Madeline England

Madeline England (Home for Human Rights – HHR): Madeline received her BA in economics from Mount Holyoke College in 2002. She then worked as a legal assistant for a London law firm and as an outreach coordinator for the Women’s Anti-Violence Education program in Philadelphia. From 2004 to 2006, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mauritania, West Africa, where she helped women entrepreneurs to coordinate marketing campaigns and business plans. At the time of her fellowship, Madeline was pursuing a Masters in International Affairs with a concentration in Human Rights at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, Madeline wrote: "The fellowship was an infinitely valuable experience. I learned more about human rights advocacy and research, exactly as I was hoping, and I also gained experience working in a conflict zone. It helped me to develop the skills and understanding to work with community-based human rights organizations."

Survivors, not victims

30 Jul

Of all of the things I have done over the past eight weeks, my favorite activity has been listening:

Listening to the HHR staff and their stories of growing up in Jaffna, Batticaloa, or the Hill Country.

Listening to Sri Lankans for their opinions on the conflict, human rights, and politics.

Listening to the HHR staff educate me on the conflict in Sri Lanka. In reality the situation is far more complicated than the commonly portrayed duality of “Government v. LTTE” or “Government v. Rebels” or “Sinhalese majority v. Tamil minority.” I am only just beginning to understand all of the factions and political parties that play a role in prolonging the conflict.

But my favorite activity of all is listening to the survivors.

I met one of them today. She has a gorgeous smile. She is so petite. I can’t imagine anyone hurting her, nor can I imagine the inner strength she must possess.

I have read dozens of reports of destruction, death, torture, killings, and other human rights abuse. Yet I haven’t even scratched the surface.

I know that many people do not see an end to the conflict. People think it is a cycle and it will go on for years to come. One of the HHR staff told me sometimes he wants to scream from frustration.

I have seen people come into the office who want nothing more than to leave this country, and understandably so. So many people want, and need, to seek asylum and escape Sri Lanka. People have family members who have been killed and now they fear for their own lives or the lives of family members.

When it all seems insurmountable, listening to someone who overcame the unimaginable is amazing and inspiring.

I know news reports from Sri Lanka tell stories of suffering, all of them true. The latest one from Reuters talks about how people “have had to adapt to a two-decade war.” The image portrayed is that people are cowering in corners, dashing from building to building, afraid to be out in the open.

That is only half of the story. Sri Lankans are also survivors, and the girl I met today is a brilliant example.

I wonder if she knows how amazing and remarkable she is. I wonder if she considers how few people could have even survived, let alone conquered, as she did. I am not sure that she does, and I didn’t know how to tell her. I asked her about her day and said I was glad to meet her.

Then I just listened. I didn’t understand a word of her conversation in Tamil with one of the HHR girls. And I didn’t care.

Posted By Madeline England

Posted Jul 30th, 2007


  • Hellow!
    How are you? I read your story and I have learn from your articles. Thanks for your
    contribution in South Asia(Srilanka). I am also an International Member of Amnesty International(Bangladesh). If you are interested about Human Rights position in Bangladesh feel free to write me.Thanks you again .

    I hope to hear from you soon
    Have a great day!
    Shah Tasadduque Ali Khan

  • Shalise Forti

    July 31, 2007


    You said that you have read/heard many stories of death, destruction and torture and that many have inspired you. Have any gotten under your skin badly? Have you been detered from your work by some of the things you have encountered. I ask this becasue I often wonder if I have the stomach to work in human rights.

Enter your Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *