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© 2020 Opportunity Internationala 501(c)3 nonprofit. EIN: 540907624.

Working for Dignity and Human Rights

By Allison Kooser

Each year on December 10, we join with the global community to celebrate Human Rights Day—a celebration of the rights each of us is entitled to, not by nature of our religion, race, sex, profession, economic status, political opinion, or status, but simply our humanity. That shared experience of human-ness that, in and of itself, should elicit dignity, respect, and value.

Seventy years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document serves as a common set of standards—a reminder to each of us of the inalienable rights we hold. We join with the UN and our neighbors around the world to celebrate and remember this document this year, reaffirming both our understanding and belief in the structures our predecessors so carefully outlined decades ago.

Somehow, these truths feel more apt and necessary today than ever. Despite the progress we humans have made, we still have so far to go. We still need reminding—today and everyday—about our shared humanity and how to best treat one another. Because we aren't there yet. We haven't yet achieved the goal.

We read through the Declaration, and so many of the Articles still feel painfully out of reach. We strive toward—but remain far from—standards like:

  • "No one shall be held in slavery or servitude"
  • "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment"
  • "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law"
  • "Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution"
  • "Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses"
  • "Everyone has the right to own property"
  • "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression"
  • "Everyone has the right to work"

At Opportunity International, we are particularly struck by Articles 25 and 26:

Article 25 says, " Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age, or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control."

And Article 26 says, "Everyone has the right to education."

What resonant goals as we fight extreme poverty and invest in financial inclusion, job creation, access to healthcare, and access to education.

This list of standards, penned 70 years ago, calls us to action every day, motivating our work both as an organization and as individuals.

We fight for education, sustainable livelihoods, and human dignity, and we celebrate the efforts of our peer organizations fighting slavery, advancing the rights of oppressed people groups, and including the excluded.

Through it all, we approach our work through the lens of Article 1: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

We commit to treating our clients, staff, supporters, and friends with the utmost respect and dignity. We believe that everyone, regardless of their wealth, power, or position, has value; that everyone has something to contribute; and that everyone deserves to be treated with honor and respect.

This Human Rights Day, we are challenged, encouraged, and spurred on by this call. We are reminded that we still have so much work to do. And we enter into the new year with a renewed sense of urgency and purpose as we work toward the day when this Declaration is no longer a call to action, but a reflection of the values we all hold.

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