Skip to content

By kfarishta

After another month of travel, I have finally arrived in Nepal—my last stop. Before arriving in Kathmandu, we had a very impactful experience in Jordan. I am still left with many unanswerable questions and a yearning to do more.

Upon arriving to Amman, our country coordinators told us to “put on our refugee caps.” This was their metaphoric way of saying: Jordan is a country of refugees. You cannot understand the political, economic, and social factors if you do not understand and recognize the refugee situation. Within the first few weeks of the program, we visited Al-Baqaah Camp (the largest and oldest UNRWA Palestinian Refugee Camp), Al-Za’atari Camp (the second largest refugee camp in the world and the largest Syria exodus settlement), and the Al-Hashimi Al-Shamali region (the largest urban settlement of newly arriving Iraqi refugees in Amman).

Visiting Za’atari gave me a critical perspective of the refugee camp conditions and provided meaningful insight on how family structures affected support, security and stability. Food supply coupons were provided based on a formula constructed on age, gender, and necessity. If a family member was missing, the entire family bore the burden of limited resources that could help sustain the entire family. As a result, family structures, which were divided within the camp system or separated between the Syrian and Jordanian border, required their children to engage in labor to generate supplemental income for the family’s day-to-day living expenses. In particular, we met with a mother, her son (13 years old) and daughter (11 years old). They came from the Dara rural area of Syria where the Syrian crisis had started. The husband was a government soldier in Syria, but during the conflict when he retracted his allegiance to Bashar’s regime, he was deserted and sent back to Syria. Consequently, without him as a father figure who primarily earned the income in the family, the son was forced into labor. He pushed carts for 1 Jordanian Dinar for over two kilometers, bearing 50 kilograms of weight. This prevented his access to education because he was burdened with providing for his family. The daughter, when asked about her father cried and could not answer. The mother said, although the daughter has the chance go to school, without money to pay for a uniform she is unable to go. The mother noted that without her husband the family could not survive in the camp much longer.

We also met with Palestinians who escaped in the exoduses of 1948 and 1967. The conditions had marginally improved over the decades and the right to return home was a distant illusion. Food stipends were halved. A single mother we met was struggling to make ends meet for her disabled son and herself. In the Iraqi settlement, the survivors fled the atrocious and inhumane torture from ISIS. One woman accounted that her brother was executed with a nail drilled through his chest. Escape was the only way out of violence.

What is happening in the Middle Eastern region is a huge burden for host nations and conflict nations alike. There is painstakingly clear evidence of genocide, crimes against humanity, etc. There is immense injustice and immeasurable human suffering. Such human rights violations will be tumultuous for progress to occur. How can the international community practice its ‘responsibility to protect’ to stop genocide?

Thank you for reading. I hope all of us can open our minds and comprehend this grave human rights condition and also keep these resilient people in our hearts.

Genocide cannot continue.

beautiful south
Beautiful South- Curarrehue, Chile-This breathtaking landscape can be found in the southern area of the Andes Mountains in Mapuche lands. It is part of the lake and mountain range formed after the volcanic eruption

Wow, what an incredible journey so far—I have traveled 8,000 more miles since my last blog post! In fact, I am writing to y’all from my host home in Amman, Jordan. My last weeks in Chile were incredible and introduced me to undiscovered areas of my human rights interests. I would like to share a particularly insightful journey I had in southern Chile (nearly 13 hours south of Santiago) in the indigenous Mapuche town of Curarrehue.

Mapuche mural activity
Mapuche Mural Activity-This image signifies the strong relationship my SIT group established with local students at the ecocentric primary Mapuche school. Students painted a wall representing how their school's mission mutually coexisted with their natural surroundings.

My human rights focus group had the opportunity to travel to Curarrehue as part of our culmination experience on the crossroads of environmental and indigenous rights. I was uninformed about the degree to which the decisions of large transnational corporations, which operated in the international economic dimension, directly affected the quality of life of local Mapuches. Mapuches are a group of the first and native people of Chile and have inhabited the lands for millennia. The introduction of neoliberal capitalists and economic gain, however, disrupted their natural way of coexisting with the area and began to exploit the resources around them.

Based on this understanding, my group was briefed on the situation from Mapuche perspective—what did water scarcity mean to the village? How would new construction disrupt ways of life? And, how was the younger generation bearing the burden of “modernization” at the expense of losing cultural heritage? These questions were answered through our host family interactions and excursions to local natural landscapes.

host family of mapuche leaders
Host Family of Mapuche Leaders-We had the honor and privilege of living with the eldest leaders of the Mapuche community. They imparted their wisdom and inspired us to join their resistance movement.

Our host families shared their lands with us as part of an educational eco- and ethno- tourism initiative of the Mapuche peoples. They were eager to impart their knowledge of the area and teach us about how they had lived in unison with Mother Nature. Unfortunately, the natural beauty that they had sought to protect over centuries was at odds with the economic projects that large companies brought to the area. The leaders of the Mapuches noted that these projects significantly reduced their livelihood and stripped them of their resources. We struggled to reconcile these points of view but living with the Mapuche enlightened us on their genuine desire to cohabitate with their environments.

Volcano hiking
Volcano hiking-This excursion was part of our ecotourism unit, allowing us to see firsthand the humbling yet majestic peak of the volcano. During our tour we learned about why protecting this natural symbol is important to the Mapuche people.

Through our time in Curarrehue, it became evident that there was an inextricable connection we have with nature. We cannot isolate our human rights from care of the environment. The Mapuche people struggled everyday to show to large corporate powers that there existed a sustainable approach to development. Their model of development did not damage the environment. Rather, it contributed to this betterment.

Water for the dam
Water for the Dam: This shot capture the crystal-clear, fresh water that is coming from the mountaintops as the snow melts. Sadly, this river is one of the rivers selected to be dammed in the upcoming fiscal year. If this process occurs, so many members of the village will be left without access to irrigation and drinking water.

The Mapuche challenge is a microcosm for the constant issues of environmentalism, human dignity, and economic development that we see all around the world. Curarrehue does not provide a simple solution. Rather, this experience challenged my peers and me to reconsider how we approached the human, environmental, economic costs and benefits of hydroelectric damming.

This trip has left me with more questions than answers, and I hope to continue this critical analysis in Jordan too. Ma’salaama wa bashoofkum! (Goodbye and see y’all in Arabic) Thanks for your interest!

Peace UN
Trip to the United Nations Headquarters: This quotes resonates because it highlights one of the greatest challenges of our society: overspending on armaments significantly decreases the access to resources by those who require the most access.

From the last post until now, I have traveled over 6,500 miles from Sugar Land to New York City to Santiago, Chile. Words cannot fully describe the magnitude of this experience. I will try my best to convey how my travels have shaped my understanding on human rights as well as shed light on my evolving approach on comprehending power imbalances and violations of rights.

We began our program in New York City, questioning if and to what extent universal human rights exist. Is it true that universal values are shaped the forces of globalization or do specific cultures maintain their own rights? It is too early for me to answer this question as my comprehension of this idea changes with each formative conversation, lecture, and site visit. While it is difficult to pinpoint which human rights are global, I have quickly realized that global oppression of rights is in fact similar, blatantly visible and unfortunately prevalent. Even though the protection of rights may take varying forms, its denial is undoubtedly felt around the world.

One of our stops in New York City was the UN Headquarters. It is rather naïve to say that as a world we have achieved all of the Millennium Development Goals. However, it is more appropriate to realize that we have become significantly more aware that systematic inequalities persist. The actions of developed actions disproportionately affect the livelihoods of other citizens. Solidarity is a key to identifying the mistakes of the past and present and helping redirect energy, resources, and human capital to restructure, rebuild and restore the rights of people around the world.

Museo de la Memoria y Los Derechos Humanos-"Museum of Memory and Human Rights-Coming to this museum was the one of the most pivotal moments of this trip. It allowed me to reconsider the consequences of human suffering in the political transition of Chile.

Moreover, in Santiago, pursuing solidarity has manifested in the form a catalyst for connectivity. One of the biggest fears after the atrocious human rights violations in Chile from the 1973 coup d’état to the reconciliation that continues today is allowing those who were victimized by their respective governments to not be voiceless. We traveled to Casa de Memoria (House of Memory) to see with actual atrocities from the war were committed—excessive torture, disappearance of citizens, and indiscriminate killing of loved ones. The site presented an eerie image of the realities of the war. The damage had been done from the past decades and all we could do was join in a solemn silence with them. Nevertheless, it was this solemnity and solidarity that reinforced our commitment to being a part of the reconciliation process.

In summary, I wish to conclude with thought from one of our speakers on access to education as a way to address systematic inequality. He boldly articulated, “revolution is not only one day; it is a process. There is no day after the revolution, rather it is a life long struggle.” Similarly, solidarity is not a stoic recognition of human rights, rather it is also a struggle that motivates those who pursue it to rise to action and take charge of situations of injustice. Solidarity is an empathetic understanding, a cross-cultural dialogue, and a continually evolving strategy guided towards betterment.

Verdad y Justicia
Verdad y Justicia: "Truth and Justice-This engraving is located at the front of the entrance of Casa de Memoria, which is one of the sites of the torture and atrocious human rights violations during and after the Pinochet Era."

We must be aware and cognizant of our historical struggle and be mature in our belief that our collective consciousness is the precursor to our collective action as human rights activists. Solidarity, thus, identifies and understands oppression of human rights as a means to achieve and actualize these rights.

Donde Estan
Donde Estan: "Where are they? This statement poses an important question to the leaders of the military coup. It challenges the ability of those in power to hold them accountable and fully cognizant of their actions."

Thanks for reading, and I will share more thoughts soon!


By kfarishta

Greetings, readers!

First off, thank you for your interest and support. I am transitioning back to writing in English, since I have spent the past two months in Spain immersing myself in the language and culture. As we say in Spanish, I am “sin palabras” –an inexplicable and intertwined sentiment of awe, excitement, and anxiety. Summer vacation is quickly transforming into a countdown for the start of my global travelogue. Soon, I will be heading home to unpack and then repack for the journey ahead.

As a novice blogger, my goal is to engage you digitally as I traverse continents and oceans in search of one question: what are human rights? Each day we are challenged to uphold, preserve, and defend these rights. The news, social media networks, and our personal experiences shape how we perceive our human rights. More often than not, we witness that these intrinsic and universal rights are at odds with geopolitics, economics, and culture. As a budding social activist, I believe that the most direct way to understand these phenomena is by contemplating about them respective national contexts.

Because of this, I have chosen this particular SIT Study Abroad program. Here are the sites that we’ll visit over the next 15 weeks with a brief list of topics:

New York City, USA

  • Organizing grassroots movements
  • Documenting human rights issues

Santiago, Chile

  • Understanding post-conflict social transformations
  • Recognizing indigenous rights

Amman, Jordan

  • Identifying historical roots of refugee conflicts
  • Rethinking approaches to humanitarian intervention

Kathmandu, Nepal

  • Interrogating new models of trade and democracy
  • Contextualizing the role of multi-ethnicism

I will spend the next few weeks reading, researching, and relaxing before the journey begins. Traveling and conducting field research have always been lifelong goals, and now they are coming to fruition. More than anything else, I am ready to learn firsthand about the challenges that affect our common humanity. How will our awareness change into measurable social action?

I look forward to sharing more details with you in the weeks ahead (with more pictures too!). Please feel free to share your opinions, thoughts, and questions! And, if you get a chance, like my Facebook page “Karim Dreams for Peace,” as I will be posting weekly articles, images, and quotes about human rights. Let the travels begin!

By juliaraewagner

This week marked the end of my semester-long trip abroad with IHP Cities of the 21st Century. It was full of tears, laughter, inspiring final lectures, and too many toasts to count.

For me, this marks the end of an entire year abroad that has taken me to three different continents and 9 countries. I've over 2 weeks in airports and on airplanes and I've slept in over 25 different beds. I've learned to say "Hey, how are you?" in 7 different languages and have tried 7 different national dishes. Nine very kind families have welcomed me into their homes and hundreds of others have welcomed me into their countries. I've visited two of the world's best coffee countries, two of the best wine countries, one of the most vegetarian-friendly countries, and one of the most meat heavy countries.

This past year means so much more than figures, however. Beyond the number, I've been able to see myself grow in relation to all of the places I've been. I know how I react to confusion, ambiguity, and fear; more importantly, I know I can handle these situations.  I am confident that I can get around most cities, and I know that it is okay to ask for directions if I am lost.

This year, I also found new places to call home, not just in the cities I've stayed in, but also with good friends who I've met along the way. I now have a place to stay in London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and La Paz. Someone has described it to me as being horizontally rooted, or having a place to call home in many different once.

I've already been able to experience these roots. Just two days ago, I said goodbye to my IHP friends to head over to my friends' homes in Sao Paulo. I met them while I was abroad last semester in Buenos Aires. It's nice to know that I have friends just about everywhere, and their friendship is too dear to quantify.

It's been a beautiful week here in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I have enjoyed getting settled back into the city that I came to love after spending a whole semester here last year with the GW Latin America exhange program.

It has been fascinating to see the city in a whole new light. Last semester, I studied at a local university, taking classes in their International Affairs department, and this semester, I've been taking courses on the politics, planning and culture of cities in a classroom with 32 other students from US universities. As such, the dynamics and the structures of these two classrooms have been distinct and each has had its pluses and minuses.

For instance, learning in an Argentine classroom gave me a very clear understanding of the nuances of the culture. The information that I heard was not tailored to me as the audience, but rather was the unbridled Argentine perspective. One of my most rewarding classes last semester was on the history of the Americas, in which one of the sections was a history of the US. It was fascinating to hear how a foreigner interpreted the notable moments of US history. My professor had a lot to say about racsim in the US; he also thought that Obama was pretty WASP-y.  Additionally, it was also the first time I was expected to memorize all of the US presidents.

This semester, my classroom has been much more experience-oriented. Our facilitators have given us incredible access to academics, professionals, and locals in all aspects of the city. Our most recent adventure included exploring the city's hidden wholesale district, Once, where the owners of all the city's posh boutiques purchase their base materials. Not only is it a great place to shop for some bargains, it has a lot to say about the immigrant culture of Argentina. Like the US, this country has been a landing point for immigrants from all over the city for centuries.   Some of the most recent waves have settled in Once, to sell their wares in the stores and on the streets. In under an hour and within a 5 block radius, our group was able to interview people from Peru, Bolivia, Ghana, Senegal, Ukrain, Israel, and more. I was very excited to use some of my Wolof greetings that I'd learned during my stay in Senegal. And here I thought I'd never be able to use Wolof again!

Needless to say, its been a year full of distinctive and unexpected learning experiences. Often times, the most telling lessons have appeared between the lines of my textbook lessons or even outside of the classroom. I look forward to brining these little lessons back and applying them during my last year at GW!

By juliaraewagner

My time in Senegal has had me thinking a lot about cultural relativism. During my stay, I faced some pretty alternative manners of thinking and living that greatly contrasted with my own. When I encountered such traditions and values, I wrote them off as simple differences in culture. I was adamant about not imposing my own assumptions of what is right and wrong upon a culture that I was just trying to observe and better understand without judgement. Now that I have left Senegal for the last leg of my trip in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I've been reflecting on my experience in West Africa and trying to piece together my opinions on the experience.

One situation that really challenged my assumptions was a discussion about polygamy that I had with one leader of a feminist organization in Dakar. She had said that many educated women often seek to join a polygamist relationship because the system offers them opportunities. For one, as wife #3 or #4, the educated woman would be free to get a job of her choice without worry that she is not caring for her husband. She may also be a more attractive match for a man seeing that she can work and support herself. Thus, female education does nothing to threaten the institution of polygamy at this point in time. The fact that many educated women still seek polygamist relationships speaks to how comfortable the general populous is with the idea of polygamy.

In contrast, I entered the country with many reservations  about the idea of polygamy. In my eyes, the institution exacerbates inequalities between the genders and perpetuates them. Hearing what women had to say about polygamy was unsettling for me, but a healthy dose of cultural relativism. I am currently working on discovering where the line of what is culturally appropriate and what is simply right or wrong lies. In my eyes, polygamy is still a perpetuation of the patriarchy, regardless of whether the women agree with the system or not. But it is also important to consider whether the people and institutions whom I evaluate even consider their values on the same terms. I will have to continue to reflect on this.

By juliaraewagner

It's hard to believe another month has already gone by! We are already leaving for Buenos Aires this weekend! Our final week in Dakar was a busy one, finishing up our country case studies and completing some clarifying interviews and observations for our semester-long research projects. Needless to say, I am very happy to be spending spring break in Saly, Senegal, a dusty and bustling beach town about 2 hours south of Dakar. We've had a very relaxing two days full of the perfect balance between adventure and down-time.

Even getting here was quite an experience. As students on a budget, we decided to rent the most affordable type of vehicle, the Senegalese car rapide. Resembling a massive psychedelic soda can on 4 wheels, the car rapide is the most convenient and cheapest way to get around Senegal. The ride was a bit bumpy and more than a bit dusty, but we made it to the beach without too much incident and a lot of laughs as we were tossed around in the bumpy  backseat. 

We've decided to spend the week at a low-key (read: inexpensive) hostel outside of town called Boabob Belge. Its run by a bubbly Belgian woman who bears the easy, airy personality of an expat who's found her niche abroad. She sings in a Senegalese drumming group in her spare time, and giggles about her various stories over the years. She has been very helpful in getting us situated.

Yesterday, we left to pick up some beach clothes, but found that all of the touristy stores were far too expensive for our student budgets. Our lovely hostel hostess sent us to the next town over to the local market to pick out our own fabrics to have tailored instead. We traveled via horse and buggy to save a couple of pennies. The whole process was definitely a bit dustier and sweatier than a taxi would have been, but I'm pretty sure we had more fun that way.

The lesson from the past couple of days has been to accept the challenge of traveling on a budget. It forces you to go off the beaten (and more comfortable) path, but definitely leaves more room for adventure and serendipity, which is what travel abroad is all about.

By juliaraewagner

Our latest project has been to create a case study about the rural to urban migration patterns occurring here in Senegal, so this past weekend, we hopped on a bus to a small village within Toubacouta, located next to the Gambian River delta just north of The Gambia. It took 7 hours, 4 pit stops, about a hundred potholes, and one flat tire, but we finally made it to a welcoming group of drumming villagers who were very excited to host students for the weekend.

I was introduced to my home-stay mom, Awa, in the dark because we arrived well into the night and the village had no electricity. We were lucky to have a full moon as I helped her cook dinner under the night sky. After initial introductions, I ran out of Wolof phrases, so we mostly smiled and sat in silence as she directed her niece and daughter around kitchen. I shredded lettuce as Awa and the girls grilled some onions in a pot over the fire. They found it funny that I was so infatuated with the baby goats that were hopping about the outdoor kitchen space. After dinner, we sat under the stars and listened to the radio. Then my host mom ushered me to bed, where I fell asleep next to my new host sister, Oli. 

I woke up the next morning to a small stampede of farm animals being herded through the bedroom into the front yard. I had to laugh as I mused about how absurdly different this way of life was than my own. The differences were stark as everything from manner of dress, to gender roles, to simple body language was jumbled across cultural lines. My friends and I definitely had some interesting efforts when trying to explain basic needs, like going to the bathroom. For example, the villagers have separate toilets for #1 and #2. I was happy to walk around with my host sister because she usually deflected any random questions people asked me in Wolof. When she wasn't around, I would just revert to dancing as a means to connect with people with whom I didn't share a common language.

By juliaraewagner

After some 30+ hours of travel and 4 flights, IHP Cities has arrived in Dakar, Senegal! We've spent the past week getting acquainted with out new city, meeting the people, seeing the sites, and tasting this country's delicious food.

With warm weather, fresh air, and a constant, refreshing sea breeze, there's a lot to love about Dakar, but my favorite element so far has been the Senegalese attention to people. One of the first things our country coordinator told us is that Senegal has a people-centric, people-first culture, and that has been continuously reinforced in the classroom and my home-stay.

This week, we've learned how to greet people we meet, an act that is extremely important here. To not greet a person is to not acknowledge his humanity and so to ask someone to do something for you without greeting him first is one of the biggest offenses in the book. That must be why the Senegalese greet in not one, not two, but three different languages before getting down to what they wanted to discuss. So in the past week, I've learned how to say, "Hey, how are you?" in Arabic, French, and Wolof, the most prominent ethnic language.

Sometimes, this attention to the person means that things take longer than they would in our time-centric Western society. People are often late to meetings because they stopped to talk to a friend on the sidewalk or were busy checking in on their family. Our Senegalese country facilitator has joked that this loose attention to time is called WAIT, or West African Internal Time. Time here is all about giving people the time of day.

In my home-stay  I've also seen manifestations of the people-centric culture. Random family members and neighbors are constantly wandering into each other's homes and spending the night or the afternoon. Each house is home to a large extended family. I'm pretty sure that my household consists of about 12 people from three generations, though I'm still very unclear of who actually lives here and who simply spends their time here. Even more confusing is who is the child of whom and who is married to whom. The whole family gathers around the same tray for dinner every night, but we always seem to be adding new members.

Speaking of food, my home-stay roommate and I helped the women of the family prepare a huge feast today for their monthly family meeting.  Every month, all of the people of the same age within the family meet to talk and spend time together. Our house, which is usually bustling with about 20 people at any given time had about 40 people this afternoon. We spent the whole afternoon cooking for the event, but cleanup was super easy with so many hands to help out!