The time I spent in Cape Town, from the 24th November to the 10th December 2018, was one of the most enlightening and character building experiences of my life. During the two weeks my group spent in Cape Town, we worked with a partner organisation called ILRIG (International Labour Research and Information Group). ILRIG are an anti-austerity, anti-neoliberalism, anti-globalisation activist organisation that seeks, primarily, to combat what they regard to be the state-initiated alienation, marginalisation and subjugation of the working classes. Our work entailed interviewing activists associated with ILRIG about the impact national budget cuts have had at a local level, and what work those activists were doing to combat budget cuts.
Lessons I learned whilst carrying out this work included lessons relating to the structure of the interviews themselves. The group discovered, for instance, that certain questions relating to activists' attitudes to the state were beginning to yield entirely predictable results, and hence did not need to be asked in every interview. As important were the lessons I learned regarding general safety and the upkeep of personal relationships with my coursemates. Many of us had not been placed in such a challenging situation before and hence it was imperative that we showed each other the utmost respect and compassion, especially in moments of disagreement, in order to ease things along for the whole group. I also thoroughly enjoyed the degree of independence and responsibility myself and my course mates were afforded when in South Africa. Negotiating my way round these challenges, and the other factors discussed in this paragraph, undoubtedly aided my development, not solely as an academic, but also as a person.
In future years, I would wholeheartedly recommend that Applied Human Rights students seize the opportunity to go to South Africa. The stunning beauty of Cape Town's scenery is starkly juxtaposed against the city's political context and both are sure to enlighten and engage students who take advantage of all that this placement has to offer.
Alexander Buckham - worked with ILRIG
Our group undertook a project to identify problems faced by women in York and derive priorities for our project partners, York Women's Forum (YWF) and York Human Rights City Network (YHRCN), to focus on within a rights-based framework. We all shared a strong interest in women's rights and selected this placement because it offered an opportunity to contribute a useful means of furthering productive discussions in York.
Across the two weeks, we used our research on women's international human rights and the city to create a survey that we then conducted across York. Committed to having as representative a sample as possible, we collaborated with community hubs and cafés, as well as local organisations like York Travellers' Trust and Kyra, to conduct the survey with a variety of people. It was an eye-opening experience to see the realities of the city beyond the tourist/student perspective, and particularly rewarding to provide a platform to individuals who are often otherwise marginalised, such as adults with learning disabilities and those caring for relatives with Alzheimer's. This is especially so since we ultimately produced a report that our partners found very beneficial to developing their work and encouraged us to disseminate further, with YWF inviting us to present the findings at one of their events and YHRCN publishing the report on their website.
The placement took hard work and a lot of group determination, but it was a great opportunity to develop and enhance many important skills, including: carrying out desk-based research to inform research approaches, understanding and complying with ethical principles, and adapting communication to different audiences. In addition to the invaluable experience we gained in taking the knowledge and training we had acquired in the classroom to a practical project, it was so enriching to make this small contribution to the ongoing efforts to address gendered issues in local society. As a team, we were immensely proud of what we achieved together and know that this has been a formative experience – both for the rest of our studies and our careers beyond.
Chloe Amies (MA), Claudia Hermida Ramos (MA), Keleisha Robinson (MA), Abisola Ayo (LLM), Sarah McCloskey (LLM) - worked with York Women's Forum & York Human Rights City Network
When I first wanted to do my masters at the University of York, I was attracted to the possibility of going for a two week placement in South Africa. South Africa and Malaysia share some similar history in terms of colonization, institutionalized racism and affirmative action for the majority. I have read a lot regarding the political situation and the opportunity to do some work in this country made me work harder to get the funds to make sure that I can go in this placement. I would say that it was beyond my expectation and it did provide me a very good learning experience. I did not regret going on this placement for a second.
Many would have expectations that the placement would be a one in a life time experience but I would not romanticize the experience. Personally for me, it was life changing as it gives you a first-hand experience of an issue which you may never understand by reading hundreds of articles or journals. In my case this was the situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Cape Town and the how different social structure and skin color determines the security in a city.
I worked in a team of three with an organisation called Voices of Africans for Change (VAC). The organisation is a smaller scaled NGO with mostly volunteers working on refugee rights in South Africa. They run capacity building workshops and work hard for bridging the gap between refugees and the local South African community. Our task was mainly running a survey in a local township called Dunoon and also outside the Home Affairs where the refugees and asylum seekers go to get status or documentations. We hope to produce a report at the end of the project using the data obtained from the survey, and to provide some concrete recommendations to improve the situation of refugees in Cape Town in terms of documentation and security. We spent 5 days interviewing almost 300 people.
We faced multiple challenges in getting our work done, most to be taken as a learning curve and an opportunity to open up your mind to something beyond your understanding. The placement definitely pushed me out of my safe zone and made me analyse the experience I had and the theories I have studied and to find a balance between both.
One of the most valuable experiences I had on this placement was seeing first-hand how a community would behave and react when the state has failed to ensure their safety and provide the most basic necessities. From an outsider's perspective, it would be seen as something negative and wrong, but being in a totally hopeless situation, their mind-set was tuned to believe that what they are doing is right and just. The experience taught me not to judge but to analyse, understand and device a place based on situations. In short, if you are serious about going into human rights work, the placement will give a short preview on what is it all about.
Lena Hendry - Malaysian Chevening scholar, worked with Voices of Africans for Change
The opportunity to go to Cape Town on placement was a key reason I chose to come to the University of York for my Master's, and the experience did not disappoint. I chose this program because I hoped to gain practical skills for future fieldwork, and this placement allowed me to put into practice what we had been learning in our modules. Being in Cape Town is itself one of the most significant learning experiences of the placement. I gained more from being immersed in the context in which I was working than I could have possibly learned through research or in a classroom.
I, along with two other students, have been working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust, an organisation focused on providing resources to those affected by sexual violence, and in particular, survivors of sexual assault and rape. Our project was to evaluate three key services Rape Crisis provides: face-to-face counseling at their offices, counseling offered at Thuthuzela Care Centers, and court support. While in Cape Town, we interviewed counselors, court support workers, and clients in order to gain a better understanding of how Rape Crisis staff viewed the aims of the services they provided and how clients experienced the services they received. While Rape Crisis gave us some guidance on what kinds of information they hoped to learn, they also gave us the freedom to design our own interview questions, conduct interviews of both staff and clients, and decide on sampling strategies for collecting and assessing other data.
This was an amazing opportunity to actually evaluate programs—an invaluable skill in human rights work—in an environment in which we were trusted as students and professionals. Although we had read a significant amount of literature on how to do monitoring and evaluation in theory, I learned more about adapting research on the first day of conducting interviews than I did in all of my prior reading on the topic. Evaluation is truly a skill that you learn by doing, and this placement offered me the opportunity to practice designing research and actually conduct it. Furthermore, it was a pleasure to learn from and work with everyone at Rape Crisis. They immediately welcomed us into the organization, and their passion and dedication to empowering survivors is truly inspiring.
Kendal Jones - worked with Rape Crisis
I was one of a team of 4 students working with North Yorkshire Police on the impact of framing of rights on their implementation and on the identification of methods of framing to meet particular target audiences.
I had returned to academic study towards the end of my sixth decade and after 35 years of professional life as a lawyer, during the last 25 of which I had had little contact with the Police. But what I had seen suggested that things had changed a lot in the meantime, especially with the implementation of the Human Rights Act. Without this insight, which was rapidly confirmed on contact with our partner liaison, I would have shared the view of many students on the course (particularly those with personal experience from their own home countries) that the Police were a paradoxical choice of partner for a project based on human rights.
Any such reservations were swept away over the course of a fortnight spent interviewing frontline officers, individually and in a focus group, over their responses to words and phrases associated with human rights concepts as encountered by them in the course of their everyday duties within the force and in direct contact with the public. This was reinforced by research and reading (also covered in lectures and seminars during the preceding term) into project management and research methodologies. Then came the writing of the report itself with the need to transform the data collected into evidence-based conclusions, leading to specific recommendations – and all to be backed by academic rigour and referencing.
For someone looking for a change of direction late in working life, both the project and the course generally offered eye-opening opportunities with specific application to the recent dedication of my adopted home city of York as a Human Rights City.
Tim Holman - worked with North Yorkshire Police
Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. -Kahlil Gibran
I came into this master's to be thrown into the living landscape of human rights, to equip myself with experiences that would bring me skills that only come with immersion. The lectures given brought clarity and accessible structure to this multi-disciplinary subject. I worked with the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a refugee advocacy mechanism covering this region of the world. My team had to write case studies on good practices of refugee leadership and participation within these different regions: our aim to amplify the good practices happening in these projects. This would feed into the writing of the Global Compact on Refugees in 2018. We were also offered the chance to write a set of talking points for the 2017 December UNHCR dialogue.
During our two weeks of daily work, we conducted interviews with refugee co-ordinators and refugees, from Indonesia, Malaysia and South India. My personal case study looked at the Hazara people displaced from Afghanistan to Indonesia (where it is illegal for them to work or attend school) and the educational activity by an NGO allowing them to stop being in this limbo. We first researched legal, social and political backgrounds, which made interviewing participants an even more crucial and fascinating experience. Once we had all our interviews and research, the days of intense analysis began. We found more than enough to write both our case studies for eventual contribution to the Global Compact and the imminent UNHCR deadline. Our team quickly found a rhythm, allowing us to fairly allocate and execute the necessary work. The placements' work continues after the allotted period, so having this positive group dynamic was key to our success.
The chance to get involved in an international organisation was one of the things that drew me to the University of York. The department has fantastic staff who create placements that have real consequences for real people, as opposed to placements where the focus is the grade and not real-life application. When we were told our project gave us a means to amplify refugee voices, this gave us an increased drive to work hard: we weren't working just for our personal advancement, but to honour the people who had told us their stories and to collate those perspectives for amplification. When speaking with the other York groups they expressed similar feelings - of substantiality, of impact. Throughout this process, we have been able to consult our project supervisor for highly useful advice. Our team came from many walks of life, but none of us had worked on a project exactly like this. I felt that I learnt how UN Refugee Mechanisms, advocacy of CSOs, NGOs and refugee laws interact, alongside how to work in multiple time zones with real people, write policy-style documents and compile collaborative outputs without losing quality of work. I have no doubt this entire placement will be an invaluable asset to me when I begin my career.
Nishat Choudhury - worked with Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
If you decide that studying Applied Human Rights at York is the next step for you then I promise that I will just be the first in a very long line of people telling you to take the opportunity to go and learn in South Africa. Because despite the fact that you are going there to work, and despite the weekends you will have free to be a tourist, or the amazing bonds you'll form with your course mates- this is, above all else, a chance to learn.
I, along with three other students, have been working with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. Primarily this organisation is involved in counselling services and court support services for anyone who has been affected by rape and sexual assault, and they're more recently turning their attention to advocacy, in particular lobbying the government for Specialised Sexual Offences Courts. Working alongside them we've gotten a chance to learn so much, including organising a picket, interviewing a director and the correct way to carry a table across a car park and up a flight of stairs.
I think one of the most invaluable parts of this experience was getting to see an organisation in the middle of evolving how they think about progress. It feels like everyone on this course is doing so in the hopes of making a change in the world, and it's been clear that we have all arrived with very different views of how you should go about effectively creating that change. It was really eye-opening to see that this organisation, which has been tackling the same issue since the 70s, is still wrestling with the question of how to bring about the most effective change. This trip has taught me that when it comes to human rights everyone is still learning.
Fiona Garvey - worked with Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust
I have been dipped in the cauldron of humanity, and am wrenched out, spluttering for breath, drenched in ideas, opinions, emotions and wonder at the 'jumble' that makes up the recipe of this particular soup.
Placements are the laboratories where the practicals scientists need to research and prove their theories are conducted. Our international team of MA students (Venezualan/US/Italian/Zimbabwean/British) were lucky enough to conduct field research with Natural Justice, a Cape Town based NGO of environmental lawyers working on the sustainable use of biodiversity for indigenous peoples and local communities. Our specific project was to document the processes in the acquisition of an Access and Benefit Sharing agreement for the Khoi and San Peoples in the Rooibos Tea industry. It was an absolutely fascinating experience.
We researched the background to the legal case, emanating from an attempt by Nestlé to gain patents over the use of the Rooibos plant for tea and any future product derivatives based on its health and wellbeing qualities. We then conducted interviews with a wide variety of actors, ranging from the lawyers and advocates who fought the case, to members of the relevant Government Departments for Environmental Affairs and Science and Technology through to the Chairman of the National Khoi-San Council. We even attended the public consultation of the Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill 2015 in the National Parliament with its fascinating array of ceremonial tribal dress, spectacle and lively opinions.
Rooibos is grown, uniquely, in high altitude, rock strewn 'fields' in the Cederberg Mountains, so we travelled 350 miles up country, along rough dirt tracks to a Moravian Church Mission in Wuppertal where we interviewed the farmers and members of the local processing Co-operative. It gave us a clear view of near subsistence farming in a barren landscape and, most importantly, an understanding of how the Rooibos plant forms part of the 'traditional knowledge' of the Khoi and San peoples – which is at the core of the Benefit Sharing strategy.
Of course, we used our 'limited' spare time to explore Cape Town, taking in the Slave Lodge, National Gallery, Company Gardens and District Six Museum as well as a visit to Robben Island and the obligatory climb up Table Mountain. I hope we will make a difference; our Project has been challenging, and interesting; the Place has been absorbing and incredibly thought-provoking; most of all, the People have widened my views and expanded my mind. The placement was an invaluable immersion into Human Rights field work in a 'live' environment, a great lifetime experience and is NOT to be missed.
Ian Foxley - worked with Natural Justice
For my placement, I worked on behalf of Survive, a York-based charity looking to expand their services into offering support for sex workers. My team and I were tasked with researching other organisations involved in similar work and using their experiences to help us produce a report for Survive on how they could develop their services.
During the two-week placement, my team researched support services for sex workers in a variety of ways, from using reports to interviewing people from a number of organisations in various places. At times, it was rather stressful trying to make sure we would gather sufficient information, but I learned to find this galvanising. We were also supported really well by our department supervisor and had the chance to share experiences with the other groups working in York. I had never taken part in this kind of work before and found the preparatory lectures in the first term very useful. With each week, there was another skill being introduced which would relate to the placement.
The opportunity to take part in a project such as this was one of my primary motives for studying at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. The placement is one of the things which makes the course so unique and worthwhile. For me, it was a fantastic opportunity to gain knowledge and develop practical skills, such as interviewing. The experiences and skills I took from it will no doubt be helpful in my future career. I also really enjoyed the process of planning the project and working with my fellow group members. Even the process of learning how to work together as an efficient team was an invaluable experience. Indeed, the project goes far beyond the two week-placement.
Luthien Costello-Sayer - worked with Survive
Going on a field placement in South Africa as part of my master's course was an extremely valuable experience, helping me to gain practical fieldwork skills.
I was part of a team of four students who were asked to carry out a needs assessment for Voices of Africa for Change (VAC). VAC is an emerging NGO championing refugee rights in South Africa. We were asked to identify the legal and social needs of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants living in Imazimo Yethu (IY), a township established in the early 1990s in Hout Bay. Over a period of two weeks we interviewed foreign nationals, South Africans, community leaders and a police representative in IY.
Spending time in Hout Bay showed me how the landscape of South Africa still symbolises apartheid. It was a strange and uncomfortable experience seeing how closely the two separate worlds lived. We would spend our day interviewing people who were living in shacks with no running water or electricity and then, within minutes, pass huge fenced mansions on our journey back to the guest house.
The two weeks I spent with VAC helped develop my interviewing techniques. I had not interviewed before and no amount of reading before I left could compare to what I learnt out in the field.
Although the two weeks were work intense, we still had time to explore the sites of Cape Town. If you are a climber like me, you will love the routes on offer at Table Mount.
Going to South Africa was an extremely valuable experience which I am fortunate to have had and is definitely something I would recommend to future CAHR students.
Roisin Jacklin - worked with Voices of Africa for Change
When driving from the airport to the city centre of Cape Town you pass by miles of miles of informal settlement. This is the township of Khayelitsha, where I did my fieldwork as part of my master's course at the University of York.
My group did a survey for the local NGO Rape Crisis here, asking people about crime, rape and violence. Surprisingly many people told us that they felt totally unsafe in their community, fearing robbery, hijacking and housebreaking in the middle of the day. Women and children living in the shacks were afraid of going to the toilet in the bush, because they may be raped on their way there.
The fieldtrip to South Africa was one of my main reasons for doing the master in York, and after coming back home I'm for sure not regretting my choice. What you learn during such fieldwork cannot be taught in school. It is learning by doing.
For me, the two weeks were really intense. Working in a township with high crime rates and where hardly any other whites enter, we had to take our safety precautions. There was a lot of work to be done in order to get 500 interviews in five days, and on top of that there was the heat. However, what I remember most from Khayelitsha, are all the people I met. People who dream of a better future, a future where they can go to the toilet without the fear of being raped or robbed. More than anything else my visit to Khayelitsha reminded me of the importance of human rights work, and why I am studying human rights. I really hope I can go back one day.
Ida Malthe-Sorenssen - worked with Rape Crisis
When I was awarded a Chevening Scholarship, I was so happy that I would be able to study for an MA in Human Rights at one of the most prestigious universities in the UK. The Center for Applied Human Rights is not only a place to study and get a postgraduate degree based on theoretical and academic knowledge, but also an institution that enables you to take your position as a future human rights practitioner and activist. At least that is what I felt when I started to study the 'Defending Human Rights' module - the module has provided me with a set of skills I found very useful to apply practically during my placement in Cape Town.
My host NGO was the Sustainable Livelihood Foundation (SLF), a new, fresh NGO that has worked in partnership with the University of the Western Cape. I chose to be a part of the SLF project that focused on refugee rights because of personal reasons - as a Syrian - and professional interest – previously I have worked as a migration policies practitioner at the Arab League.
In Cape Town I realized that everything I've learnt and all I've practiced behind a desk for years was incomparable to the field work experience. This was a trip that enriched me culturally while enlightened me professionally and empowered me personally.
Working with refugees intensively for two weeks can be quite challenging, but at the same time appealing. I have listened to their stories of suffering and shared their moments of weakness and helplessness; I have explored the deepest details of their daily battles against discrimination and xenophobia. Sometimes I felt very fragile when my tears were unintentionally falling, but other times I felt forceful especially because my understanding was increasing. Through their powerful statements and strong will my anxieties decreased.
Events we encountered on the 27th November 2014 caused concerns and controversies of various kinds, including with our project supervisors! On that day the police responded violently to the refugees' claims outside of the Home Affairs Office in Cape Town. The authorities not only closed the Refugees' Reception Center and pushed hundreds of people away but also used pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the angry crowd of men, women and children. I felt responsible and accountable and so decided not to walk away, not to leave the rights violations undocumented; because for me that was what I was there for. I was fortunate to witness these incidents that have added value and credibility to my reflections. On the other hand I've realized that I should be more cautious and take security measures into account, because to be active you need to be safe and healthy as well.
The Cape Town experience has truly motivated me forever. I am now more confident and competent to stand for human rights anywhere on the front line, while distancing myself away from any discrimination and social stigmatization; I am now more a human!
Weaam Youssef – Syrian Chevening scholar, worked with Sustainable Livelihoods
I have been passionate about human rights since an early age and have been dreaming of getting field experience since then. When reading about the different placements put forward by the Centre of Applied Human Rights, the Rape Crisis 'Making Change' project immediately struck a chord with me. It focused on a cause close to my heart, included preventive work, direct contact with the community and aimed to implement change at the local level. After weeks of preparation and a roller coaster of emotions, here I was, sitting on the plane for Cape Town, a place full of surprises, contradictions and beauty.
Our project group worked with Rape Crisis during the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, on the 'Speak Out' campaign. Athlone, identified as a community strongly affected by rape, is where we worked. Through a survey, we aimed to find out whether rape was indeed a problem in the community's eyes and if so, what the reasons leading to it were and its impacts on individuals' daily life. During 6 days, we conducted the survey in areas affected by important social issues. The second part of the placement was spent analysing the collected data and putting together a presentation for the community in order to present the results and launch a discussion on the issue of rape, during a community dialogue. The latter was put into place to encourage the community to speak out about rape and ways to prevent it from happening.
I feel very lucky to have worked on this project, for more reasons than I can write about. Rape Crisis is an extremely welcoming NGO. They instantly make you feel like you are one of them. Furthermore, they are passionate about the cause they defend, which was a pleasure to witness and learn from. Regarding the Athlone community, directly interacting with them was an eye opening experience. I am extremely grateful for the many stories I heard. The community taught me a great deal. Despite the severity of the issues it is facing, such as rape but also gangsterism and drugs, it continues to smile and look for ways forward. Speaking about rape is always very delicate, but by doing so, the community truly helped us get a better understanding of their needs. It is now time to work with them to bring about change.
Vanessa Perbos – worked with Rape Crisis
Cape Town is both beautiful and bizarre, welcoming and uncomfortable. Cape Town from the eyes of a visiting tourist, and being in Cape Town as someone who is working with communities that are marginalized and disenfranchised are both distinctly different experiences. That duality can be difficult, but paying attention to it is important and meaningful. It's easy to take a walk in the beautiful "Company's" Garden for instance without pausing to think about why it's still called that. As one of the people we interviewed said as he talked about land, identity and colonisation, "The VOC didn't bring a garden when they came here". When reading about apartheid laws before going to South Africa, it's 'easy' to think of it as something in the past (especially when 'post-' is tacked on to the word), but being in Cape Town, and talking to people who live with that painful legacy in their every day is a stark reminder of how much the past persists in the present. While the background research on South Africa's history was necessary prior to leaving, knowing that there are multiple stories that are often not told, questioning who the narrators are, and being open to speaking to people and learning their versions of history while there has been one of the most important parts of the placement experience. Being in Cape Town has made me all the more aware of the importance of knowing, learning from and challenging our histories.
We collaborated with Natural Justice, an organisation of passionate, committed and strong individuals working on indigenous rights. There were two parts to our project: (a) conceptualising and running a workshop with Khoi San and other indigenous youth on the question of 'identity', (b) producing a report for Natural Justice on the Amendments to the Restitution of Land Rights Act. Each part demanded a different energy and seemingly very different skill sets; any given day could see us making phone calls for appointments in the morning, rushing to conduct interviews followed by brainstorming theatre games and 'workshopping' among ourselves concepts like "The Heroes Journey" and 'social scripts'. It was difficult, intense and often without a pause, but from my own experience with a human rights NGO in Malaysia, it was an honest representation of the beauty and learning through the chaos, challenge and collaboration of human rights work (especially that which has a grassroots focus).
Beyond the work with the NGO, the placement was incredible for the opportunity to spend time with my course mates (and CAHR staff) in truly delightful, thought provoking and engaging ways. The silliness, the laughter, the tears, listening and learning from the work with other project partners, the long and intense conversations were nourishment for my mind and soul. Giving space and making time for that mutual sharing and being together is critical. [Standing outside the Guesthouse in District Six in the crazy wind and staring at the Mountain: also good for the soul] [Indulging in the magical avocados of South Africa: also beautiful].
The placement is about the work with the NGO, but it's also about being Present in new, exciting, and energising ways; it's about creating and building relationships and a sense of community, all of which is vital to the longevity and sustainability of human rights work (and a good Life, really).
Katrina Jorene Maliamauv - Malaysian Chevening scholar, worked with Natural Justice
I was born in Haiti, but moved to the USA at the age of 13. As someone with the opportunity to straddle two worlds, one of great wealth and the other of eminent despair, I believe my life’s mission is to do what I can to make this world a better place. In the near future I hope to work in Haiti. And if that dream is to be realized I must set aside all fears. This realization to become fearless in the face of great hardship begins with the choice to study for a master’s in human rights. When it was time to choose a university, I chose the University of York because of the S. Africa placement, in Cape Town. I chose this placement because I believe this was an opportunity to do the things that I aspire to do with my life - more importantly to do them effectively.
The S. Africa placement (in Cape Town) provided me an opportunity to work along-side Natural Justice, an international non-governmental organization that seeks to promote indigenous collective rights. While in Cape Town, my research with Natural Justice included fieldwork interviews with an indigenous local group (the Khoi-San) and members of the S. African Government. In addition, my duties included compiling reports of previous Amendments to the National Traditional Affair Bill (a legal recognition instrument), and the Restitution of Land Rights Act (which is for the purpose of restitutionary damages). This field research study provided me with the valuable opportunity to put the theories of international human rights into practice in a particularly dynamic and complex environment. Working in Cape Town was an exhilarating journey. Natural Justice provided my group with a lot of support. Yet, they allowed us enough flexibility to do our job. Natural Justice allowed us to make our own schedule and set our own meetings. I never felt like an intern while I was working. They made us feel like we were part of their team and that our input is crucial to the work that they do.
We, the students, had plenty of bonding time. During the weekends we were able to hang our professional hats and enjoy the tourist attractions of Cape Town. I had the opportunity to visit the famous Robben Island - Nelson Mandela’s prison for over 13 years. I also went up Table Mountain, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. How cool is that!
This placement is a stepping-stone to where I aspire to be in the near future. The placement has further enhanced my awareness of the world and will continue to guide me in being a more responsive and critical researcher of international diplomatic and domestic policies, pertaining to individual and collective rights. I know it was only two weeks, but I learned so much. I had so much fun. This placement was one of the best experiences of my university career.
Junie Joseph - worked with Natural Justice
My placement was with Natural Justice, a non-governmental organization that works at local, national and international levels to protect and promote bio-cultural and collective rights of local and indigenous communities through innovative methods such as the bio-cultural community protocols (BCPs). I chose the placement because I was inspired by their novel methods and forward thinking.
The aim of the placement was to analyse the National Traditional Affairs Bill, a hotly debated piece of national legislation that, amongst other things, would give recognition to the Khoi and San communities. To do so we had to understand the issues surrounding it and interviewed a variety of experts, lawyers, academics and Khoi and San communities members and leaders.
Cape Town provided a beautiful setting in which to get to grips with the complex historical, cultural and political backdrop of South Africa. We entered the scene at a key moment in time in the development of indigenous rights in South Africa, just before the 2014 elections. More importantly we witnessed the passing of the country's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. It was a momentous and awe-inspiring moment to be amongst his 'rainbow nation' to watch the world celebrate the life of this extraordinary man.
Working from the Natural Justice offices in the central business district of Cape Town, the nature of the placement was a distinctly urban one, although a particularly memorable day involved interviewing a South African Human Rights Commissioner/Expert as part of the UN mechanism on indigenous peoples' rights with Table Mountain in the background before going to meet a representative from a fishing community whilst overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from the stunning scenery, the chance to meet such a variety of actors was invaluable.
The placement gave me an opportunity not to lose my professional stride and to develop new skills in the process. I had the chance to learn how to work effectively in a peer group and together we had the opportunity to put the lectures and seminars into practice in real life with real issues, interacting with the real people involved - something you simply cannot get in a classroom. Equally, I now have the time to reflect upon issues that arose in a way that a 9-5 job does not always offer - the use of tools like a reflective diary helped us to engage with issues of professional and personal development that we found challenging or interesting. Natural Justice, and in particular our partner Lesle Jansen, were excellent in including us in their team, giving us the chance to participate in international skype meetings, skills-sharing sessions and a lively discussion on the principles and practices of Green Development in a roundtable event organized by Natural Justice.
The two week placement was exhilarating, stimulating and challenging in equal measures, but the experience I gained was invaluable for my career and it is undoubtedly something that I will draw upon for years to come.
Anne-Marie Lombard - worked with Natural Justice
The field trip to South Africa was certainly something I had been looking forward to since the start of the degree programme. As I have come from an academic background in which I have not had much experience of working in the human rights field I was eager to gain some practical field work experience and acquire skills that would help me throughout my career.
My placement enabled me to work with an amazing NGO called Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust who seeks to support and empower victims or rape throughout their interaction with the criminal justice system and ensure that these individuals face no secondary trauma throughout the process. Right from the first meeting with the organisation I immediately felt welcome and part of the team. It was clear to me that everyone working for the organisation was there not just because it was their job but because they truly believed in Rape Crisis and what it was trying to achieve.
For the first part of my placement I, along with another peer from the University of York, had the privilege of joining a select group of ladies from the organisation on Rape Crisis' annual awareness raising campaign called 'Stop the Bus' which commemorated the sixteen days of activism to end violence against women. We were asked to produce a photo journal to document the campaign which would then be uploaded on the organisation’s blog. This was so that we could allow a much wider audience to have an insight into the great work they were doing and we also regularly updated the organisation's Facebook and Twitter pages with the campaign’s progress. The aim of 'Stop the Bus' is to reach out to rural communities in the Western Cape to educate them on the issue of rape and to make them aware of the rights of rape victims and the support available to them. This year the campaign saw the bus travel to three communities, Bredasdorp, Barrydale and Swellendam. Whist in these communities we aimed to reach out to as many people as possible whether through home visits, community talks/workshops, radio/TV interviews and even attending community church services.
What was great about the placement is that the team really gave us a chance to participate in all aspects of the campaign, even allowing us to introduce Rape Crisis on a number of occasions which for me really helped with my public speaking skills and made me feel liked a trusted, valued team member. The one-on-one work within the communities was certainly the most eye opening part of the placement for me as I was able to interact with individuals and hear first-hand their stories and bear witness to their struggles and hardships. One particular interaction which I’m sure will stay with me for the rest of my life is when I was able to hear one women speak about the loss of her daughter through a brutal rape. Although it was difficult to hear it really touched me and made me realise that although I may learn and hear of different case studies in the classroom, it bears no comparison to hearing stories first hand. It ignited a spark and determination in me to push forward as best I could with the campaign to reach individuals who, without the 'Stop the Bus' campaign, may not be able to access information about rape or support for the after effects.
For the later part of my placement I attended a three-day youth camp called 'the Birds and the Bees'. Throughout the year Rape Crisis holds workshops with youths selected from local schools in the hope that the organisation can train them and equip them with knowledge and skills to act as peer educators in their schools and communities. 'The Birds and the Bees' camp is held at the end of each school year and acts as not only a reward for all the kids’ hard work but also as an opportunity for them to come together to share what they have learnt over the year. During the camp my peer and I were asked to conduct interviews and focus groups with the peer educators to be able to evaluate and assess just how effective the year's training had been and to hear some feedback from the youths. This was daunting for me as it was the first time I was going to hold any form of interview; however, it was a great learning experience which has now helped to span my abilities further. We also wrote two blogs for the organisation, one on an evaluation of the peer educators and another on the camp experience as a whole. All the work undertaken whilst at the camp is now going to be used by the organisation to help them develop the camp for further years.
On the final days of our placement we heard the news that Nelson Mandela had died. Although it was a devastating time it was also a time for the country to celebrate his life and to reflect on the future of South Africa. To be in South Africa for such a monumental time in its history was truly an inspirational and once in a life time experience. On my last day in Cape Town I was able to go to the legendary Robben Island, the high maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for so many years and to have the chance to delve further into the history of the country seemed to be a very moving and fitting way to end my trip.
The two weeks in South Africa were probably the most intense two weeks of my learning life. It gave me the opportunity to step into what almost seemed to be a different world and to learn so many things not only about the human rights field but also about myself as a person and my abilities to take on what can seem at the time to be daunting and challenging tasks. Most importantly the placement experience has definitely helped reaffirm to myself that I want to pursue a career in the human rights field and has inspired me to be resilient in my hopes to make a difference.
Hannah Burke - worked with Rape Crisis
One of the highlights of the Masters programme in human rights here at the University of York is the unique opportunity of learning the practicalities of human rights work in an NGO as part of the programme. My colleagues and I were working full time as consultants in York-based International Service, for two weeks, with the goal of producing a report that would actually make a difference for the organisation.
For International Service, our work was to gather and analyse comprehensive data on the security and development situation in Mali emerging out of its year long conflict and coup d'état, so that the organisation can make an informed decision on how best to return on the ground to continue its valuable work there. For us, this was an opportunity to contribute something very real to the cause and the good work of this international rights-based development NGO, but also to gain what no theoretical university course can give: a valuable practical experience of working in a team and dealing with the unpredictable and exciting realities of human rights work, while actually making a difference. For us all, working at the offices of International Service as a part of their team has been a great pleasure and honour. We have learned a great deal and felt genuinely enriched by the whole experience.
Ilya Novikov - worked with International Service (York)
We had a very productive ten days with the student group we worked with this year . They were so wonderful. We left them quite a lot of freedom in terms of how they wanted to execute the interviews and analyse the data and they were great at dividing the work, getting themselves organised, and liaising with all the relevant staff and clients. We also had some very good debriefing talks where we discussed the findings so far and what adaptations need to be made which I think taught them some valuable things about research in this context. Thank you for sending us such a great group. We are looking forward to their output.
Sarah Strydom, Rape Crisis
Natural Justice had the pleasure of partnering with York students in both 2013 and 2014. For both years they worked on the National Traditional Affairs Bill. This legislation will formally recognized indigenous communities and their institutions. The York students supported Natural Justice in reviewing this Bill, and specifically how it impacts on the Khoi and San communities. Indigenous groups continue to experience serious marginalization in post apartheid South Africa. The York students through their research and field work helped articulate the concerns of the communities through their report outputs, and played a role in shaping legislation that would impact greatly on the formal recognition of these communities. The work was strategically important in supporting historically marginalized indigenous communities.
Lesle Jansen, Lawyer at Natural Justice
International Service worked with a team of students from the Centre for Applied Human Rights in 2013. The students conducted desk based research analysing the key security issues in Mali following the coup d’etat in 2012, the ensuing conflict in the North of the country and the restitution of democratic process in 2013. The student team worked from the offices of International Service on a regular basis, making contact with our partners in Mali, as well as a variety of representatives within national and international agencies operating within Mali, including the local Government and diplomatic services. The final research included recommendations which informed the redevelopment of our programme in Mali following our suspension of operations in 2012. The research also supported us in securing $300,000 from USAID which has enabled us to take forward our work in Mali once again, supporting seven local partner organisations providing support to people living with disability across all of Mali, who themselves represent the poorest and most marginalised throughout and following the conflict. It was a pleasure working with them, their professionalism and enthusiasm for the work was excellent. We look forward to identifying further similar opportunities to collaborate with the Centre for Applied Human Rights.
Martin Keat, International Programmes Director
Concrete fieldtrip results
MA students doing their placement with the Sonke Gender Justice Network in 2009 participated in creating the Men's Guide to the Sexual Offences Act (PDF , 1,790kb) (2010).
MA students at Apartheid memorials in Langa, Cape Town (2018)
MA students in Cederberg Mountains (2016)
MA 2012-13 students
MA students in District Six, Cape Town (2012)
MA students at the District Six Museum (2008)
MA students in District Six, Cape Town (2010)