Michael Keller (Sri Lanka)

Michael Keller (Home for Human Rights, Sri Lanka): Michael worked as a summer-school teacher, a research assistant at a counter-terrorism consulting firm, an intern at the Ecole Nationale d’Administration in Paris, and a consular intern at the US Consulate General in Naples. At the time of his fellowship, Michal was in the fourth of a five-year program at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, pursuing a BS and MS in Foreign Service. He speaks Italian, French and German.



Doing More

13 Aug

With only one week to go before returning to the States, I find myself looking back and wondering, “What have I actually accomplished over the past 9 weeks, besides posting these beautifully written blogs?” It was a lot, and at the same time I wish that I’d had the time and energy to do more. But I guess that in this field, no amount of effort is ever enough.

Despite many challenges – including my inability to communicate with most of the staff (I’ve somehow failed to pick up any Tamil or Sinhala) – I conducted a presentation on effective grant-writing for the entire staff at a skills-training workshop; rewrote a funding proposal for a torture rehabilitation program which will be used as a model for future grants; researched new sources for desperately needed funds; nominated Mr. Xavier for two awards honoring human rights workers around the world, creating a template for future nominations; created a system of regular updates to AP on HHR’s activities; and I added sections on HHR’s work to its own monthly news bulletin and quarterly journal.

Currently, I’m writing several articles for the upcoming journal and putting together an information dossier (including an opinion piece I wrote with one of the lawyers) to convince Western governments to stop returning Tamil refugees.

But none of those accomplishments is as satisfying as the knowledge that after I leave, the need to do more advocacy work will at least become part of the ongoing debate over HHR’s future in these difficult but promising times.

I would be lying, though, if I said that getting Advocacy Project’s message through to HHR has not been tough at times. HHR is interested in providing real help to real people. Advocacy’s effects tend to be more long-term and indirect; it’s understandable, then, that any cash-strapped NGO would see that work as being of secondary importance. So HHR doesn’t write open letters to the government.

It doesn’t send out press releases. And it doesn’t have a sign outside the office. But it’s always bustling with activity, because in the end, the people who need HHR most know where to come.

Now that Mr. Xavier has gone, Mr. Ganesalingam, the Deputy Director, is in charge. This guy is great; he could have retired over a decade ago and he’s very well off, but he still presses on, doing everything he can to help his people.

He’s taken me with him to the Supreme Court and he tries to include me in whatever is going on, whether it involves legal research or sitting in on meetings. Whenever I’m in need of a history lesson, he’s always there for me. My new nickname for him is Dr. Yes, because even when he rejects my impractical schemes, the smile on his face says “yes”.

Not only Mr. Ganesalingam, but also Mr. Xavier, Mrs. Xavier, Kohilan, Sanathani and over 30 other people working for HHR have made sure that these past 9 weeks went as smoothly as possible for me. They may not have liked all of my ideas, but they always listened. And when dedicated, experienced professionals are willing to listen, half the battle has already been won.

Posted By Michael Keller (Sri Lanka)

Posted Aug 13th, 2004

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