In 2020 alone, the laws surrounding human rights left people in a fluctuating state of confusion. Does the freedom to basic liberties even have a profound effect? Do these laws make a difference? Amid all the injustices, many grassroots organizations around the world grew impatient with politics and made moves towards supporting the causes they believe in. In Los Angeles, UCLA students in particular, displayed excellence in their ethical pursuits to raise funds for human rights causes.
Why do human rights matter? We asked 10 amazing UCLA organizations that very question. In an interview, they explained their current goals and the experiences their project members had in organizing fundraisers and campaigns to amplify their causes.
Here are 10 human rights initiatives at UCLA that you should stay on the lookout for this year:
1. Bruins Without Borders
Bruins Without Boarders aim to create a community of people within UCLA dedicated to service and community involvement towards underserved groups.
“Making moves towards improving human rights holds a deep-rooted significance to me. Constantly surrounding yourself with bleak and distressing human problems can be hard for some people. But I believe ‘until you cross the bridge of your insecurities, you can’t begin to explore your possibilities,” Executive BWB Officer and UCLA senior Vishal Dobaria said.
Bruins Without Borders teams up with the Midnight Mission Center at Downtown Los Angeles to supply food and items of hygiene among the homeless populace. They likewise offer tutoring and instructive STEM classes to locals of unprivileged communities working towards getting GED certification. Additionally, Bruins Without Borders keeps a blog covering various articles concerning the international society. A recently published article spoke towards the major struggles occurring in Yemen and commented on the UN Voices of Youth’s plan of action.
2. Hidden Roads Initiative
Hidden Roads Initiative gives back by providing aid to underprivileged students in remote Armenian villages through three main concentrations: summer camps, development projects and scholarships. During the recent war in Artsakh, Armenia, this chapter made it a priority to organize fundraisers to aid those who’ve been affected. As the majority of HRI members come from Armenian descent, this hit close to home. A notable chapter fundraiser included their benefit concert on November 6th, in which HRI hosted an event showcasing Armenian culture and talent. Participants encompassed UCLA students, alumni and even non-UCLA Armenian students.
They raised $5000 which went directly to the NGO Support Wounded Soldiers. As an entire organization, the UCLA and Berkeley HRI chapters also co-organized the “Holiday Backpacks for Artsakh” fundraiser.
“It was so heartwarming to see how Armenians all around the United States donated backpacks, school supplies and toys and united around our cause. The HRI founder and director, Nanor Balabanian, is currently visiting border and Artsakh villages, and is hand delivering the backpacks. We are thankful that we were able to bring some kind of happiness to children’s lives after a period of war,” Co-Presidents and UCLA juniors Lilia and Alexandra Yaralian said.
Of course, the current pandemic created obstacles that kept this project from running smoothly. HRI had to individually check and assemble approximately 3000 backpacks. Thankfully, the children of Artsakh have begun receiving and sharing heart-warming photos of new items from school supplies to small instruments.
3. Lebanese Student Association
When it was time to assist the people effected by the explosion in Lebanon’s capital, a group of volunteers from the Lebanese Student Association at UCLA financially partnered with the health center to accumulate hundreds of pounds of medical supplies. Following quite a while of battling the COVID-19 pandemic—in under-resourced conditions—the blast injured the structural frameworks in Beirut and the existences of so many.
While not an extremely large organization, a few LSA members volunteered to meet and help packing efforts while also ensuring that they were working safely amid social distancing regulations. LSA also organized their own fundraiser directed towards accepting items, in addition to sending and matching donations to the Red Cross-Gemmayzeh for Beirut.
“We did not imagine how much attention this project would receive, and we didn’t consider shipping costs. Thankfully, The Lebanese Fund, as well as individual donors helped move past this hurdle. Helping others is always a priority,” President of LSA Christian Eidson said.
Currently LSA continues to monitor and support their homeland while also creating a support system for Lebanese UCLA students by means of a career series, music nights and diaspora community discussions surrounding the topics of coping and intergenerational trauma – a topic familiar to many MENA communities.
4. Promise Institute of Human Rights (at UCLA School of Law)
Thanks to a generous $20 million donation from film producers Eric Esrailian and Anthony Mandekic, one of the largest UCLA human rights initiatives formed in 2016. With the proper funding, this institute centers its efforts around spreading human rights education, producing and publishing research, as well as fighting for advocacy at UCLA and strengthening the dynamism of the city of Los Angeles.
“The Promise Institute is so named because UCLA and the UCLA School of Law are making the promise to refugees and people suffering from injustice that we will create the tools and train the people to address these crises,” Chief of UCLA’s Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and Film Producer, Dr. Eric Esralian said.
Spearheaded by the UCLA School of Law, Promise Institute works on improving the circumstance of human rights for individuals by empowering current and incoming human rights lawyers and leaders. Currently PIHR prepares to stream their 2021 virtual symposium, “International Human Rights and Corporate Accountability: Current and Future Challenges.” Other research focuses include race, indigenous peoples, the protection of the environment, migration and technology as it relates to human rights and accountability for violations of freedoms. Educational platforms such as this seminar create space for the topic of human rights to remain significant, beyond the waves of social justice trends.
5. Promise Armenian Institute
Derived from the above mentioned PIHR quickly came the targeted Promise Armenian Institute. Inspired and influenced by the 2016 historical drama film The Promise, directed by Terry George and produced by Eric Esrailian, this organization aims to keep the promise to remember the Armenian Genocide of 1915 and to advocate for Armenian education, culture and human rights.
“When we first arrived at UCLA, we wanted to join an organization that would allow us to give back to our homeland. We were recruited by the past UCLA PAI director when we met him at an Armenian event on campus. When he graduated, he passed the presidency along to us. We have been co-presidents of the Promise Armenian Institute at UCLA since our sophomore year,” UCLA and Harvard graduate Hasmik Baghdasaryan said.
Promise Armenian Institute meets with like-minded Armenians with a passion to give back to their homeland. Their upcoming project involves a day of Armenian Music at UCLA which will be a day-long conference and cultural music concert dedicated to fundraising for the currently displaced indigenous people of Artsakh.
6. International Refugee Assistance Project (at UCLA School of Law)
With 30 student chapters across the USA, Canada and headquarters in New York, this nonprofit organization—International Refugee Assistance Project at UCLA School of Law—hopes to see brighter days after the inauguration of a new POTUS who plans to sign an executive order to expand the US refugee program. Additonally, the number of refugees being admitted into the country is at the lowest it’s ever been. With the COVID-19 pandemic creating both profound hardships for forced immigrants and world-wide travel limitations, IRAP’s financial efforts and response measures went through quick revisions.
The overarching vision IRAP globally works towards has to do with direct advocacy, representation, policy advocacy and litigation. The UCLA student chapter directly represents clients who apply for refugee status or displaced people who, for example, apply for special immigrant visa status: a status for people who have assisted the US military. IRAP works to help these individuals resettle in the US by assisting pro bono partners put cases together.
“To me, human rights means every person having the freedom to decide for themselves what their life looks like. Freedom doesn’t mean the absence of rules but the ability to set the own rules for yourself. I know that’s kind of abstract, but to me fighting for human rights means creating a world where everyone is free,” UCLA J.D. Candidate Madhavi Narayanan said.
Currently this organization provides vulnerable clients with emergency resources for food, medicine, shelter and other necessities. Since 2008, UCLA law students and lawyers have successfully relocated 4,200 refugees and their families to 18 new countries. Having trained 2,000 law students in the refugee assistance process, UCLA continues to recruit and educate graduate students about international programs.
7. Jewish Voices for Peace
Thanks to the post-World War II Nuremberg Trials from 1945-1946, Germany faced repercussions and most importantly accepted accountability for their war crimes. These trials set precedent for future resolutions on anti-semitism. Jewish Voices for Peace at UCLA seeks to instruct UCLA students about continuous basic liberty infringements as well as opportunities to actively make moves against those violations.
JVP at UCLA commits itself to ending Israeli occupation in the following areas: West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. They demand harmony, social equity, equality and human rights for all individuals. Jewish Voices for Peace works towards those objectives by spreading education resources and updating their followers with the most recent news and movements from Jewish individuals and other minorities. Most recently they helped amplify the voices of Palestinian students abroad by participating in a hunger strike this past November. JVP organization leaders also started a protest demanding that the University of California divests from weapons manufacturers.
When not protesting, JVP carries out one of their ambitions towards achieving harmony by bringing together students through meaningful connections related to Jewish culture. Their social media often offers opportunities for networking and even game nights.
8. Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine
Thought human rights clubs only extended as far as undergraduate careers? Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine contains Graduate understudies who wish to hold occasions and participate in the political advocacy of Palestine. The association has branches in colleges everywhere in the U.S., Canada and New Zealand.
As of late, GSJP partook in a sit-in demonstration to challenge University of California’s police protocol. For 29 days, this protest communicated their demand to demilitarize and defund the college’s private police power, end all agreements with ICE and guarantee that equity and responsibility be instituted following the police murder of Tyrone West, a person of color killed by a Morgan State University Police Force member.
One of their most notable events involved their collaboration in co-hosting “United Beyond 2020: A Revolutionary Movement for Genuine Change”. Multiple Los Angeles human rights organizations gathered over a virtual platform to engage in dialogue and create meaningful connections between their shared aims of ensuring accountability for human rights for all people.
9. Homes Around the World
Homes Around the World devotes their association to giving a hand to foster kids and orphans around the world. Their objectives include giving educational and monetary assistance to various foster homes or halfway houses and bringing issues to light about the emotional and mental health of young adults. The individuals from this volunteer organization unite multilingual students who share a passion for encouraging kids.
Recently, the finance HAW team brought up assets for children through a committed Instagram pledge drive where they live-streamed during COVID-safe volunteering. Homes Around the World likewise works on enabling research groups and introducing research papers on the subject of adolescent development. Their outreach group incorporates multilingual students who find and speak with foster homes and shelters worldwide to perceive how they can best aid children.
When they don’t host days of service, Homes Around the World creates social gatherings for practicing mental health for their members, bonding and furthermore allotting duties to volunteer individuals.
10. Unheard Cries Charity
This student-run organization tackles the issue of poverty in the Middle East and focuses its funding towards sponsoring those who not only suffer from impoverished conditions, but also cystic fibrosis, epilepsy and rheumatoid arthritis. Their current projects, brewing since 2016, include fundraising for 1.4 million Palestinians in Gaza who require urgent medical attention.
In 2020 they collaborated with Merciful Ministry, an organization of priests, doctors and servants who aid patients in Egypt diagnosed with cancer. One of the most note-worthy things about Unheard Cries Charity can be seen by their constant collaborative efforts with other UCLA organizations.
“All of the service that we do comes out of our hearts and lands in the Middle East. We have a genuine desire to be part of something bigger and impact the world,” Signatory and UCLA senior Amanda Androus said.
They currently support the Lebanese Students Association, Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine and International Refugee Assistance Project, to name a few.
Call to Action:
What can you do to support these excelling organizations? Repost on Instagram, contact representatives, sign petitions and donate when you can. Most of all, remember the struggle towards achieving human rights holds an ongoing importance which we can all speak out for, if only we try.