Report HIA Fellowship 2016

Written by senior fellow and summer program intern Alexandra Zmiyenko

The 17th Annual Summer Fellowship Program, organised by Humanity in Action The Netherlands, took place in Amsterdam in June 2016.

Twenty Four students and recent graduates participated in the intense four week program focusing on human rights, diversity, social and political issues and minority rights. Fellows from the Netherlands, United States, Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovina, coming from diverse cultural, professional and socio-economic backgrounds, had an opportunity to broaden their knowledge about human rights and to get inspired for pursuing leadership roles in their local communities.

The seventh Annual Humanity in Action International Conference took place in Athens, Greece. This year, the main topics of the conference were three intersecting crises impacting Greece and Europe – the migration crisis, the country’s financial distress and the challenges to European unity. Through discussions and workshops with leading Greek and international experts, site visits to local NGOs and tours focusing on exploration of various issues related to human rights, fellows and senior fellows had invaluable opportunity to learn and to share their experience.

Fellowship in Amsterdam

This year, the Amsterdam program started on May 28 with a weekend at a holiday farm at Nieuwkarspel, one hour ride from Amsterdam. In a friendly environment, fellows got to know each other by participating in workshops about safe space and rhetorical self-defense. This innovative way of starting the program appeared to be a good idea as two days away from the city in a group of new people helped to create a safe space and productive learning atmosphere. As the program development showed further, the safe space that was created here was of essential importance to the group members to feel comfortable to share their personal stories and opened them to challenge their own opinions on a number of issues. Maintaining this atmosphere was a cornerstone to the learning process, which took place in the next four weeks.

Starting from May 30, the program activities included lectures, workshops, documentaries, group discussions, fellow’s presentations, city tours , site visits and many others. Over 40 speakers with broad professional backgrounds, including human rights defenders, academics, diplomats, artists, journalists and grass-root activists, educated and inspired the participants of the program. On top of that, the fellows had the opportunity to work in a NGO to gain working experience and build a network.

The Fellowship program aims to provide highly talented and ambitious students and young professionals with substantial knowledge, tools and network opportunities for further development of their career path within their field of work, whilst maintaining their true commitment to social justice, ideas of diversity and promotion of human rights. Upon completing the fellowship, participants have a chance to access a powerful network of senior fellows. They also may apply for professional fellowship programs such as Lantos-Humanity in Action Congressional Fellowship, Pat Cox-Humanity in Action Fellowship and The Diplomacy and Diversity Fellowship; and international seminars, study trips, lectures and trainings.

What is also important is that the fellows maintain this dialogue among each other. As an example of this particular kind of conversation, it is worth mentioning that this year, one of the activities during the weekend program was a trip to Utrecht, where Senior Fellows organised a lecture, or a so called ‘Dinner Discussion’ on a rooftop of the house of Senior Fellow. In an informal atmosphere, Gerard van der Ree stood up to speak about the fragility of the male ego. Sharing her impressions about the day, Lisa Muloma, the US fellow, wrote in fellowsinaction.nl blog: “Van der Ree made a point that was particularly interesting to me, that “power is always about repression, both for the marginal and dominant side.” The slave is repressed due to the internalization of the gaze of the master, and the master is repressed by his own interior dialogue, his desire to make himself fit into an identity that is not fully himself. When the master doesn’t succeed in outwardly performing as he is expected to, he experiences shame, and according to Gerard van der Ree, shame is evidence that double-consciousness is in play.”

Featured keynotes

“We can not fight our rights and our history as well as future until we are armed with weapons of criticism and dedicated consciousness” – Edward Said

Strengthened by the changes and innovations in the program this year, the core values and program mission remained: education, connection and inspiration. As during each summer program – intensive and demanding, the Humanity in Action Fellowship brings together international groups of university students and recent graduates to explore national histories of discrimination and resistance, as well as examples of issues affecting different minority groups today.

The intellectual touchstone for Humanity in Action and the start of the Dutch program has always been the study of Holocaust – the most devastating example of the collapse of democracy and the denial of rights to minorities that led to one of the most deadliest genocides in history. The different roles of the Dutch were broadly discussed during the program: victims, perpetrators, resistance fighters and bystanders. The way that the Netherlands dealt with this period of history was also shown from different angles. Taking it as a starting point, the Dutch program continued with exposing challenging contemporary topics such as immigration and integration in the Netherlands, women’s rights, refugees, ethnic profiling, disability rights, xenophobia, LGBTQIA rights and inlcusiveness.

This year, there was also space dedicated to the so called Fellow Talks: each of the participants had his/her time in the program to raise an important issue or share a personal story. That is why the program was also enriched with topics such as crises in Greece, genocide in Bosnia, Roma minorities in Serbia, mental health in the US, racism in Poland, underprivileged neighborhoods in the Netherlands, elections in Ukraine, women’s rights in Afghanistan and many, many others.

To address a broad scope of issues related to human rights, minority rights, discrimination and racism, the summer program in Amsterdam was divided in two phases: input and output phase.

The input phase provided fellows with an opportunity to meet some of the leading experts and brightest commentators and researchers from the Netherlands. Through lectures, workshops, conferences and visits, Humanity in Action fellows could see a diverse yet thorough perspective on minority issues in the Netherlands. Providing a forum for discussion was very important as the transatlantic dialogue plays a key role in the program mission. Fellows shared their impressions in the blog and covered most of the topics discussed.

In the second phase of the program, fellows were working in small groups at NGOs on topics that they have talked about during the input phase. Their tasks were diverse, just like the activities of 10 different NGOs they were assigned to. After performing their work, participants wrote reports about their experience. Moreover, a separate program day has been scheduled for presentations of the reports with representatives of respective NGOs, fellows and external visitors.

Input phase

Starting with a weekend at the holiday farm, where during the weekend the group’s aim was to establish a safe space, the program moved to an intensive phase of learning experience. Successful integration of the group during those first two days is worth mentioning, as the learning environment remained inclusive for all the participants throughout the whole program.

During the first week, a lot of historical topics were raised. First and foremost we discussed World War II, accompanied with the site visit to the Memorial Centre at Westerbork, the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam and a personal story of survivor – Fanny Heymann and Frieda Menco and lectures about bystanders and guilty landscapes. But there were also other historical topics raised, such as hidden history of slavery in Amsterdam with the Black Heritage Tour by boat and on foot and the current situation around the protection of human rights during the crisis of European refugee law, Anti Black Pete Activism, police discrimination and ethnic profiling in the Netherlands.

Amongst the best rated speakers were Maja Nenadovic, who conducted a workshop “Talking to “Racists” during the weekend on a family farm, Shevan, a Syrian human rights defender and Fanny Heymann, a Holocaust survivor who spoke at Westerbork.

Seeing the connection between the historical facts and current developments, fellows had a ground for deep thoughts about the very essence of humanity.

The Anne Frank house has made a lasting impression on fellow Katherine Clifton, who stated: “Since leaving the museum, I’ve been ruminating on the extreme contrast between the hope and vivacity in Anne’s writing and the ruthless cruelty she was facing. Our post-visit conversation allowed us to begin to unpack this chilling duality. In theory, it’s easy to be against discrimination, but if it were as easy to practice what we preach then the sort of atrocity that forced the Franks into hiding wouldn’t occur. Where, then, does prejudice originate? This question will no doubt echo through the upcoming weeks, and we will address it head-on next day during our field trip to the Westerbork transit camp.”

Gage Garretson impressions on a meeting with Fanny Heymann, a Holocaust survivor of Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen were the following: “There were two major take-aways I got from her testimony. First, that life in the concentration camps is just that: life. Too often those periods were seen as lost or blank and though they may have been in some ways, such ideas ignore the lengths people took to continue mundanely by teaching, even secretly in a camp, or praying, despite its connection to their current persecution. Life moved on because that was how they could cope with the situation. Second, that while the situation of the Holocaust is somewhat unique, humanity has failed to hear its message. Heymann clearly pointed out her own persecution with those of refugees coming across the Mediterranean. Heymann taught us that we must not dismiss their plight just because it is removed to Greek islands, just as the suffering of those in Westerbork were displaced to the periphery of the country. Rather, we must confront the reality that “If they were here amongst us we’d be doing more” and with that realization, do more.”

After the workshop on privilege and identity, led by transcultural psychiatrist Glenn Helberg, Kelvin “Kweku” Ampem-Darko, a US fellow, wrote: “Dehumanization took place through science, philosophy and religion; the three pillars of enlightenment thought. Looking at this fact makes one wonder: Do empathy and humanity have a place in policymaking? More importantly, have they ever? Perhaps our humanity is nothing but an abstraction thought up to separate us from animals. Perhaps it is something more. Whatever the case may be, it is our responsibility to pragmatically delegitimize racism. We owe it to ourselves to escape the shadow of our previous moral failings and for the first time in our history choose empathy and humanity over self-interest.”

Topics of the second week of the program were mostly dedicated to human rights law, democracy, identity, LGBTQIA rights, urban violence, entrepreneurship, Greece and ICTY. It was a highly interdisciplinary program that included diverse workshops such as “Daughter of Diaspora” by a visual artist Patricia Kaersenhout, a “Soccer clinic” by Rocky Hehakaija, and a Betzavta training by Tali Padan. There was also a trip to the Hague with a visit to the ICTY, Shelter City and The New World Campus, a public seminar on refugees at the HIA office, a queer walking tour with Bear Silver and a series of lectures by bright academics and grass-root activists.

Output phase

After completing an input phase with its highly interdisciplinary approach, which was an outstanding learning experience, participants of the summer program were divided into groups to work for selected NGOs. Division of the fellows itself was a challenging task for the staff as according to fellows’ first choices of placements. Apart from that, it was important to take the group dynamics into consideration. Fellows worked on different assignments and wrote reports upon completing their internships.

For the fellows this short internship gave them the opportunity to have an insight in what it would be like to work in a particular field. For the NGO’s it was an opportunity to make use of the intelligence and fresh ideas of the smart and critical HIA fellows. For HIA The Netherlands it meant creating a bond between us and a large and diverse group of NGO’s with whom we can also cooperate in different projects.

On the very last day of the program all groups made half an hour presentations about their internships. Several representatives of the NGO’s and of the HIA Netherland Board were also present.

Conclusion

HIA The Netherlands looks back on a very successful summer program 2016. Almost all innovations to the program turned out to be a success, especially the start of the program at the holiday farm and the introduction of the Fellow Talks. We found some important tools to create a safe space, a concept that has grown to be very important in our programs. The group dynamics, which are always central to the experience, were excellent this year. In the evaluation letters the fellows who participated write very positively about their learning experience and express their willingness to be an active participant in our network.