As I sat at my desk on my first day at Khulumani Support Group, I noticed a piece of paper taped to the wall. On the paper was a quote that read, "Stay close to anything that makes you feel alive." Reflecting on my first week in Johannesburg, South Africa, I cannot think of a more perfect way to explain the past 7 days. From driving on the left side of the road (in a car that never seems to want to start), to sitting around a healing drum circle with my quirky landlord, to sipping coffee with a torture survivor - I have never felt so alive.
My first week of work was a whirlwind. It didn't take long to realize that I have so much to learn. Khulumani serves victims and survivors of Apartheid-related gross human rights violations in South Africa. The organization works toward healing, reparation, reconciliation, and truth. The focus of my internship will be on Enforced Disappearances. Enforced Disappearance is the arrest, detention, abduction, or any other form of deprivation of liberty, followed by refusal to acknowledge the deprivation, or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such person outside the protection of the law.
I spent the first few days of work researching a UN treaty, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. The Convention calls upon States to make Enforced Disappearance an offense under criminal law. Further, the Convention acknowledges families of the disappeared as victims, and sets out their rights. For example, families have the right to report suspected disappearances without being subject to intimidation. Families also have a right to certain information, such as the date, time, and place someone was deprived of liberty, and the whereabouts of that person.
An unimaginable number of people disappeared during the Apartheid era. Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established post-Apartheid for victims to report their stories and receive reparation, the TRC only accepted statements for 18 months. Anyone who did not give their statement during that time period lost their chance to do so. This means that hundreds of families are still left without reparation, peace, or justice. This is where Khulumani has stepped in. My overarching goal at Khulumani is to construct an advocacy campaign to promote the ratification of the Convention. The implementation of the provisions in the Convention would help victims see progress in cases that remain unresolved.
This week I also had the chance to sit in on the interview of a man who was once considered a disappeared person. During the Apartheid era, this man was kidnapped from his home. He told the story of how he was kidnapped, taken to a prison, and tortured. However, what makes this man's story so unique is that he escaped. After escaping from his captors, he and his family ultimately found safety in the United States. I had the chance to sit and talk with him after the interview. While he told me about his vision for a better future, I became more and more inspired to be working with Khulumani Support Group.
As the week comes to a close, I find myself feeling thankful. Thankful that South Africa has welcomed me with open arms. Thankful for advice from kind strangers. Thankful for new opportunities in new places. But above all else, thankful for the chance to do the kind of work that makes me feel alive.