The Write-A-Thon is an annual letter drive sponsored by Amnesty International meant to coincide with International Human Rights Day on Friday, December 10. During the event, activists are encouraged to write letters to government officials in countries where there are victims of human rights violations, in the hope that these officials will become overwhelmed by the global concern and stop violations or release those who have been unfairly detained.
The goal of HELP is to “to educate the student body about human rights and the violation of human rights that continues in the world today. We also empower students by showing them how they can help through activism,” junior and president of HELP Seong-Im Hong said. The event was promoted along two fronts. Students were encouraged to sign pre-written letters at a table near the second floor entrance. A sign displayed on the table asked students to “Take a breather from tests and quizzes—sign a letter, donate a stamp or two, walk away knowing that you‘ve just saved a life.” Parents were also encouraged to sign letters at the Parents’ Association meeting on Tuesday, December 15.
According to Hong, “This is a fantastic example of how Stuyvesant students can show their selflessness by dedicating their time, effort and stamps for the cause of human rights worldwide.”
This year, HELP focused its efforts on several victims. Aung San Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who has been under house arrest for more than a dozen years for supporting democracy in Myanmar. Mohammed Mohammed Hassan Odaini has been detained in Guantanamo Bay despite being cleared for release over two years ago. Rita Mahato has received threats of rape and death for working at a women’s rehabilitation center for victims of violence in Nepal. Shi Tao is a Chinese journalist serving a ten-year sentence for sending an e-mail to the United States about a Communist party directive.
Last year, the club promoted the Global Write-A-Thon as well. “A few hundred” people signed letters, according to former president Theresa Lee (‘09). The focus was Fathi El-Jahmi, who was arrested by Libyan authorities in 2002 after calling for free speech and political reforms. He was transferred to a hospital in Tripoli, Libya due to his deteriorating health. El-Jahmi was released in 2008, but still remained in state custody. Unfortunately, he passed away in May 2009, after the event took place in Stuyvesant.
“It was a challenge to get people to really care about the issues, or just even explain what was happening since a lot of people signed letters in between classes,” Lee said, “I found that a lot of people questioned the effectiveness of a write-a-thon because they didn’t see how writing a letter can help improve human rights or free a prisoner of conscience. However, I really do believe international pressure does work, even if it is gradual.”
HELP also has a women’s rights subdivision in addition to its human rights branch. They plan on promoting speaker events and holding a clothing drive for battered women’s shelters later in the school year. They also hold monthly movie nights that try to raise awareness for issues such as maternal mortality and female genital mutilation.
“I felt that women’s rights needed a special attention since [women are] so vulnerable” said Hong.
Although it is frustrating and stressful at times leading the club, Hong firmly believes in the causes the club promotes. “It’s satisfying just propagating information about human rights to the student body and maybe helping us a step toward a better world,” Hong said. “Everyone should be passionate about the well-being of fellow human beings, no matter how different or far apart they are from each other.