Bringing Human Rights to a People in Need of Change

How a human rights nonprofit is changing the cultural landscape of the Gambia

Nfamarah Jawneh, founder of a human rights nonprofit in the Gambia that partners with Youth for Human Rights International

With the end of more than two decades of dictatorship in the Gambia, Nfamarah Jawneh, founder of a local nonprofit, is determined to transform his country through human rights.

Jawneh faced many challenges during the previous regime. Although the constitution of the Gambia is aligned with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the mere mention of human rights was seen as opposition to the government, he says.   

We now have in the Gambia the freedom that we fought for, for 22 years, and we have to bring human rights to everyone so they can enjoy their lives.

Nfamarah Jawneh, Founder of Beakanyang Kafo (Equal Opportunities for All), a human rights ngo in the Gambia

Many of these rights were unknown and unavailable to Jawneh growing up.

“I come from a very humble family, where nobody had access to proper education,” he says. The only education available to most children was religious instruction and even that was restricted to boys — sometimes only the oldest boys.

Even as a child, he knew it was wrong to deprive boys and girls of an education. “I felt the need to advocate for them but I didn’t know what to do,” he says.

One day, the head teacher of a school came to his village to speak to the community. “He said he was looking for students and wanted kids from the village to come to his school,” he says. Eleven years old at the time, Jawneh stood up and said: “I’ll go.” And although everyone was surprised, the teacher consulted his father and the village elders and it was decided. He would go.

While still in school, Jawneh founded a human rights organization he called Beakanyang Kafo. The name means Equal Opportunities for All in the native language of the Mandingo people, the tribe he belongs to. In 2016,  Beakanyang Kafo was granted nongovernmental organization status in the Gambia.

Jawneh has been using the Youth for Human Rights (YHRI) program since he discovered the group’s website in 2011. He requested and received a set of their educational materials and put them to immediate use. Four years later, he traveled to New York to attend the YHRI Human Rights Summit at the United Nations, an annual program that brings together youth delegates from around the world with UN officials and ambassadors and leading voices in the human rights community.

His organization runs a five-day summer camp where 100 children learn about their human rights. He also visits schools and has educated some 10,000 youngsters on the UDHR.

In addition to teaching human rights, his organization takes action to secure the rights of the people they reach. “We work on projects that affect the welfare of the communities,” says Jawneh. “For example, six months ago, I was working in a village that didn’t have any access to clean drinking water. This is a human rights violation. I went on television about it, but no one was willing to do anything about it.”

So he took the matter to the community. He talked to the elders. He started a WhatsApp chat and helped them raise donations and establish government partnerships with the result that the community now has a water system operating on solar power that is providing the village clean drinking water for the first time.

“I think we have achieved a lot through our human rights activities,” says Jawneh, who uses his own village as an example of the progress he has made. “It used to be that only boys were sent to school. But now, it’s almost equal — as many girls as boys. This is because of my advocacy work and because I wanted to change the way things were.”

Jawneh wants to translate the Youth for Human Rights materials into the local languages of his country.

“My plan for the future is to have this organization become a school where people can come and be trained as human rights educators. They would go through the training and return to their communities and teach them about human rights,” he says. “We now have in the Gambia the freedom that we sought for 22 years and we have to bring human rights to everyone so they can enjoy their lives.”

The Church of Scientology and Scientologists support United for Human Rights and its program for young people, Youth for Human Rights, the world’s largest nongovernmental human rights education campaign, reaching out in 195 countries in 27 languages and embraced by 2,300 activists, officials, groups and organizations. The initiative is inspired by humanitarian and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s conviction that “It is vital that all thinking men urge upon their governments sweeping reforms in the field of human rights.”

For more information, visit the Youth for Human Rights International website.


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