They came to learn. They left to teach.
The lessons are about tolerance, peace, dignity and human rights for all.
The students are participants in Youth for Human Rights International—a Church of Scientology-sponsored program initiated in 2001 through the seminal work of human rights activists who stood behind the creation of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization.
Since its founding nearly 15 years ago, the program has attracted the interest and support of thousands of young people worldwide. Many of those have gone on to help promote the important concepts set out in 1948 in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They bring that message home to make a difference in their local communities, through education.
Delegates to the 2015 Youth for Human Rights Summit—to be held later this summer in New York City—are being selected from applications of individuals who have a strong interest in human rights projects and who have already been actively engaged in such efforts on their own.
Those accepted to attend the organization’s annual international summits must demonstrate a deep commitment to the rights of others and a willingness to apply what they learn when they return home.
The program has drawn laudatory comments from United Nations affiliate organizations and their leaders around the world, recognizing the importance of distributing educational materials on human rights in more than 150 countries. The annual summits have also inspired dozens of corollary programs and activities in support of human rights.
This month, Freedom recognizes several young men and women whose commitment to human rights has made a difference in the lives of individuals around the world.
Each has carried the message of an imperative for global reforms needed to promote and protect the inalienable rights of human beings: to help people live in an atmosphere of dignity and respect, to participate equally in society, to be free from abuses, and to enjoy such inherent rights as freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion.
Niko Papaheraklis’ journey into the realm of human rights has carried him far—around the world in fact.
The former director of the Washington, D.C., chapter of Youth for Human Rights has traveled to Australia, Taiwan, Panama and throughout the U.S.
“I have always wanted to help and I thought the most fundamental way would be teaching people about their human rights,” he said. “It’s very important for the young generation to know what they are, and to actively support them.”
He often hears about the impact of YHR’s programs. At a National Education Association convention, for example, he recalled, “A teacher from Alaska said that after teaching the lessons from YHR, her kids were telling her that human rights couldn’t be abused. It would never have happened if she had not been involved with the program.”
Today he remains active in the cause, promoting freedom, equality, justice and the importance of knowing one’s rights.
Demme Durrett was 14 when she first began to explore human rights education, both at home and abroad, as part of a Girl Scouts project.
A year ago, at 17, she was awarded a Presidential Volunteer Service Award in recognition of her work in raising awareness of human rights issues in her community of The Woodlands, Texas—hosting the annual Walk for Human Rights and Festival. That effort became international when a team from Luxembourg contacted her for advice on how to utilize her human rights walk program.
“My activism through Youth for Human Rights has provided me with countless opportunities,” she said. “In addition to being able to attend an incredible international summit for the past three years, I’ve been able to help many, many people. I decided that my responsibility was to set up something sustainable that would forge a new generation conscious of the global impact of human rights violations.”
Rahul KC is Nepal’s president of Youth for Human Rights, and while that title is one of respect, he carries another that reflects an even deeper honor: Hero. He was awarded the Human Rights Hero Award at the YHR International Summit in Nepal in September 2014, recognizing his missionary-like zeal in advancing human rights education in his country. In a recent interview published on the web, the native of Katmandu said he now spends most of his time educating people on human rights.
“As human rights conditions [are] not good in Nepal,” he said “I swore to myself to [make changes].” His team has reached some 30,000 students, conducting four educational sessions each week at schools and universities.
“In Nepal, human rights violations have increased substantially since the escalation of civil conflict in 2000,” he said. To help mitigate those issues, YHR Nepal provided human rights literature to 25,000 members of the Armed Police Force.
Sophia Khalid’s introduction to Youth for Human Rights came when she stumbled upon a Facebook notice for the group’s international summit in Brussels. She applied, was accepted, and it changed her life.
“YHR has inspired me in so many ways,” she told Freedom, describing her experiences as a YHR ambassador and noting that she recently completed a master’s degree program in human rights, globalization and justice.
In 2014 she delivered a human rights speech before the British House of Lords. She has carried the message of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to many young people in her hometown, Stoke-on-Trent.
In particular, she enjoys mentoring others: “I was recently invited back to my old school to talk to the students about the work I have done… to raise their aspirations and be a positive role model to them. As I progress, I would like to do more mentoring.”