By Anandpreet Kaur
Naureen Singh was the only Sikh at a recent human rights summit that took place in the United States in August. How did she feel? How did people react to her presence.
“I was truly amazed at how although I was the only Sikh in that large assembly room, the room reacted with so much enthusiasm and admiration,” she tells Asia Samachar.
“Afterwards, I had questions from people wanting to learn more about Sikhism, and even had youth from other countries wanting more information so they can include Sikhism in their school curriculums.”
This was part of her experience when she represented the US at the 14th Annual International Human Rights Summit in New York in August 2017.
Naureen is a Sikh – American activist who lives in Colorado. In the past, she has taken on hate crime against Sikhs, took part in a beauty pageant and joined an internship at the White House where she had organised anti-bullying seminars for the Sikh children.
The three-day summit at the UN Headquarters in New York, organised by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI), brings together young human rights leaders with governments, non-profits and communities to drive positive change.
YHRI is a non-profit organisation founded in 2001 by Dr. Mary Shuttleworth, an educator born and raised in apartheid South Africa, where she witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of discrimination and the lack of basic human rights. It teaches human rights education both in the classroom and in nontraditional educational settings.
Naureen shares with Asia Samachar her experience.
Tell us about your experience at the summit?
The International Human Rights summit was truly an experience I will never forget. Going into the summit, I expected it to be like the many conferences I have attended before in this past — but this was so much more. It was truly inspiring to see over 40 countries represented at this summit, ranging from countries like Syria and Taiwan, all the way to India and China. As I sat down with these youth, all selected to represent their respective countries, it reminded me that I am not alone in the pursuit to make human rights the norm. All these youth, from so many different parts of the world and from so many walks of life, all share the drive to make the world a more free, equal, and just place.
What did you speak about?
I was truly honored to share remarks inside the United Nations during the summit, in front of an audience that consisted of activists, educators, and even actresses. I began my speech talking about an incident that happened when I was 13 years old, and is honestly the moment that propelled me to do the work that I do today.
When I was in the 7th grade, a note was left in my science classroom telling me to “go back to your country because America isn’t for people like you.” I was truly caught off guard as a young teenager, and didn’t see myself any differently compared to the rest of my classmates.
I continued my speech by talking about how this note has acted as a catalyst for me to fight against bullying of Sikh children, including hosting seminars at the White House that shared resources with students. I also talked about in my speech the variety of Interfaith events I have helped organize in my role as policy director for Colorado Sikhs– including the Sikh service at Mile Hi Church, as well as feeding langar to over 4,000 homeless people in my state. Lastly, in my speech at the UN, I talked about how Sikhi has influenced my life’s career of fighting against injustice for all communities, not just my own.
How did the people react to what you had to say?
I was the only Sikh at the UN Summit this year, so I of course felt pressure to make sure I spoke with kindness and candor. I was truly amazed at how although I was the only Sikh in that large assembly room, the room reacted with so much enthusiasm and admiration. Afterwards, I had questions from people wanting to learn more about Sikhism, and even had youth from other countries wanting more information so they can include Sikhism in their school curriculums. It was empowering for me to know that one simple speech in one room can have a ripple effect– and I hope that those words I shared will continue to impact policies not only in the USA, but all over the world.
And how did it make you feel?
Empowered, inspired, and admired. When I was in the 1st grade, the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center happened…and when I was in the 12th grade– the Oak Creek Wisconsin shooting happened. Unfortunately, my life has been book-ended by these two terrible tragedies, so I have of course become accustomed to the negative reactions that can divide up a nation after a tragedy. However, this experience showed me that communities are powerful when they come together— when neighbor sticks up for neighbor— and when we don’t limit ourselves to a singular issue. After my speech at the United Nations, I left feeling like no matter what age I might be, one voice is powerful enough to make a difference.
Could you tell us a bit about the summit from your point of view?
Of course! The summit featured so many different speakers from all over the world, and even had in attendance UN Ambassadors from countries like Canada and Afghanistan. The keynote speaker was the former president of Costa Rica, and performances even included rappers/poets who all speak out on human rights. This summit truly brought all parts of the globe together as one human race, and educated each one of the attendees the importance of constantly fighting against injustice. As the delegate for the USA, I felt proud to represent my country and my values as a Sikh-American. Attending the summit was one way for me to express my viewpoints, and I know that in the future, the many connections I have made while attending this will continue to provide me platforms to share my story and make change.
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Sikh woman from Colorado to represent US at human rights summit (Asia Samachar, 14 Aug 2017)