What on Earth am I going to write about? This blog has been plaguing me for a week now. There have been no Miss Roma pageants, no photo exhibitions, not even a riot or hate-crime in the immediate neighborhood. What is a human rights blogger to do?
But this, I guess, is what I’ve really learned in my month so far at Dzeno: the real heroes of the human rights crusade look like Jakub, the quiet man who sits to my right. He will never be photographed carrying a refugee child through the deserts of Darfur. He will never be shot at while speaking at a rally in Sri Lanka. He will never, ever be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He cannot even count on being thrown in prison for his beliefs, where he could at least make a name for himself by organizing a decent hunger strike.
No, the frontlines of human rights work are very often in small offices in big cities, where driven individuals spend all day staring at computer screens and making phone calls. Sometimes they travel, as Ivan Veselý does, to a conference here or there. Sometimes they are even interviewed for the paper. For the large part, though, the work is tedious and unglamorous. I myself am convinced that it takes as much stamina, albeit of a whole other kind, to spend a lifetime advocating for people you will probably never meet, as it must to carry the torch – Mandela–style – for a movement with which you are intimately connected.
I watch the people around me work themselves to exhaustion, clasp their heads in stress, and sigh… and sigh… and sigh. There is just so much to do, simply in gathering and disseminating information, that activists are forever in danger of burning themselves out. I wonder if this might have something to do with why the face of activism is so often youth? Maybe it’s not that with age activists become jaded and moderate and leave the cause; maybe they just get tired.
Here at Dzeno, Jakub, who is one of the very few non-Roma here, takes much of the day-to-day managerial responsibility on himself, though he will adamantly insist that he is not a manager of any kind. And for all of his overtime, there is still so much that he cannot do, and does not have time to learn. He asked me today to help fill out some forms for the United Nations Economic and Social Council.
Part of the questionnaire asks how Dzeno’s work addresses the platform of ECOSOC, then how it addresses the more specific UN Millennium Development Goals. Under both of these questions, someone had written “No Idea.” Though Dzeno has a formal partnership with this UN body, no one, it seems, really knows what ECOSOC does, and even fewer have even heard of the development goals.
It is moments like this that make me realize, in part, why I am here, and just how good I have it. While I consider myself an advocate along side those I work with, I have had the luxury of spending the last year in graduate school, comfortably sequestered in my American university. As asinine as this statement might seem coming from a Master’s student, I have been spared the exhaustion of human rights work. I have had the time, and the resources, to dedicate to learning about ECOSOC and understanding the Millennium Development Goals. I am here because I know these things, and also, because I am not yet exhausted.
So while I feel on the one hand like absolutely nothing of note has happened this week, on the other hand I have learned a valuable lesson. In all of the thousands of offices all over the world where nothing of note seems to be happening, the cogs and wheels of the human rights apparatus are grinding along, providing fuel for those whose inspiring actions will become household names, for their work and for their sacrifice. What is truly inspiring, however, are those who drudge on through the exhaustion, knowing their names will never be known, and their actions never remembered.
What I wish Jakub knew when he drew his long breaths before his computer is that without him and others like him, this great machinery would grind to a halt. The battles that are fought from these small offices in big cities are the battles without which the human rights movement cannot live. When Jakub draws his breath, slow and long, he is drawing oxygen for a body bigger than his own, a mind broader than his own, and a life far beyond his own. And his energies are not hopeless, they are necessary and they are noble. And a least by a few, they will be remembered.
He will blush when he reads this. And grin behind his glasses and try to wriggle away from the compliments. He is uncomfortable with being honored. But that’s okay. I expect it. Many heroes are…
Posted By Stacy Kosko (Czech Republic)
Posted Jul 12th, 2004