Freedom from the Festival

Risga Carson has been volunteering for Amnesty Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival for several years. This year, she was Festival Co-ordinator.
 
Every year, at least 30 volunteers work with Amnesty Scotland at the Edinburgh Festival (Book, Fringe and Comedy) to campaign for our Festival case.

This case changes each year but our success rate has remained constant for the past six years; last year’s case, a Burmese prisoner of conscience called U Myint Aye was released just three months after our campaign. In 2011, the ‘UAE 5’, five men who were detained in the United Arab Emirates, were similarly freed after our efforts. This year’s campaign is asking the Sri Lankan government to investigate the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda.
 
At the time of writing, it’s the last day of the Festival. I’ve been speaking to some of our volunteers throughout the month about why they volunteered and what they’ve enjoyed most about the experience.
 
Our volunteers come from a wide variety of backgrounds. They range from senior school students to retirees. Some have been involved with Amnesty for years, through involvement with local or university groups, whilst others are getting involved for the first time.
 
Many return year after year, having seen the success of their past campaigning and also to see the friends they have made whilst doing so. Gill, who has been an Amnesty member for over thirty years, is in her third year of volunteering at the Festival. Chloe, who is new this year, had not had any prior involvement with Amnesty. Claire, another one of our returnees, shared why she keeps coming back: “I had a really amazing time last year. You get to meet a lot of really exciting people and to be part of the world’s biggest arts festival is really quite an exciting thing!”
 
Similarly, reasons for getting involved also vary. Alistair, another new volunteer, realised he had free time throughout August that would allow him to become more involved with Amnesty and he has promised to return next year.

Chris, an experienced volunteer, said

“It’s fun, asks very little of you, and it truly does make a difference.” 

Chloe cites getting to “meet lots of great people’” whilst Claire has enjoyed the experience of reviewing shows for our Freedom of Expression Award (another perk available to our volunteers). Claire said

“It’s been really great to go and see really good-quality theatre for free.”

Gill is a very experienced reviewer, and this year she had the opportunity to review “Nirbhaya” which actually won the Freedom of Expression Award – this was her Festival highlight.

Finally, I asked if they had any funny or interesting stories from working with us this summer. Chris was lucky enough to meet “one of [his] stand-up heroes, Mark Thomas, after an Amnesty show.”

Claire said one of the most fun things was the daily interactions our volunteers have with the Fringe acts on the Royal Mile: “Meeting a lot of comedians while you’re out on the street doing the petitioning and they start to recognise you so they’ll come back the next day and they start to have a little side routine about you flyering that they shout to everyone else. That can be really funny!”

If you would like to volunteer for the Edinburgh Festival next year, keep an eye on our Twitter feed or our website for the announcement of applications early in 2014.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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