MICHAEL BELL / REGINA LEADER-POST
In the eyes of some, today’s youth are more connected to the devices in their hands than the world that surrounds them.
Tell that to a group of young people gathered this weekend in Regina and Saskatoon.
Take Faraz Khan. At just 16, the well-spoken Campbell Collegiate student is involved with his school’s Social Justice Club — a collection of 50 students with an interest in examining issues and attempting to change their world.
Khan was one of close to 100 young people aged 30 and under registered to participate this weekend in Amnesty International Saskatchewan’s Youth Activist Conference, intended to connect young activists and those interested in getting involved in human rights activism.
“All of us (in the club) have a passion for human rights, and today we’ve just learned a lot about how we can reach out to our school and get people in our school involved …,” Khan said, adding his club has been involved in issues like refugee rights and missing and murdered indigenous women. “We just want to make a bigger impact.”
That’s good news to Amnesty International field worker Crystal Giesbrecht, who was impressed by the dedication shown by the young people she worked with this weekend.
“The things they’re doing and their level of awareness in terms of world events, and the things they’re putting together and the social justice work they’re doing, is just so impressive to me …,” she said. “It’s easy for people to get dismayed and have their commentary about millennials, but these young people are really making it happen and doing such impressive things. I think when we hear these discussions going on at a conference like this today, we can feel positive and hopeful.”
One of the goals of the conference was to teach young people more about activism and provide tools to help them as they move forward. While some tools include ways to make social justice issues more approachable, social media is also tapped into when it comes to disseminating information or a message.
“In movements like this, social media is a huge, huge help for us,” Giesbrecht said.
While it can sometimes be a harbour for racism, fear-mongering and overall inaccuracy, Khan recognizes the good social media can do.
“Social media has given us a really good opportunity to share issues and make people more aware of things,” he said. “So I feel like, in that sense, people have become more aware.”
Khan said some young people feel overwhelmed by the sheer nature and scope of human rights issues, meaning clubs like his are challenged to make activism more approachable. But, he added, the movement of new Canadians into Saskatchewan (his own parents immigrated from Bangladesh) creates a base of young people who understand the importance of human rights — and what can happen when such rights are not observed.
“My parents, they tell me stories about how people used to go out onto the streets (in Bangladesh) and protest just to be able to speak their own language and be able to have that right to speak …,” he said. “Things like that have inspired me a lot to pursue human rights.”