Dec. 10, 2019Print | PDF
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”
This article and 29 others were adopted by the United Nations (UN) on Dec. 10, 1948. They are celebrated every year on that same date, now known as the International Day of Human Rights.
For students in the Human Rights and Human Diversity (HRHD) program at Wilfrid Laurier University’s Brantford campus, the topic of these fundamental rights is a constant theme in their daily discussions.
On Dec. 10, Laurier Associate Professor Stacey Wilson-Forsberg will mark the International Day of Human Rights by delivering a keynote presentation to the UN Association of Canada – Hamilton Chapter, followed by a panel comprised of students who grew up in refugee camps, including Laurier student Ali Ibrahim.
Wilson-Forsberg, who leads a biannual field course to Mexico for students to witness the realities of migration, will speak on expanding the definition of “refugee.”
“In 1951, when the UN defined a refugee, these groups of people were categorized as people who feared persecution, usually by the government. But times have changed, the nature of war has changed and now persecution is much more subtle,” says Wilson-Forsberg. “Most people who need international protection aren’t getting it because they don’t fit that narrow 1951 definition.”
Ibrahim, a third-year HRHD student, was only 11 years old when his family fled their home in Somalia and settled in a refugee camp in Kenya. He came to Laurier through the World University Service of Canada (WUSC) student refugee program.
Ibrahim and other students who also grew up in refugee camps will give insight into what can be done to improve the quality of life for displaced persons living in camps.
“I want to participate in this event to share my real-life experiences growing up, studying and living in a refugee camp and share the role WUSC played in shaping my future,” says Ibrahim. “I hope those who attend this event will gain more understanding of how life is in a refugee camp – the hard work and resiliency of refugees – by hearing all these details from the perspectives of young people who actually lived in refugee camps.”
The students’ perspectives tie into the theme of this year’s International Day of Human Rights: youth standing up for human rights. The UN says youth seek to participate in important discussions about their wellbeing and play a crucial role in creating solutions for a better world.
Known for being a close-knit program, HRHD offers a unique experience for undergrads who wish to make a difference in human rights and social justice.
HRHD started as a minor in the early days of Laurier’s Brantford campus. In 2008, Program Coordinator Andrew Robinson developed it into a full-fledged program.
Students are given ample opportunity to mix theory, practice, and experiential learning, so they graduate with skills that are useful in any professional setting, whether it be further education or the workforce. The HRHD program also has a strong internationalization component, with partnerships such as the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Scholarship, which allows students to complete a 90-day internship in Ghana, and the six-week field course studying migration in Mexico.
“We encourage our students to go on field courses or get international experience. In fact, last winter many of our students were doing a semester abroad” says Wilson-Forsberg.
For Wilson-Forsberg, a highlight of her time at Laurier was when Dammee Sero, a WUSC student and now Laurier alumna, received the prestigious 3M National Student Fellowship Award for undergraduate students.
“When big things happen in little departments, it's exciting,” says Wilson-Forsberg.
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