Students aim for careers in human rights

Many hope to make a difference in African countries and elsewhere.

Kathryn Nelson

Showing a picture of a refugee camp lined with identical makeshift huts, Tahir Hassan explained how he always could tell which one was his.

Living in a refugee camp for 12 years, Hassan said he always dreamed about living other people’s lives.

“You want to live in peace,” he said.

Born in Ethiopia and raised in Somalia, Hassan sought refuge in America in 1992, but said he still has family in Africa.

Now a global studies senior, he said he wants to pursue a master’s degree or return to Africa to help those in need of humanitarian help.

Something he knows all too well.

Hassan, along with dozens of other students, packed a small room Wednesday in the Social Sciences Building to learn about pursuing a career in human rights.

Holly Ziemer, director of communications for the Center for Victims of Torture, said her organization’s mission is to “heal the wounds of torture” through direct care to victims, educational training, research and public policy.

CVT has two outpatient facilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul, which provide victims with a team of medical personnel that help to heal the traumatic aftereffects of torture and war trauma, Ziemer said.

Due to the lack of international resources for torture victims, she said CVT set up educational training programs in several African countries.

In Sierra Leone, she said, only one psychiatrist serviced the whole country, illustrating the importance of leaving behind trained and self-sustaining professionals.

For American Refugee Committee human resources employee Beth Stanciu, traveling to one of the most volatile countries in the world is part of her job.

Stanciu spent four months in Darfur, Sudan responding to the humanitarian crisis, which has led to the deaths of more than 200,000 people, according to the United Nations.

ARC, founded in 1978, works in nine countries and primarily focuses on health care, Stanciu said.

“We train the refugees themselves to administer medical treatment,” she said.

ARC headquarters in Minneapolis provides volunteer and internship opportunities, Stanciu said. But working internationally may require more extensive experience.

“Peace Corps is very common,” she said.

Global studies and history senior Nathan Thorvilson said he would like to work for a nonprofit organization after graduation because he is interested in human rights issues.

“A lot of the (human rights) issues are overwhelming” Thorvilson said. “People don’t think they can make a difference.”

Wednesday’s event focused on opportunities for students to network with organizations, said Jen Fuller, the global studies peer adviser.

“The job search is very intimidating,” she said.

As for Hassan, by following a career in human rights, he said he hopes to save other children from a childhood such as his.

“Hopefully the next generation will see change,” he said.