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A Dream to Hold | UN training with ERI

In November 2022 one of our valuable team members, Rebecca Nalwanga, joined Edmund Rice International’s Human Rights and Advocacy training in Geneva, Switzerland. Rebecca is a Program Coordinator with Edmund Rice Community and Refugee Service’s Support Hub in Tarneit, Melbourne.

Rebecca shared with us some of the key learnings and reflections of her experience in Geneva:

I’m Rebecca Nalwanga, born and raised in Uganda (also known as the pearl of Africa). I am currently pursuing a doctorate research at the University of Melbourne where I explore – what the lived realities of children with a disability might reveal about the presence or absence of ‘real’ democracy. From 7th to 21st November 2022, I engaged with a diverse group of members of the Edmund Rice network from across the world, including–India, Argentina, Canada, Tanzania, South Africa, Italy, and the Philippines.

L: Rebecca in Geneva

Centre: The Avenue of Flags outside the Palais des Nations

Right: Rebecca with another training participant in the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room, the main chamber of the Human Rights Council

ERI holds a permanent consultative seat at the Economic and Social Council of the UN General Assembly. This partnership between ERI and the UN introduced us to a web of United Nations mechanisms and afforded us access to freely attend several sessions of the United Nations 75th Universal Periodic Review and the 45th Treaty Body Committee.

As a group, we grew in community as we explored the evolution of Advocacy from a Charity-based-approach to a Rights-based-approach. As a way of centring our advocacy prospects on a grassroots level, each one of us was supported by the ERI team in drafting an advocacy plan that aligns with our local ministry. Being called to consider issues in the communities close to home through an advocacy lens rather than a charity lens was thought-provoking. These discussions enhanced my understanding of applying a rights-based approach when developing an Advocacy Plan.

...while charity seeks to calm things down, advocacy seeks to stir things up!

This process centered my advocacy prospects on the grassroots level, particularly the homework club, where I am excited to explore the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in a fun way with the students we engage with each week. Throughout this process, we were reminded that; while charity seeks to calm things down, advocacy seeks to stir things up!

A Dream to hold…

Having studied Politics and International Development, the opportunity to connect with the United Nations has always been a dream for me, and it was a pinnacle moment, the United Nations has always felt out of reach for me like many others. However, whilst I was attending the United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT) of my home country Uganda, some unexpected things happened and deep down, a dream died in me.

The issues being reviewed included- unauthorised detentions of civilians within illegal torture chambers known by the moniker “safe houses”. These issues meant so much for my country but seemed to mean so little as the Ugandan delegation, accompanied by a dozen officials from government institutions, skilfully presented the allegations as false. As the review session drew to a close, and I scribbled notes of the concluding remarks between the country delegates and special rapporteurs, I questioned how and when the recommendations from such a dialogue would trickle down to impact the lives of Ugandans at a grassroots level. At that moment an unexpected cohort of 4 passionate Ugandan demonstrators surprisingly took to the podium whilst chanting, “Uganda is bleeding, the country delegation is lying and concealing the crimes”. As I sat in my own reflections surrounding this confronting experience, one thing came to mind.

Right here, right now…

This experience reaffirmed in me the importance of ‘everyday advocacy’ and action at the local level. It revealed to me that what everyday people, right here and right now, do to defend human rights, is much more impactful than what happens at the powerful upper diplomatic levels. I know this to be true from my own work at the homework club– where each week, we experience a smile and a giggle from one child whose world is made better

I’m reminded of a renowned ‘political movement strategy that seeks to attract, not to overpower.’ It states that during a protest if hundreds of people contest those in power, the police are stationed to enforce law and order. Once the protestors grow from hundreds to thousands, the protestors are considered enemies of the State, and the military is deployed. However, should the protestors grow in number from the thousands to millions, both the military and the police join the protestors, and it is at this defining moment that the people become the State!

Right now, I see Australia living out this very advocacy experience. As more and more everyday Australians connect with the injustices faced by the First Nations, the yearning to make things right has shifted from simply being a ‘First Nations issue’ to being the mandate of the State.

In Geneva, we would end each day with a reflection ritual, where we shared with the rest of the group before delighting in a warm homemade meal with the ERI brotherhood. I grew in community with the rest of the participants and drew from their learnings of human rights and advocacy. I am deeply honoured to have been afforded the opportunity to actively engage with the United Nations processes and gather grassroots tools that are crucial in Human Rights & Advocacy work. I am deeply grateful for the generosity across the Edmund Rice Network that afforded me the opportunity to actively engage and grow in my passion for Human Rights Advocacy while visiting the United Nations in Geneva.

We look forward to seeing Rebecca continue to grow as an advocate for human rights and valuable member of the ERCS community.


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