Commonwealth Changemakers

“Can the media criticise the government?!” asked the Maldivian.

“Well… no…” replied the Pakistani, reluctantly.

“Well you don’t have freedom of speech then!” he told her, laughing.

We were in a training centre, two hours drive from Colombo, Sri Lanka, and sixty young people from five South Asian Commonwealth countries (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives) were discussing the progress of human rights and democracy in their own countries.

Previously I didn’t know what relevance the Commonwealth had anymore, other than the Commonweath Games. But on 11 March 2013, the head of the Commonwealth, The Queen signed the Charter of the Commonwealth, which commits all fifty-four members to sixteen values covering human rights, democracy and sustainable development. This training was about making that document more than just a piece of paper.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office had provided funding for these ‘Commonwealth Changemakers’ to learn about the Charter’s values and how to set up projects in their home countries that would promote them. My role was to create a video of the impact of the project in order to help win more funding and to create a video that explains the Charter.

I interviewed Dan who had set up a beach cleaning project in Maldives, Kajal who had set up the first school in rural area of Pakistan and Ayesha who was helping educated the children of sex workers in Delhi. They were setting up these projects off their own back with no funding and no institutional support. I was impressed by their energy, enthusiasm and in many cases their courage in running such projects in areas with suffocating political and social oppression.

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