Dispatches from #FMDH23: Presentation Day

Backpack in Buenos Aires

Quick Summary

  • UC Davis Article 26 Backpack Guides recount their presentation at the #FMDH23 - Q&A

I’m Dheera Dusanapudi, a Human Rights Studies student and second-year International Relations major. I am also one of the four UC Davis students in Buenos Aires presenting at the third Foro Mundial de Derechos Humanos, alongside Emma Tolliver, Valerie Lima, and Ella Ross.

After an early morning review and a quick breakfast, we headed to our presentation at ex ESMA. While we encountered a few last-minute curveballs navigating the conference, including a last-minute mall search for the right HDMI adapter, we were honored to finally present. Our audience included the Colombian human rights lawyers who had helped us translate our materials accurately and concisely, as well as a fellow human rights NGO, Human Hands. 

We were especially pleased to give our presentation in Spanish–a quick turnaround from our original plan, as Ella wrote in an earlier blog in this series, but a decision that we felt reflected the weight of the moment. Human Hands filmed our prepared Spanish presentation, as well as asked us a few questions regarding Backpack’s mission and the Forum’s importance in an impromptu session.

I’ve included our answers below:

Question 1: Why does Article 26 Backpack focus on storing the educational documents of refugee and displaced communities specifically?

Valerie Lima: “They are those who need the most support. They come into a new area with no family or support. When my mom migrated she had a support network to keep her afloat. I can’t imagine what it could have been like for her, if she didn’t have support. Also, refugees are people like us that have gone to school for more than half their life and for all that to be taken away from them because they lost their documents… there are no words to describe this grand misfortune. That’s why.”

Emma Tolliver: “Americans tend to misconstrue and assume that they understand what refugees need. But refugees need to be empowered, not to have Americans talk over them or make assumptions about what's best for them. With Backpack, we’re hoping to give refugees a tool that they can use to empower them in their educational journey and to guarantee their human right to an education. The goal is to empower refugees to take control of their lives and to lead in their communities by working to help protect their right to education.”

Dheera Dusanapudi: “Storing educational documents and ensuring that refugee students can continue their educational journey doesn’t just help them achieve their career goals, it reaffirms their dignity. I’ve learned in my classes how educational rights impact refugees’ mental health and self-esteem…In this way, document security for refugee students isn’t just an issue of educational access but of mental and public health.” 

Question 2: What does the third World Forum on Human Rights represent for Article 26 Backpack? Why did we attend? 

Ella Ross: We came to the forum because we want to get a better understanding of how programs such as Backpack can be useful for individuals in South America. We understand that historically  American organizations have a reputation for projecting their own agendas on different countries, but we are striving to ensure that Backpack respects cultural individuality and sustainability. Individual countries know what works best for them and we want to encourage self-guided projects. More importantly, we’re here to listen and be open to having difficult conversations about human rights issues and solutions.

Valerie Lima: I have been to a couple of these panels and I was hearing the same things. In each sentence the word democracy or human rights or justice was used. Change can not come from this if they are not either sharing or teaching new skills to the audience. Change needs to come from actions, not just words. I am proud to be here representing Backpack as I find that it’s a tool anyone can use and it serves to aid those people who are too often overlooked.

It was a pleasure to present at the World Forum, as well as a reminder of how important educational tools such as Backpack are in the everyday work of defending human rights. We were proud to represent UC Davis’s incredible Aggie community, and look forward to more opportunities to spread the news about Backpack’s human rights mission. 

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