I don’t think I’ve said much about my involvement with Amnesty International. I joined at college. One of my lecturer’s organised a fundraising concert and I signed up that night.
I’ve been a member of several groups over the years and have been chairing the Swindon & Marlborough Group for quite a while now.
When I joined, it wasn’t the easiest organisation to belong to if you had a visual impairment. The amount of paperwork coming through the letterbox was a little daunting. This was for the admirable reason that Amnesty do in-depth research and present their members with as much information as possible. I had to take the same line that I did at college, however, working out what was necessary for me to know and only reading any extras if I had time, not to mention a willing volunteer to do the reading.
I clearly wasn’t the only one who found it all a bit overwhelming but I am pleased to say that the UK section took their members’ views to heart and cut down enormously on the amount of paper they sent out.
These days, of course, much of the information comes to us via email which means I’m on a level playing field with everyone else. (Not that being part of Amnesty is competitive! The whole idea is that you do as much or as little as you want.)
In our group we always have a prisoner of conscience for whom we write letters every month. At the moment we are campaigning for the release of Aster Fissehatsion, who was “disappeared” in Eritrea in 2001 for daring to suggest that transparency in government might be a good idea. We have no idea if she is still alive or not but we keep writing anyway.
We also join in other campaigns, which can be for specific countries, or for specific issues, such as torture. I know this sounds very serious, and it is, but we have fun too. I shall never forget the giant pink cardboard cut-out battle tank created by some of our group to highlight human rights abuses in China.
We have heard some amazing speakers at our meetings over the years. I am always struck by how humble ex-prisoners of conscience are. They are “ordinary” people who do the extraordinary by speaking truth to power whatever the consequences and, believe me, those consequences can be pretty dire. I will never forget being hugged by a former prisoner from the Maldives as though I had done something special. All I had done, along with others, was write letters to the authorities asking for their release. It brings tears to my eyes just to think about it.
Last night’s meeting was our most light-hearted of the year. At this time each year, Amnesty runs its “Write for Rights” campaign. They produce details of prisoners we can send cards to, either directly, or sometimes via their family and friends. We write our cards to the accompaniment of mince pies, stollen, and hot spiced apple juice.
So why do I continue to be involved in an organisation where the printed word which I can’t see is so important and which I have to have assistance to support?
Quite simply, I believe in it.
Whatever my problems may be, they are nothing compared to those of the people we campaign for.
Returning to the mince pies, I am now going to take a break for Christmas and New Year. Thank you for staying with me so far. I wish you all well for the holiday season and the very best for the New Year.
Judith Furse will be back with a new blog post on Tuesday 14 January 2020.