Amnesty International: A Human Rights Extracurricular for High Schoolers
There are numerous reasons to get involved with a human rights organization. One significant reason is that human rights organizations allow ample opportunities for students to organize fundraising, advocacy, and volunteer efforts that are not always available at the high school level. Another — perhaps more self-serving reason — is that your participation in a human rights organization is both a way to expand your extracurricular profile and serve your community at the same time.
However, the most compelling reason to join a human rights organization is the emotional benefits from participation. Speaking out about and impacting a cause for human rights that you are passionate about can feel rewarding and give you the sense that you are really making a difference as a high school student.
Amnesty International is the largest grassroots human rights organization in the world. They are a “global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people” (Amnesty International Website). Many Amnesty International chapters exist at the high school level that allow students to fundraise and advocate for human rights issues in their communities.
If you are looking to make an impact through Amnesty International, look no further. We at CV have outlined everything you need to know about getting involved in the Amnesty International club at your high school.
Introduction to Amnesty International
Amnesty International is a global organization with presence in many different countries. Thus, the human rights issues they target vary by country.
Some of their most common priority issues include:
- The death penalty
- National Security and Human Rights
- Deadly Force and Police Accountability
- Gun Violence
- Gender, Sexuality, and Identity
- Individuals at Risk: Protecting People Who are Fighting for Human Rights
All of the above issues deal with violations of certain human rights. Amnesty International is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that combats these human rights violations around the world through detailed research and determined campaigning.
Amnesty International also places a strong emphasis on combating violence around the world. Violence, in this case, includes things like capital punishment, torture, police brutality, and imprisonment for speaking out against those in power.
Another area of emphasis for Amnesty International, especially in the United States, is guaranteeing human rights for immigrants, refugees, and minority communities. Amnesty International seeks to ensure that these individuals’ rights are respected and that they are granted due asylum in other countries.
Amnesty International combats these issues through a global network of secretariats, human rights defenders, volunteers, and local chapters. They also allow for youth organizations to be formed at the high school level to advocate for Amnesty International’s causes. This way, both adults and young students can fight for human rights.
Opportunities for High School Students: Joining Amnesty International Club
Many high schools around the United States have set up youth organizations that are affiliated with Amnesty International. They tend to meet regularly and engage in human rights campaigns. This could involve taking action against a specific case of human rights violation in the community or even working to encourage policy reform in their local governments.
Usually, the goal of an Amnesty International Club in high school is to raise awareness and perform volunteer work. Specifically, the club seeks to advertise specific human rights issues in their school or community. They can act on human rights issues by running fundraisers to support Amnesty International’s efforts, writing letters to local government officials, or circulating petitions for universal human rights.
Unfortunately, high school Amnesty International Clubs do not usually become more active than this, though there are exceptions. Amnesty International is structured in such a way that much of the work is restricted to adults and employees of the organization.
However, engaging in local human rights activism in high school can help Amnesty International secure necessary funds and policy victories. Thus, participating in the Amnesty International Club at your high school could give you great community service and activism experience while allowing you to help a worthwhile organization.
What does the individual student actually do in Amnesty International Club?
The simple answer is that it depends on the structure and goals of the club at your school. Some Amnesty International Clubs focus on general awareness about human rights issues, so their members’ work may consist primarily of hanging posters around the school or passing out flyers in their communities. Meanwhile, Amnesty International Clubs in other schools may be mobilized around one specific issue or multiple issues at once, requiring a more rigorous contribution from their members, such as organizing a letter-writing or phone-banking campaign to influence a politician on a certain cause.
Regardless, a main focus of high school Amnesty International Clubs is raising awareness. Whether the club is mobilized around any particular issue or not, any member of a high school Amnesty International club is likely to make posters, flyers, and other forms of media campaigns targeting human rights issues.
Furthermore, students in Amnesty International Club may also be able to organize some events or action for the club. This could include organizing a speaker event, making a short film/presentation about a certain human rights issue, or anything else that would circulate information and generate awareness for Amnesty International’s causes.
Lastly, an Amnesty International Club member will also be able to participate in some small yet impactful grassroots activism. This generally takes the form of service projects like circulating a petition for a government official to enact legislation that protects human rights, writing letters to imprisoned human rights defenders to let them know that they have support, or any kind of fundraiser or benefit to fund Amnesty International’s efforts.
For more information about running a fundraiser, see How to Plan and Execute an Effective Fundraiser for High School Extracurriculars.
If you need more help deciding whether an Amnesty International Club is right for you and how it may fit into your college goals, check out our Mentorship Program.
Starting your Own Amnesty International Club Chapter
If there isn’t already an Amnesty International Club at your high school, you can always start one. In fact, starting an Amnesty International Club at your school is a great way to showcase your interests, passions, and initiative on your college applications. Furthermore, club founders often have a greater leadership role in their club.
For step-by-step instructions for starting a club at your high school, see How to Start a Club in High School. For advice on building awareness and membership for your new club, see our post Organizing Your New Club.
There are a few important factors that you should consider and work out before you start filling out paperwork and recruiting for your new club. The first is who your faculty advisor will be. High school clubs usually need a faculty member to act as a sponsor in order for the club to exist. Ideally, you should find a faculty advisor who you think would be interested in human rights issues and Amnesty International. A good place to look is the history department or for teachers of any world cultures or global issues electives at your school. However, any teacher at the school will do.
Secondly, you need to gauge how much interest there is for an Amnesty International club at your school. Ask your peers and students in your classes whether they are interested in human rights issues and would be willing to participate in grassroots advocacy. If enough people say yes, it is worth starting the club.
Once you have a potential faculty advisor secured and you know that there is interest in your club, you need to also think about the organization of your club. Consider how you plan to recruit members (word-of-mouth? Posters around the school? An advertisement in the school paper?), how your leadership will be organized/what officer positions you will have, how meetings will be conducted, and how you plan to fund your activities.
If you’re unsure about any of these things, use the example of other clubs at your school with similar goals. These clubs can include, but are not limited to, a Gay-Straight Alliance, Model United Nations, and any other human-rights-oriented or community-service oriented clubs. If you have contacts in these clubs, they can give you advice and helpful resources to make your club successful.
For More Information
If you would like to learn more about Amnesty International and how you can get involved, see the Amnesty International website and the AmnestyUSA website.
If you’re looking to find out about other community service projects and extracurriculars you can participate in, see CV’s other blog posts:
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