She Has a Dream
What motivates the director of Youth for Human Rights International? Her own youth is the telling tale.
Born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Mary Shuttleworth spent many of her school years in the small farming community of Zastron. It was primarily an Afrikaans community, so Shuttleworth’s English heritage often stood out. In apartheid South Africa, she attended an all-white school, but on the farms she often played with children of black farmers.
She remembers enjoying the native South Africans’ mealtime staple, a sour-porridge made from maize and the “marogo,” a green leafy vegetable almost like spinach, which grew wild. She also remembers how she was struck by the long distances black children would walk to school — and that they often made their daily trek barefooted.
The discrimination against children of color, she says, was all too glaring. Yet, through it all, she was also instilled with a distinctly African attitude toward children: that each child is an integral part of society; every child is important.
In her teens, Shuttleworth left South Africa to study Scientology in Denmark. Her Scientology training, combined with two years of extensive travel throughout Europe, gave her a world view not only of her own potential but that of any youth, no matter where.
But Mary’s family ties were strong as ever, and she eventually returned to Johannesburg, where she had spent most of her growing years.
Always she found small ways to reach out to her black friends — again, standing out in her all-white surrounds. She taught a family employee, Martha Seshabela and her youngest child to write. Johanna Makgamatha, another employee and friend of the family, met with Shuttleworth’s friendly hand, learning from her not only how to write but how to open and keep a savings account.
“I have found that children can be terrific advocates for tolerance and for peace. The future does rest in their hands.”
— Mary Shuttleworth
With this teaching experience came firm and forever relationships. Makgamatha named her granddaughter after her friend Mary, and although it was considered very unsafe for white people to travel into Soweto, Shuttleworth was a regular visitor to Makgamatha’s family over the years. She says she was always well received and not once did she encounter any problems on the road. And, while Makgamatha has since passed on, Shuttleworth remains in regular contact with her “Soweto family.”
Shuttleworth moved to the United States in 1986, her native South Africa remaining ever in her thoughts. And, while the news of the day served as a constant reminder of deep discord, she continued to have an abiding concern for the people she considered family there.
She returned to South Africa in 1994 to visit that family — as well as various tribal communities, including the Bushmen, Xhosa, Zulus, Ndebele and the Soweto township outside Johannesburg. She also took the time to travel north to visit Egypt, once again witnessing the third-world conditions she felt an overwhelming need to change.
Returning to the United States, Mary realized she had the answer. A long-time Scientologist, she had mastered the study technology developed in 1964 by Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. So in 1999, she opened a private school and this new venture led her to international conferences for educators — and a growing circle of people interested in the well-being of children, no matter their birthplace or subsequent destinations. In short, she once again expanded her “family.”
At one such conference in Madrid, Spain, in 2001, she began to formulate her ideas for a human rights organization that would not only educate youth, but would also encourage them to help others. She shared her ideas with other delegates — Bertha M. Seutloali, Ministry of Education, in South Africa; Ambassador May Aboul Dahab, Assistant Foreign Minister of Egypt; and Ambassador Hussein Derar, Director of Human Rights Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Egypt.
The more she discussed it, the more clearly she could envision what needed to be done — and what she had to do about it. She had discovered the deplorable lack of effort to instill in the next generation the essentials of United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, she saw that it was an international situation, and she realized that, as a teacher and as a humanitarian, she could bring new hope to a troubled world.
In 1999, she became a member of the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance. Two years later, beginning with her own student body in Los Angeles, she launched Youth for Human Rights International YHRI as a project of the Foundation.
In its short two-year history, YHRI has introduced hundreds of thousands of children to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a dozen different languages throughout Europe. The illustrated booklet, “What Are Human Rights?” is published with help from the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, and will eventually be published in every tongue. Currently it is being translated into Afrikaans by Shuttleworth’s father, Denis Shuttleworth. And, always with a family attention unit anchored in South Africa, the elder Shuttleworth is also arranging for a translation of the booklet into Zulu.
Spring 2003 finds Shuttleworth launching Youth for Human Rights International in her native South Africa, Nigeria, and West Africa. From there she will take Youth for Human Rights to Iran and then to Saudi Arabia, she says.
“We must let children know they have inalienable rights. It is the absolute first step toward recognizing those rights for others. I have found that children can be terrific advocates for tolerance and for peace,” says Shuttleworth. “The future does rest in their hands.”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The provisions of the Declaration are contained in two new booklets which are being released in 15 languages: “A Guidebook to Peace Through Human Rights” and “What Are Human Rights?”
The “Guidebook” is designed to help citizens become more familiar with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the democratic fundamentals they can apply to their lives. It contains a brief history of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a simple explanation of the Declaration’s articles, and the full text of the document itself.
“What Are Human Rights?” educates children on the basic provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the importance of protecting them, and it contains a simplified explanation of the Declaration for children.
For copies or more information, contact the Foundation for Human Rights PO Box 27306 Los Angeles, CA 90027 or e-mail: YouthHumanRights@aol.com