By Meriel Wehner ’21
How can students make a difference? TigerPost contributor Meriel Wehner ’21 shares how youth around the world are bringing about change—and how you can get started in your own backyard.
As teenagers and students, it can sometimes feel as though there is nothing we can do to make a difference in an often-unfair world. At Ridley, we are lucky to have access to an incredible education; to have food, water, and shelter; and to be respected and treated as equals. However, in many parts of the world this is not the case; millions of people desperately need help to access and enjoy their most basic human rights. And, even if we want to help, we don’t always know how. We feel that because we are just teenagers, we don’t have the power to do anything impactful. We feel that because we are, geographically, so far from those who are suffering most, there is no way that our actions could lead to a favourable result. However, this is not true—there are several ways that students our age can help those less fortunate.
1. Volunteer locally
Oftentimes, when we think of those who are denied their rights, we imagine they live far away, however, this is simply not true. Though Canadians enjoy basic human rights more than many in less-developed countries, there are still plenty of Canadians, both at the local and national level, who need our help. A 2018 study found that there are roughly 625 homeless people living in St Catharines.
By volunteering at local homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and food banks, or hosting fundraisers and collection drives, teenagers can help protect these people, and to promote their right to access food and shelter. Often, volunteering locally is free; there is no need for an expensive plane ticket, and it allows us to help fix the problems closer to our own lives. Of course, volunteering overseas is a great thing to do, but it is often more effective in the long run to focus on the people who are geographically close to you, as the aid you deliver will be more sustained and concentrated.
2. Sign petitions
Petitions are a great way to get involved with any number of cases, and these take almost no time or energy. Websites like change.org are home to thousands of petitions tackling basically any topic of interest. Signing a petition takes less than a minute and can be a really easy way to make a difference because every signature counts! To make your petition signature as effective as possible, send them to family and friends to make sure those signatures add up.
3. Participate in Amnesty Letter Writing Campaigns
For those who haven’t heard of it, Amnesty International is the world’s leading organization which promotes human rights. Amnesty helps in myriad ways, but one of their most well-known endeavours is the Amnesty letter-writing campaign. Amnesty posts case files on various global human rights abuses, along with a letter template and information on who to address your letter. In these letters, you can put into words all the passion you feel for a certain topic and send them off to someone who can actually make a difference. Anyone can write an Amnesty letter and they can be massively impactful. In the past, Amnesty letter-writing campaigns have directly led to freeing unfairly jailed political prisoners, saving innocent people from the death penalty, and bringing about the arrests of human rights abusers. These letters may be slightly more involved than simply signing a petition, but they are an easy and free way to facilitate real change.
Although donations aren’t always feasible or sustainable for the long-term, if one has the means, making a donation is one of the best ways to help those in need. Even small donations of $1 or $2 can make a huge impact once they add up. Donations can be made to support essentially any cause and can even save a life. However, it is important to do research on the charities you choose to donate to, to be certain that your money is going directly to the cause and not being siphoned by the organization.
5. Raise awareness on social media
One great way to really make a difference is to spread awareness. People often aren’t aware of what’s going on in the world around them, but if they knew, they would do what they could to help. By spreading information in a productive manner, we can educate and encourage others to act. As teenagers, one of the most effective ways we can spread information is through social media. Everyone has it; everyone uses it—and Instagram stories, in particular, are an excellent way to share current world issues.
Instagram stories are an excellent way to share current world issues, however, it is essential to fact-check all information found on apps before reposting.
By posting to these teen-saturated apps, we are easily able to educate a generation. However, there is a definitive downside to social media activism, as basically anything can be put into a story template and reposted. It is essential to fact-check all information found on apps (like Instagram) before reposting, as spreading false information can be extremely dangerous—particularly when critical issues are involved.
6. Read the news
One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to be aware of going on, and the best way to do this is to read or watch the news. Of course, this alone does not make any difference, but the more people are aware of world issues, the more we can work to make a difference. By staying up to date on current affairs and talking about them with your friends and family, we can increase global recognition of human rights crises which may be isolated to a certain geographical area and begin to build enough attention to force change.
The more people are aware of world issues, the more we can work to make a difference.
It has been proven that raising awareness is only effective in making change when everyone knows—so make sure to always talk about and share what you read. Participating in meaningful, educational conversations about current affairs is an excellent way to expand understanding beyond what is written in the news, and can allow one to reflect on how to bring about change.
7. Attend a rally
One of the most involved ways to promote human rights is to attend rallies. Rallies can be held to protest any human rights abuse, from the Black Lives Matter movement to the gender wage gap. Rallies are particularly impactful as they bring together people who are passionate about change.
When faced with such large groups of people, it’s difficult for a government to completely ignore the issue. Rallies put focused attention on a specific issue, which in turn encourages the government to discuss it. Then, the issue will hopefully be addressed and rectified in a positive, fair and respectful manner. In cities like Toronto, rallies are often held for any number of issues—this is a great place to get started with peaceful protesting.
This article was published in the Winter 2021 issue of TigerPost magazine.