My passion: Global social change & access to justice
It’s funny: I stumbled into the world of social justice through a significant other – and since then, it’s grown into a full-fledged passion. So much so, that I can’t imagine doing anything else now other than working to empower the poor, women, minorities, and marginalized communities across the globe.
Before I go any further, let me define social justice. According to the ever-trustworthy Wikipedia (kids, don’t quote this in your papers, of course…):
“Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating an egalitarian society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being.”
Perhaps going further, believing in social justice means you believe that some redistribution of wealth and property (through, for example, taxation) is necessary to create such en egalitarian society. It means that we all have to sacrifice something for the greater good, and for the good of the poor.
I didn’t come to this conclusion right away, though. I only came to this conclusion after I worked directly with poor and marginalized people, realizing that their poverty wasn’t often a symptom of their not working hard enough (a common misconception), but more often a result of the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. Most people who are poor, around the world, don’t want to be poor. They are working hard to get out of poverty – but many times, there are significant barriers holding them back. Money is the most obvious one; but there are larger structural barriers to their success as well. Despite having the talent and intelligence, most poor people simply are denied the same opportunities to rise to their greatest potential, whether it is through lack of educational opportunities, lack of adequate healthcare, lack of government benefits, lack of economic/job opportunities, lack of justice, or lack of mentorship and support.
The best way to learn about social change and justice is to simply volunteer and work side-by-side with the poor and marginalized, whether in your own community or abroad. Meet them, learn from them, learn with them, and you’ll realize it’s not “us” and “them” – rich and poor – but quite simply, we all share a common humanity. Embrace this common humanity, and you will realize the importance of social justice.
My focus: Access to justice
There are so many problems out there as you can see from my previous paragraph; how can you choose one?
Just follow your heart, and go towards what most moves you. And, you don’t have to focus, although I’ve chosen to.
I have always been passionate about writing; I like to think it’s a skill of mine. I may not be the best writer in the world, but I genuinely love it. When I sit down to write, the world disappears, and I become immersed in the words that are flowing out of my brain, and through my proverbial pen (or onto the computer screen). I wrote for my school newspaper quite a bit during undergrad, but I felt unfulfilled. I didn’t feel that my writing would be making an impact; sure, I’d write about an issue, but would anyone take action after reading my articles? The gap between writing and social activism seemed to be too large, in my mind.
So, I developed a strong interest in the legal and human rights field. I felt that by using the law, litigation and legal representation for advocacy, I could participate in a medium that would convert simple words into powerful tools for direct social impact and change. Instead of writing a news article, I could shift into writing a legal memo or brief that would tangibly support the case of a victim/survivor of human rights violations, domestic violence, or human trafficking. My words would no longer be castles in the sky – but concrete tools to advance the rights of an individual or a group of people whose rights have been violated. Now, my words would be able to secure relief for victims and survivors of abuses – ranging from financial relief to broad structural change (many legal cases result in settlements that force governments to change their practices and prevent human rights violations, for instance).
With this, came my burgeoning passion for access to justice – the expansion of the provision of legal aid and representation to poor, abused, and marginalized populations. This could mean providing a lawyer to an immigrant denied wages, a prisoner needing a fair trial, a survivor of domestic violence, or an asylum seeker. There is a wide range of communities who could truly use a free lawyer and an advocate; I’ve seen this with my own work with a human rights law firm, and my ultimate goal is to work on expanding access to justice to victims of human rights abuses in developing countries.
So, this is where I am now, plotting my next steps towards following my passion. Passion has a way of consuming your mind and keeping you up late at night with new, creative ideas to accomplish your goals. And so, I’m forgoing my sleep these days to raise funds for a grassroots NGO in Afghanistan that is expanding legal services to poor women.
All I can say is: let your passion consume you and take you to new heights. Once you find something worth your time, make sure you never let it go. Stick to it, stay determined, be patient, ignore your fears, put in the time and hard work necessary, make your goals public, create a network of supporters – and you will achieve whatever it is you set your mind to.
Akhila is a legal assistant, blogger, fundraiser and human rights activist working to expand access to justice for marginalized populations. You can read her blog at http://akhilak.com/blog and connect with her on twitter at http://twitter.com/akhilak.
Learn more about "Everyday Passionate People" here.
Learn more about "Everyday Passionate People" here.