Voices for Human Rights: Luna Cardenas-Ibarra, National Youth Organizer

My passion for human rights started from a very young age. In 5th grade I started my own club for Because I am a Girl which lasted 4 years; the club fundraised enough money to sponsor a young girl in Colombia. I realized I wanted to continue my involvement with non-profit charities and organizations. It wasn’t long after that I found out about Amnesty International. Every year my church hosted a large letter-writing campaign and everyone in the congregation would participate. Once I was old enough, I began to read the case summaries for the campaigns, and I was shocked. Even as an immigrant I had still grown up in the bubble of Canadian privilege. My parents had always been careful to mute the news broadcasts when they started speaking about heavy world issues. Once I broke that bubble of “a perfect world”, I pledged to learn more and educate myself. I realized that the cases Amnesty was petitioning for weren’t stand-alone cases of human rights abuses; they represented a tiny percentage of the hundreds of thousands of human rights abuses happening daily. They were the indicators of a pattern that held hands with corruption and replicated itself time and time again. For me this was a scary revelation. It was the sort of revelation which at first made a young girl like me feel small and powerless. It was the sort of revelation which turned into a sense of responsibility. I got in contact with the national organizers coordinator at Amnesty who was happy to take me under her wing and introduce me to the hopeful world of activism.

Since my involvement with Amnesty I’ve been granted so many opportunities like attending the annual general meetings, regional meetings, letter writing events and so much more. One of the highlights was in 2019 when I was invited to AI Canada’s Human Rights College; a week-long intimate setting conference specifically for youth. I got to meet more young people like me with dreams as big as the ones on my shoulders. I learnt about the power of letter-writing, and why such traditional means of activism in a digital world are still so effective. I learnt about legality obstacles in human-rights cases, about government corruption cover-ups, OKA and so much more.

With so much information in my head I was able to take it all back and apply it to the community and people that surrounded me. I didn’t need to go across the world to make a difference and that was a much-needed reassurance for the young restless activist in me. At my high school, RH King Academy, I hosted multiple letter-writing campaigns, petition-signings, documentary screenings and one large-scale Red Dress Awareness Campaign which got the attention of the whole school and a local newspaper. I was able to apply my activism toolkit outside of Amnesty campaigns to real issues affecting my generation including the cuts to education, and the environmentalist movement of “Friday’s for Future”.

Since graduating from high school and moving to Ottawa, I’ve been able to expand my knowledge and community. Being in a city passionate about social justice has given me even more opportunities to attend large-scale rallies, protests, visit embassies and work with other young people to organize campaigns. As a Conflict Studies & Human Rights student I am now able to dedicate myself full-time to doing what I love most! I look forward to seeing where this journey takes me, and grateful for everything I’ve learnt along the way.