Human Rights Volunteer Programs
In 1948 forty-eight United Nation member states established a set of rights to which every human being is inherently entitled – a list including protection from slavery, forced prostitution, gender discrimination and political persecution.
These days, barely five percent of the world’s population is thought to have any knowledge of the once-lauded Universal Declaration of Human Rights. (Human Rights Action Center)
Millions of women, particularly in developing nations, continue to fall victim to violence and sex trafficking, clean water is scarce for hundreds of millions, and individuals fighting for political freedoms are still routinely met with imprisonment, torture and even death. (Human Rights Watch 2013 World Report)
Even though most developed nations have instituted laws intended to protect their populations from human rights abuses, millions of people across the globe continue to live under the threat of abuse and discrimination.
While it may seem like an overwhelming issue to tackle, there are still some small but significant ways a volunteer can contribute their time and expertise toward improving the lives of the individuals impacted by human rights violations.
Teaching and Education:
Violence against women, in addition to being a pressing public health issue, is also a clear violation of women’s human rights. However, according the World Health Organization, providing women with the educational resources is one of the best ways to lift them out of poverty, avoid intimate partner violence, and consequently, reduce child mortality and abuse.
There are several volunteer programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America that cater toward women and children’s education, covering everything from teaching English to business and vocational training.
More information can be found through Educating Girls Matters, Love Volunteers and Do Something. Many programs only require that applicants be 18 years of age and high school graduates. Programs that focus on vocational training, however, may require some related work experience.
Education, sexual health and prevention programs, and working in women’s shelters and homes all fall under the category of “empowerment,” since every single one of those projects can help at-risk women achieve a safer and more independent future.
WHO reports 35 percent of women worldwide have been victims of domestic abuse or sexual violence, a statistic that increases drastically in countries with attitudes – legal and social – that are accepting of gender inequality and violence.
In Tanzania, one of the world’s poorest nations that has been plagued by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Cross Cultural Solutions offers several volunteer programs in orphanages, community centers and homeless shelters geared towards aiding local women.
In Asia, where traditional beliefs about gender inequality are still prominent, volunteers can find opportunities to aid victims of domestic violence in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam through UBELONG.
Schools, orphanages and even hospitals in the developing world desperately need volunteers to assist mentally and physically disabled adults and children. UNICEF estimates there are 93 million disabled children in the world, a huge proportion of whom are marginalized and even neglected by their communities.
While some health-focused disability programs are aimed toward volunteers with some medical training, many programs simply ask volunteers to feed, bathe and provide care and attention to the disabled. Volunteering Solutions offers multiple opportunities to work with the disabled in Peru, Morocco and southeast Asia.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Myanmar – better known as Burma -- have flooded Thailand seeking safety and shelter from their country’s decades-long civil war.
Although the Thai government has established at least nine refugee camps for those impacted, the United Nations Refugee Center reports Burmese refugees often flee their home country’s oppressive regime only to encounter extreme poverty and discrimination in Thailand.
Volunteers are usually requires to provide literacy and sanitation education to the refugees. Many of the displaced Burmese barely complete primary school and, as a result, are forced to work extremely low-wage jobs.
Some volunteer organizations, such as Thai Freedom House, also focus on community education projects aiming to enlighten locals about the hardships experienced by displaced and indigenous peoples.
Asia-Refugee Relief, Shelters, Education, Child Labor:
Although more women than ever have access to education in Asia, the World Bank reports gender inequality is still a cultural norm. Women, therefore, continue to have a weak voice when it comes to politics, domestic violence and economic opportunity.
Some parts of the continent, such as Thailand and Myanmar, are popular destinations for individuals interested in volunteering for refugee assistance and child labor reduction. Volunteers for education are always needed across the continent, particularly in India, Pakistan and southeast Asia.
Africa-Female Empowerment, Healthcare, Disability Care:
NGO’s and other aid organizations have a strong presence in most of Africa, which is in constant need of volunteer assistance. Healthcare volunteers, particularly those working in HIV/AIDS relief and preventive health, are in particular need on the continent, which has been ravaged by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
More than two-thirds of the global HIV population, as well as 88 percent of all affected children, live in sub-Saharan Africa alone, according to amfAR. Health care volunteers may be asked to conduct sex health and sanitation classes in women’s shelters, hospitals or basically any public forum.
Sexual education also goes hand-in-hand with female empowerment in developing African nations, where women traditionally have little-to-no access to contraceptive devices.
Latin America- Female Empowerment, Education, Disability Care:
Gender violence remains the leading cause of injury to women in Latin America. One in three women in the region will become a victim of violence in her lifetime, according to the World Bank, a statistic that some countries like Brazil are making serious efforts to reform.
But it’s not all bad news: The surge of women joining the workforce, along with increased female education, has resulted in an estimated 30 percent drop in extreme poverty over the last decade.
Because women are often the head of their households -- which often contain children -- their economic advancement can subsequently lead to reductions in child poverty and neglect. Where women succeed, a community succeeds as well.
Contributed by Ashley Portero