 42 of the Constitution to the post of Chairperson of the Board. Currently in this position, she supervises and manages the organization’s operations, leads board activities, and submits reports and presentations to the General Assembly regarding the organization’s activities. She has also begun her pursuit of a PhD program in Law at Caucasus School of Law in Georgia and is completing her dissertation on the subject of Women’s Rights.
Another important feature of HRAP is the opportunity it provides for participants to meet with other human rights advocates from around the world and share their different and unique perspectives and experiences. For Nazbirola, “The greatest benefit of my participation in HRAP is new relations with human rights defenders. I shared their experience in human rights which will help me in future activities.” The HRAP participants are also provided housing and accommodations during their four months’ stay in New York and Washington, D.C. for them to get to know one another and be comfortable during their stay. Nazibrola recalls from her experience, “I consider that the environment during the program helped me fast in adapting with program participants and friendship relations,” and “I am really happy that now I have friends around the world.”
—Article composed by Andrew Richardson, Program Assistant, June 2010
January 2014 update: Nazibrola is currently the Executive Director of the Association Unity of Judges of Georgia.
February 2017 Update: Nazi has been a Hubert H. Humphrey fellow at Washington College of Law, American University since April 2016. She hopes to focus on judicial issues within human rights and specifically those associated with hate crimes against LGBT+ people.
Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy, Treatment Action Group
Before participating in the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009, Karyn had worked for nearly ten years in Bangkok as the co-founder and Policy and Development Director at the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group (TTAG). When asked about her experience at HRAP, Karyn writes, “I gained practical knowledge and skills that built upon my human rights work in Thailand and globally, and I made contacts with extraordinary advocates who continue to inspire and motivate me to continue my work.”
The Human Rights Advocates Program is a four-month program at Columbia University that provides participants with the resources to learn and grow as human rights advocates. Advocates are required to audit at least two graduate level courses at Columbia University. Karyn writes, “The opportunity to engage and study with prestigious human rights and law professors expanded my knowledgebase and shaped my perspective on human rights.” In addition to graduate coursework in law and human rights, HRAP supplemented her human rights work in Thailand through advocacy trainings, valuable workshops and networking opportunities. In reflecting on her time at HRAP, she concludes, “I gained insights, connections, new ideas and exposure to extraordinary people and useful resources through the Human Rights Advocates program. “
Since her participation in HRAP, Karyn started a new chapter in her career. She is the Director of International Hepatitis/HIV Policy and Advocacy at the Treatment Action Group. In this role, she develops and implements rights-based advocacy campaigns to promote access to Hepatitis C treatment in low and middle-income countries. Through her work, she influences government leaders and policymakers as well as funding agencies to promote and ensure the right to health and life for marginalized populations such as people living with HIV/AIDS.
She has co-authored numerous publications in collaboration with the University of British Columbia Urban Health Research Institute on barriers to healthcare access and problems of police abuse for people who inject drugs in Thailand. She has given numerous presentations, including a plenary at the International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in 2011. She was recently selected to serve on the Human Rights Reference Group for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria (GFATM).
She is based in New York City and volunteers her time as an advisor to the Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group. She remains in touch with many of her fellow advocates such as Mary Akrami, Nazibrola Janezashvili, Akinyi Ocholla, Florencia Rui and Anna Kirey.
—Article composed by Allison Tamer, Program Assistant, April 2013
November 2016 Update: Karyn has worked on health and human rights issues in Asia since 1988. She spent 20 years working with grassroots HIV activists in Thailand on access to treatment for highly marginalized populations, namely people who use drugs, migrant sex workers, and people in prison. As the co-founder of Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group, Karyn helped bring attention to the human rights of people who use drugs and supported the founding of Thai Drug Users’ Network, which received a groundbreaking grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria for peer-led harm reduction services in Thailand. Karyn also worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Treatment Action Group, where she helped mobilize a global movement for access to affordable hepatitis C virus treatment in low- and middle-income countries. Karyn is a recipient of the 2009 John M. Lloyd Foundation HIV/AIDS Leadership Award, and the Health GAP Founders Award.
—Written by Karyn Kaplan
Graduate Student, New School
Florencia Ruiz Mendoza, a 2009 HRAP graduate, is Director of Capacity Building for the Social Movements Historical Research Center, an NGO based in Mexico. Trained as a researcher, Florencia shares that her experience at HRAP has taught her how to manage an NGO and how to better understand and meet donor expectations of NGOs and their personnel. Reflecting on the benefits of the program, she states, “Thanks to the professional staff at ISHR, I was able to do a lot of networking in New York City and Washington and I realized how much I can [raise awareness of] our work both in Mexico and internationally.”
Florencia has expressed that the courses she chose to audit significantly contributed to her academic development. The connections she made through Columbia faculty paved the way for opportunities even after her completion of the program. Three months after her participation in HRAP, Florencia was awarded a scholarship from the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University to fund her participation in the Oral History Summer Institute Program. The program themed, “Oral History from the Ground Up: Space, Place and Memory,” focused on analyzing the meaning that space, place and memory have in the production of individual, social, cultural and political narratives.
Florencia shares that the greatest benefit of her participation in HRAP has been, “All the knowledge I [received, and continue to receive] and all the wonderful people I met since then.” To HRAP, she attributes an increased confidence regarding her future professional career and her increased support of her colleagues and the communities they serve. About HRAP’s contribution to her work while in the US, she states, “I had the great opportunity to speak out about the stories of people whose voices have been silenced by the Mexican government.”
Reflecting on her overall experience, she fondly notes, “I will never have enough words to express how grateful I am with HRAP and its staff, it has been so far one of the most important experiences in my life and I will treasure [that] for the rest of my life.”
Since returning to Mexico, Florencia has resumed her duties as a researcher and has been appointed Director of Capacity Building. She was recently invited by both Instituto Mora and Universidad Autonoma de Guerrero to speak on a panel of experts about human rights issues.
—Article composed by Tiffany Wheatland, Program Coordinator, July 2010
January 2014 update: Florencia is currently a graduate student at the New School in New York.
Chairlady, Minority Women in Action
Coming to the Human Rights Advocates Program in 2009 from Kenya as a volunteer with Minority Women in Action, Akinyi Ocholla says of her time in HRAP, “My participation in HRAP has boosted my networks, my insights into human rights work, my knowledge of working with people, and has increased my resolve to continue working for the LGBTI community in Kenya.” Akinyi began volunteering with Minority Women in Action in 2006 and now holds the title of Chairlady of Minority Women in Action where her work focuses on promoting the issues of lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) women in Kenya.
HRAP is a four-month training session held at the campus of Columbia University in New York City. Participants attend workshops to improve their fundraising, leadership, networking, and writing skills, among others that are necessary for their advocacy work. Since her participation, Akinyi has already demonstrated her acquired skills. She has spearheaded an intense proposal writing exercise at her organization that has raised its annual budget from around 7,000 dollars in 2009 to 31,000 dollars in 2010. Furthermore, the effects of Akinyi’s success have spread to her fellow staff. According to Akinyi, “I have ensured that my steering committee’s sense of integrity and work ethic have been raised a notch higher. Their involvement and ambition to work is much greater.” She also notes for herself that since returning to her home country and driving these accomplishments, “I feel I can now confidently say I’m a manager, with credentials worthy of a position as a director. I have also expanded my own vision and self-actualization.”
Akinyi hopes to complement her training and education with an advanced degree in a humanitarian or social science field. In the meanwhile, her position as Chairlady is keeping her very busy. In this role, she offers organizational guidance and leadership, including building leadership skills among other staff by delegating responsibilities and assessing the staff’s mental and physical health. In addition, she assists in conceptualizing programs for advocating LGBTI rights with organization and medical service partners as well as writes many of the proposals that bring in the funds to implement these projects.
On top of her work at Minority Women in Action, Akinyi also serves at Principle Research Officer at the Ministry of Higher Education, Science, and Technology. Her duties here include promoting, disseminating, and managing research activities and findings from various institutions as well as collecting information from ethnic communities in Kenya and educating citizens on their intellectual property rights. Akinyi also confirms that her position at the Ministry has benefitted from her participation in HRAP because of the recognition as a human rights advocate that HRAP has bestowed. “Now, most of my colleagues know that I’m a human rights advocate,” she states, “and we talk openly about human rights issues and controversial topics which is very healthy for a government institution.”
Akinyi reports that she is still in contact with her fellow HRAP participants, saying that “the numerous people I got to meet and love” was the greatest benefit of her experience. Additionally, she remarks fondly, “I also got to see the US, which was a heartwarming and waist-expanding experience.”
National Level Coordinator, Positive Women Network (PWN+)
Anbu Sengo Arasi is a 2008 graduate of the Human Rights Advocates Program from India. Reflecting on her experience while in HRAP, Anbu lists the benefits by saying I “developed my writing skills, developed my skills in fundraising, gained an international network, gained self-confidence, and had very good exposure with human rights organizations at the international level.” HRAP serves as a comprehensive program of advocacy, networking, skills building, and academic coursework with the goal of providing human rights advocates the many benefits Anbu lists.
Anbu worked as a Program Officer with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) at the time of her arrival in HRAP. In this role, she acted to defend the rights of Dalit women laborers and to achieve gender justice. For Anbu, the development of writing, fundraising, and networking skills has greatly assisted her work in human rights advocacy. In addition, HRAP also serves as a meeting ground for human rights advocates to learn from one another and become more familiar with the activities and programs of international human rights organizations. Many graduates leave HRAP with a better awareness of human rights advocacy and a stronger sense of their own potential. In Anbu’s words, “The program helped me to gain more courage to perform my work and to provide advocacy in all issues of human rights.”
Graduates of HRAP also routinely use their participation to bolster their own profiles and expand their operations, possibly even leading to honors and awards for their accomplishments. Although a very recent graduate of HRAP, Anbu replies to the topic of being specially recognized for her work by saying, “Not yet.”
Since October 2009, Anbu has served as National Level Coordinator with the Positive Women Network (PWN+), an all-India network of HIV-positive women, focused on improving the quality of life of women and children living with HIV/AIDS. In her role as National Level Coordinator, Anbu coordinates trainings and facilitates programs at the district level and for state/national advocacy. Presently, she is advocating issues pertaining to pregnant HIV positive women and towards preventing HIV transmission from parent to child.
- Article composted by Andrew Richardson, June 2010
Executive Director, Skills and Agricultural Development Services
When asked about the contributions of the Human Rights Advocates Program, Peter Mulbah says, “Let me start by extending my many thanks and appreciation to HRAP and all those who gave me guidance throughout the program in 2008.” Peter is an HRAP graduate from Liberia and serves as the director of Skills and Agricultural Development Services. The organization is currently working on a community forestry program in Liberia with the goal of empowering forest-dependent communities to freely participate and equally benefit from Liberia’s natural resources.
Since Peter’s very recent graduation from HRAP, his prominence as an environmental advocate has risen significantly. In his words, “Since I came from the HRAP program, everybody in Liberia sees me as a brand new person. In fact, they say ‘the new Peter has come.’ This has helped to increase my credibility and transparency; people call me every day for consultancy work.” Peter reports he has accordingly gained recognition locally, nationally, and internationally among civil society groups for his work. He is serving as the civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee and is leading the National Stakeholders Consultation and Participation processes leading to the formulation of the Liberia Readiness Plan Proposal to be submitted in August to the Forest Carbon Partnership Fund at the World Bank. This requires him to travel extensively on behalf of Liberia, including to several international meetings and workshops on climate change. He received a sponsorship to participate in the Equitas Human Rights Program in Canada. He also participated in the Environmental Leadership Program at the University of Berkeley, California.
HRAP acts as a multi-disciplinary training program to provide human rights advocates with the training and expertise not only to advance the projects of their home organizations and individual pursuits, but also to improve their character and presentation as model leaders. For Peter, “HRAP increased my level of self-confidence. As a result, I am a regular guest on TV/Radio talk shows with regards to community rights to environmental sustainability and natural resources governance. I have grown overnight as a national expert, and thousands of people look up to me for guidance and direction on human rights advocacy.”
In addition to his already notable achievements and environmental advocacy work, Peter was invited to join the 2010 Kinship Conservation Leadership Fellows Program in June and July 2010 which will take place in the United States. He will also continue traveling extensively in his position as civil society representative on the National Climate Change Committee to participate in climate change negotiations prior to the 16th Conference of the Parties in Cancun, Mexico, in November 2010. Reflecting overall on his participation in HRAP, Peter states, “I cannot imagine where I would be without HRAP. What could be the future of my advocacy in Liberia? I shall forever be grateful to HRAP in all of my career and works that I do.”
In 2011, 2007 Advocate Priscila C. Rodriguez Bribiesca co-founded Strategic Defense and Communication for Change (SAKBE) a Mexican-US NGO with offices in Mexico and Washington, D.C.
Priscila reports: “SAKBE´s mission is achieving social change through the promotion of human and environmental rights by using litigation and communication strategies. Sakbe works both nationally and internationally towards improving the quality of life of vulnerable groups through the promotion of development agendas for local communities and indigenous groups in public policies, development projects and conflicts.”
SAKBE’s first grant came from the Bank of Information Center to promote transparency policies and practices in the implementation of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) projects in Mexico. Priscila reports that SAKBE is also working with the Siemenpuu Foundation, based in Finland, on obtaining a grant to continue with the legal defense work for the Triqui indigenous community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Priscila elaborates: “I am responsible for the documentation process of the REDD projects in Mexico--getting the relevant information from the World Bank and Mexico´s governmental authorities to give communities the possibility to participate in this process which will be implemented in indigenous and rural communities. One goal is bringing their concerns to the World Bank.”
Priscila recognizes HRAP’s impact on her work. “Before this program,” she says, “I was not aware of the importance of making strategies at the international level. All the site visits 9to the different foundations and organizations) gave me the big picture of the role of advocacy. Furthermore, HRAP gave me a more general comprehension of the different tools and strategies that I can use to be more effective.” She said some of the contacts she made through HRAP are now her allies. They include the Indian Law Resource Center, Amazon Watch, the Center of International and Environmental Law and the Center for Justice and Inter-American Law. SAKBE’s fundraising successes to date are also linked the fundraising classes that are part of HRAP. Priscila explains: “The fundraising workshops greatly strengthened my knowledge of the many steps of this process, from writing a letter of inquiry to cultivating a profesional relationship with foundation staff. After HRAP, I got a generous grant from Hewlett Foundation.”
She adds, “The experience from my internship at the Center for Justice and International Law and my contacts and studies [through HRAP] allowed me to start representing the Precautionary Measure Process in favor of the Community of San Juan Copala in Oaxaca, Mexico. We are getting support from international organizations, including the Washington Office of Latin America and Amnesty International, on this case--particularly to make the Mexican government accountable for protecting the Triqui Community and safely returning them to their territory and bringing justice to the victims of the massacre.”
She has also been instrumental in having public hearings at IACHR on issues affecting different indigenous communities and the situation of environmental defenders in Mexico and Central America.
She has been recognized with many honors and awards including an award to participate in “Woman in Management” at CEDPA in 2008 and a full scholarship from American University to attend the International Environmental Law Summer Program and the Seminar on Trade and Environment. She received a full scholarship to attend the LLM Program in International Human Rights Law at Notre Dame. She graduated in May 2012. From July to December 2012, she will intern at IACHR.
She concludes. “I can surely say without exaggeration, HRAP changed my life. Before my participation in the Program, my work as an advocate was limited to the local systems of justice. I did not know anything about the international bodies of justice and accountability mechanisms. I also did not have the contacts and knowledge needed to start working on at the international level, such as the processes before the IACHR and the World Bank. Moreover even if I had some idea about these processes, I could hardly contact member of these bodies directly because of the geographic and language obstacles, which now no longer exist thanks to HRAP.”