To celebrate Human Rights Day, we have asked 2023 Diana Award Recipient Swetha Kannan to speak about their experience as a young changemaker advocating for Human Rights and give some tips about the importance of resilience in social action.
As we come together and celebrate Human Rights Day in 2023, the global community must reflect on the progress made in upholding human dignity and justice. This day serves as a poignant reminder of our shared responsibility to protect and promote the wellbeing of individuals, especially in times of crisis. Being a PhD student at the University of Cambridge and a social activist, whilst extremely fulfilling, is also often challenging. It has made me realise that the best way to set my strongest foot forward for science and society is to learn to look after my wellbeing. Thus, for Human Rights Day 2023, I reflect on some of my own experiences on the humanitarian front and share insights with other young changemakers on how we can safeguard our wellbeing while actively contributing to society during challenging times.
My time working with children in conflict areas stands as a testament to the unyielding strength of the human spirit and the delicate balance changemakers must navigate to protect both the rights of the vulnerable and their wellbeing. As we celebrate Human Rights Day, my mind retraces the steps taken in war-torn landscapes, where the echoes of conflict were silenced by the resilient laughter of children who, despite their circumstances, taught me invaluable lessons about the intersection of humanity, compassion, and self-care.
My humanitarian journey unfolded in a region plagued by unrest. The faces of children, marked by innocence yet etched with the shadows of conflict drove my desire to make a difference, so I immersed myself in the heart of communities where survival was an everyday battle. The first lesson was stark—an acknowledgement of the profound trauma faced by all the children. Their eyes mirrored the horrors witnessed, yet within them flickered the sparks of resilience, refusing to be extinguished. It became evident that to advocate for their rights, I needed to understand the depths of their pain and the nuanced ways in which trauma manifested in their lives. As a changemaker, I realised the need for a multifaceted approach that extended beyond immediate relief. Holistic programmes addressing psychological scars, educational gaps, and the restoration of a semblance of normalcy became the threads woven into the fabric of our initiatives. In the pursuit of safeguarding the wellbeing of these children, it became clear that self-care was not a luxury, but a necessity.
The second lesson was deeply personal—a revelation that the wellbeing of changemakers is intrinsically linked to their ability to create positive change. The weight of witnessing the atrocities of conflict, coupled with the relentless pace of humanitarian work, demanded a conscious effort to prioritise mental and emotional health. It was an acknowledgement that to show up for humanity in crisis, one had to first show up for oneself. Amid the chaos, I discovered the importance of setting boundaries, both emotional and physical. The unending demands of the work could easily become overwhelming, and understanding the limits of my capacity became crucial. In a profession where empathy often blurs the lines between personal and professional, I learned that taking breaks, seeking support, and practising mindfulness were not signs of weakness but tools of resilience.
The first step in fostering personal wellbeing while contributing to humanity involves building resilience. Young people must recognise that taking care of themselves is not a selfish act but a crucial prerequisite for sustained humanitarian efforts. Engaging in activities that promote mental and emotional wellbeing, such as mindfulness exercises, journaling, or seeking professional support when needed, can fortify one's inner strength.
Empathy forms the bedrock of meaningful contributions to humanity. Understanding the experiences of others, particularly those affected by crisis, allows young people to approach humanitarian work with compassion and a genuine desire to make a difference. Initiatives like volunteering in local communities, participating in cultural exchange programmes, or educating oneself about global issues contribute to developing a more empathetic worldview.
Being an advocate for social change often involves confronting challenging issues that can take an emotional toll. It is crucial for young individuals to strike a balance between their passion for making a difference and the need for self-care. Establishing healthy boundaries, practising effective time management, and seeking support from like-minded peers can help in navigating the complexities of advocacy without sacrificing personal wellbeing.
As a recipient of the Diana Award, I encourage fellow young global citizens to take action in building a more compassionate and just world. Start by cultivating a deep understanding of yourself and your values, recognising the intersectionality of personal wellbeing and humanitarian contributions. Actively seek opportunities to engage with diverse perspectives, whether through community service, educational initiatives, or global awareness campaigns. Remember that change begins at the individual level. By nurturing your own wellbeing and developing a profound understanding of the challenges faced by others, you lay the groundwork for impactful contributions. Embrace the responsibility that comes with your unique perspective, talents, and experiences.
In conclusion, on this Human Rights Day, let us recommit ourselves to the ideals of justice, empathy, and compassion. The journey towards a more equitable world begins within each of us, as we strive to balance personal wellbeing with a commitment to the wellbeing of humanity. Through resilience, empathy, and social responsibility, young people can play a pivotal role in shaping a future where human rights are universally upheld.