Quotes/Short Response Section

A number of past and present Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellows were asked to respond to the following human rights- related questions. Their responses, listed below, were varied and unique.

What advice do you have for someone interested in pursuing a career in human rights?


“I have no regrets about my own career. I’ve been at this work for thirty years and it’s been a wonderful experience. I’ve had the opportunity to meet tremendous people all around the world and to work domestically with the most passionate defenders of democracy, who I think are immigrants. I have not been rich, but it has been rewarding and worthwhile work. This is hard work. We have a lot of issues pulling on our attention. Unless you’re personally touched by the international scene, it’s very hard. The people who are involved in international human rights have to keep educating their fellow citizens and advocating for international news sources and travel outside the tourist areas."

- Pam Costain
Wellston Action
1993 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Center for Democratic Participation and Development (CENZOTLE)
Esteli, Nicaragua



“Believe in what you do, and do it because you believe in it. Don’t be scared of anything. That’s all.”

- Dr. Andrew Conteh
Professor, Moorhead State University
2001 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow/Musser Fellow
City of Moorhead
Moorhead, Minnesota



“Just get a job and stay educated. Read a decent newspaper and be open to the truth. People don’t really want to believe that the abuses that go on really go on.”

- Daniel Gerdts
Attorney, Brink & Gerdts, P.A.
1990 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow



“You have to believe in what you’re doing. Human rights work can’t be a one-time thing. It takes inner dedication to the work to make a significant difference.”

-Dechen Lhewa
Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology, Boston University
2001 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Bellvue/NYU Center for the Survivors of Torture
New York, New York



“You have to have a base. You must have a common dialogue, common language. We have to come up with a universal language for human rights and you have to speak from what you know.”

-Gabriel Solomon
Student, University of Wisconsin, Madison
2003 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights


“I think volunteering is the key. It’s necessary, important human rights work, and it has so many benefits for you. It shows you the problems in the world and introduces you to people who are as inspired as you are. It shows you that there are really talented people out there working towards this and gives you the inspiration to keep doing what you’re doing.”

-Robyn Linde
Doctoral candidate in Political Science, University of Minnesota
2004 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights


“Don’t get so focused on your particular issue that you don’t learn the big picture. After getting out of school and traveling and working for a non-profit, I felt I needed to know more in order to be useful in the policy arena. Even though I know about women’s health, I need to understand our system and how it works. Getting a broad experience is crucial.”

-Maren Fustgaard
1996 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
Commonwealth Medical Association, London, England

“My best advice is to follow your heart. If you are interested in human rights go to the places where the action is and see if that is what you want to do with yourself. I have worked with NGOs and the government and from those experiences advise you to be open-minded to what opportunities are out there and be patient.”

-Tony Fernandes
United States Diplomat, U.S. Embassy in Moscow
1992 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
South African Council of Churches
Johannesburg, South Africa


"Get involved now! Volunteer experience is invaluable. In the human rights field, volunteer experience is often more important than work experience. Learn another language. Research the human rights issues in which you are interested and find an organization that will help you gain experience working on those issues. Network with other human rights practitioners and maintain those contacts."

-Kathryn Weber

2002 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, Switzerland


“Human Rights advocacy is about patience, knowledge, skills, strategies and consistency in life.”

-Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan

1999-2000 Hubert Humphrey Fellow
Head of the Department of Public Law
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria
Kaduna, Nigeria


“It’s a different situation in Australia than in the U.S.A. There are not as many ‘legal’ outlets, as we lack a bill of rights and a vigorous rights culture. I would recommend that people work with corporations as human rights consultants to try to effect change withing these very important agents for good.”

-Sarah Joseph

2002 Visiting Academic
Castan Centre for Human Rights Law
Monash University


“I must say that I am increasingly concerned about the ‘professionalization’ of social justice work. More and more young people are entering the NGO sector or the nonprofit sector, it seems, because of a certain perceived glamour. They are there to do a job. That job involves conferences and international travel. There is no spirit of volunteerism or activism. When did social justice become a job… a career? It scares me. This is not to say that people should not be paid for good work. They should, lest social justice become the exclusive domain of the elite- a scary and rather counterproductive thought. But what are we saying about the status quo, what are we accepting in that status quo, when we talk of social justice as a career?”

-Lisa Kois

1995 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women
Colombo, Sri Lanka & Beijing, China


“It’s important to have an idea of what you want to do when you enter law school. The people I knew in law school that are the happiest now are the ones who knew why they were going to school, knew where they wanted to work. You also need to take advantage of your coursework and fellowship opportunities, anywhere that you can be exposed to human rights law. You need to make opportunities appear for yourself. There are more and more funding opportunities for this kind of work, and no matter what specific field of law you enter, you can always do pro bono work.”

-Jennifer Prestholdt

1995 Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow
UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
Geneva, Switzerland

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