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3 Key Qualities of Human Rights Activists

In our constantly changing world, we are seeing more and more everyday people taking a stance against poverty and becoming human rights activists. These individuals have demonstrated that with the right qualities and the commitment to bringing about change, anyone can make a difference.

Be a dreamer.

When Kakenya Ntaiya, founder of the Kakenya Center for Excellence in Kenya, was growing up she dreamed of being a teacher. However, the social and cultural norms of the Maasai population in Kenya expected young girls like Ntaiya to be married at a young age and learn skills to be a wife, not to go to school.

In a Massai right of passage, young girls suffer genital mutilation and are usually married not long after this ceremony. Ntaiya made a deal with her father that would allow her to finish high school after the ceremony, and she ultimately received a college scholarship in the United States and earned a doctorate in education.

Ntaiya made her childhood dream a reality when she opened the Kakenya Center for Excellence in 2009, the first primary school in her village. Since then, she has helped over 150 girls receive a proper education without having to endure what she did.

Persevere against all odds.

In light of Nelson Mandela’s death in December 2013, we are reminded of the legacy he left behind to inspire future human rights activists and leaders. Mandela spent over 25 years in prison after being convicted of sabotage and conspiracy to overthrow the government because of his anti-apartheid efforts. During his time in prison, Mandela was unable to attend the funerals of his mother and his eldest son.

While in prison, Mandela secretly began negotiations with the current apartheid state, specifically with South African President F.W. de Klerk. Mandela was released in 1990 and worked even harder to change conditions in South Africa. In 1994, Mandela became the nation’s first black president.

In his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela wrote, “It would be very hard, if not impossible for one man alone to resist. But the authorities’ greatest mistake was to keep us together, for together our determination was reinforced.” Despite all he had gone through, Mandela never gave up on his beliefs and the perseverance that he shared with all anti-apartheid activists.

When tragedy strikes, come back strong.

After being shot in the head by the Taliban in October 2012, then-15 year old Malala Yousafzai not only recovered, but became more committed to fighting for the right of education for young girls. Yousafzai was targeted because of her strong voice, but the injury she suffered was extremely serious and required a risky surgery. After a medically induced coma and a stay in intensive care, she made an incredible recovery.

Nine months after being shot, she spoke at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The day also marked her 16th birthday. In her speech she said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Since then, Yousafzai has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Price and has been more determined than ever. In response to a question about what the Taliban members who shot her thought they achieved, she said, “I think they may be regretting that they shot Malala. Now she is heard in every corner of the world.”

– Julie Guacci

Sources: CNN, BBC News, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: Amandine Van Ray