Thursday, 5 January 2017

Here I Stand

What are human rights stories? How do they speak for freedom? 

You could say that all  stories that lead us to empathise with others we may not have met or even thought about before are, broadly speaking, human rights stories. Whenever I am asked to speak about human rights in my stories I almost always end up talking about a character and sharing something of the process by which I 'met' them and discovered their story.

A conversation between two great human rights leaders
Over the Christmas and New Year holidays I read what I think is a profoundly important book about being part of an interconnected human web and standing up for human rights. It's called 'The Book of Joy' .  It charts a week of conversations between Nobel Laureate his Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Their discussions and insights are mediated by the writer Douglas Abrams, I knew that this book would ask searching questions about human rights in our world today as both men have experienced exile and violent oppression and have made it their lives work to uphold universal human rights and freedoms.  

It's a book that I will re-read many times. What struck me as I read was that the act of stepping into the minds, hearts and lives of characters other than ourselves through writing and reading is a joyful and liberating act. It's what keeps many writers going and the spur that gets many readers motivated too! 

Do empathy and compassion change anything? 
But what is the value of empathy and compassion?  In 'The Book of Joy' The Dalai Lama tells a story to explore the relationship between  empathy and compassion with his characteristic humour. He observes that if someone falls under a rock the aim is not simply to get under the rock and find out what it feels to be there too! We would naturally, once feeling another's suffering, want to act to push that rock away and do what we can to help the person. 

In my life I have found reading and writing has been an active process and stories that I read when I was a young person like 'I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings' By Maya Angelou, still have a profound impact on the things I feel I want to write about and stand up for today.  

'Here I Stand' (Published by Walker Books and Amnesty International)  contains powerful stories and poems on the subject of upholding precious universal human rights from the following writers:

What can we do? 
My story in 'Here I Stand' is about a young girl who hides the fact that she is pretty much the full time carer for her mother. If reading this story makes some people behave differently towards other young people and families in the same situation then that is an act of compassion in itself. However, what I love about being part of this anthology is that Amnesty International offer a Human Rights route for so many young readers and educators who may be inspired by the stories they read to assist in removing some of those rocks by getting actively involved in Amnesty's Young Activist programmes.

Here is a link to how to join or set up a youth group: 

This link might be useful for teachers and educators:

Speak up for freedoms with us .... February 3rd - 7pm Waterstones Picadilly! 
I am so looking forward to discussing human rights in stories with the inspirational writers Frances Hardinge and A. L. Kennedy on a panel chaired by Nicky Parker (Publisher Amnesty International) 
Come along, bring your questions and be part of 'Stories That Speak for Freedom.'