Local Heroes - Edinburgh group celebrates a successful year
There are as many ways to champion human rights as there are human rights defenders. From donning a Guantanamo-orange jumpsuit in a crowded square to signing a petition, every little bit counts and, happily, much can be accomplished when you get together with like-minded people.
There are hundreds of Amnesty local groups across the UK and every one is different. I went to my first Portobello Amnesty group meeting in November last year and found a warm welcome on a cold evening. Nearly a year later, at our annual fundraising concert on Saturday, I asked some of my fellow members what they do and why they do it:
In the midst of selling raffle tickets at the door, Cathy, who has been part of the group since 2000 (“and an Amnesty member for a lot longer than that!”) talks about the group’s usual activities:
"The Portobello group does a mixture of activism things and fundraising things. The fundraising is generally coffee mornings-cum-children’s activities-cum-book sales. The activism includes going into schools, running stalls and letter-writing evenings."
"We had a very, very successful fundraising event in Portobello... it was a real ceilidh, family-type event. Great band! A lot of work, too, but it was a great night.”
Staffing the till next to Cathy is Alastair. Not technically a member of the group, Alastair nevertheless has given a great deal of time to Amnesty events over the years thanks to his wife, Amnesty Portobello’s treasurer Mary-Jane:
"At the book fair, I tend to take over the fiction section and have fun organising the books: it appeals to my sense of order in the world. The book fair is becoming a regular feature in Portobello life. The same people come every year."
After more than three decades in Portobello, the group has made its mark on the neighbourhood. David, Amnesty Portobello’s chair, remembers their 30th anniversary:
“It really showed you what the impact had been over a period. People shared their memories of how the group used to be… With the Portobello group, I have always felt like we were a team at work, rather than a bunch of individuals."
Why do they do it?
David has been defending human rights with Amnesty Portobello for 25 years:
"For me, it is a moral imperative: I can't not do it. The work will never be done, but I think that anything you do is worth doing if you go about it with good intentions and a big heart. Be realistic about expectations of what you can achieve but know that every so often something does happen."
In 2005, Mary-Jane honoured the work of a much-loved family member:
"It was my aunt's 90th birthday and when Amnesty started in the 1960s, she became a member. She's always had an eye for injustice, so I celebrated her birthday by becoming a member of Amnesty, too"
For Theresa, "it's more fun to do stuff with other people. It's a really friendly group and you learn a lot from them."
I couldn’t agree more.
To find your local group, click here.
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.