By LENNY DESERIO
Imagine raising your glass for a toast. Now imagine being arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for raising your glass to that toast. This was the case for two Portuguese college students back in 1961, when they shared a toast to freedom from the Portuguese government led by Antonio Salazar. It wasn’t long before British lawyer Peter Benenson learned of the students’ imprisonment, and soon began writing letters to the Portuguese government demanding the students’ immediate and unconditional release. He also began urging others to act on the students’ behalf and the students were eventually released.
Peter Benenson’s actions would lead to the formation of the organization Amnesty International. Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization that works to protect human rights. Soon after their formation, the organization began to grow with chapters being set up worldwide. Small club chapters were set up at local colleges and universities, too. Flash forward to today, and the organization is still growing; Cumberland County College is one of the colleges nationwide to have an Amnesty International Club on their campus.
The Amnesty International Club at CCC began in 2005. Former student and founder Breanne Buccos went to Associate Professor of Psychology and club advisor Kate Mather with the idea of starting an Amnesty International Club. According to Mather the goal of the club is to support and create an awareness of human rights. Organizing student rallies and getting students to sign petitions are two ways the club accomplishes this goal. “This way a new generation of activists will stand together in solidarity with others for the betterment of human rights,” said Mather. When asked why she felt the goal of the club was to mobilize others to act on their conscience Mather said, “As individuals we can’t always make a difference, but together we have, and will continue to make a difference for the betterment of human rights worldwide. Together we’re more effective.”
Club president Amanda Padro believes that “everyone enters Amnesty International Club for their own particular reasons; some might not be as zealous as others. However, I believe that the purpose of this club is to provide a way for the voice of the student body to be heard on an international level.” Participating in protests and signing petitions isn’t the only way the club makes a difference. The club also has participated in fundraisers to raise money for different causes endorsed by Amnesty International. Some past fundraising projects include donating money to help buy solar cookers for Darfur refugees, and donating money to Pretty Bird Woman House, (a shelter for Native American women) Students that are interested in joining the club are encouraged to contact advisor Kate Mather, or attend clubs meetings on Wednesday afternoons at 2 pm in Room 23 of the academic building.