Fellow: Kerri Kleven
Fellowship site: Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, Minneapolis, MN, USA, and Mexico

Founded in 1983, Minnesota Advocates is the largest Midwest-based non- governmental organization involved in international human rights work. The organization has approximately 4,000 members, including more than 600 active volunteers. 

The mission of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights is to implement international human rights standards in order to develop civil society and reinforce the rule of law.  The organization accomplishes its goals by involving volunteers in research, education and advocacy and building broad-based constituencies in the United States and in selected global communities.  Furthermore, Minnesota Advocates has received international recognition for its innovative programs to promote human rights and prevent the violation of those rights through investigative fact finding, direct legal representation, responses to inquiries and requests, collaboration for education and training, and a broad distribution of publications.

Minnesota Advocate’s current programs and projects include: 1) The Refugee and Immigrant Program; 2) The Women’s Program; 3) Partners in Human Rights Education Program; and 5) The Children’s Program.  The three focus areas of the Children’s Human Rights Program are: 1) Campaign Against Forced Child Labor; 2) One School at a Time Project; and 3) The Child Survival Project. 

The purpose of the Children’s Human Rights Program is to promote and protect the fundamental rights of children.  The Children’s Program is currently working on projects that address preventable child deaths as a human rights violation and exploitative child labor.  Another goal of the Children’s Program is to encourage the US ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) by promoting and training about the CRC and raising public awareness.  Also, the Program’s US-based advocacy efforts include a “shadow report” on our country’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which focuses on racial disparity in infant mortality rates in the U.S. and the situation in Minnesota and the Midwest.

The Campaign Against Forced Child Labor strives to educate retailers and consumers about the harmful effects of child labor and to promote opportunities for child laborers to attend school.  Through the One School at a Time Project, Minnesota Advocates has formed a partnership with the village of Sankhu, Nepal, to support a school for children who might otherwise find themselves in the factories or brickyards of Kathmandu. 

In the United States, a curriculum for use in middle and high schools has been created based on the US, Mexican and Ugandan case studies from the original report.  Lesson plans in Survival: Every Child’s Right uses multi-disciplinary, interactive, hands-on techniques to raise students’ awareness of the importance of equal access to health care, clean water, and food for child survival in both developing and industrialized countries. 

My fellowship involved work with the Children’s Program on the Global Child Survival Project.  The Child Survival Project involves fact-finding, education, and advocacy to expose and combat excessive rates of preventable child deaths as a human rights violation.  The Child Survival Project conducted extensive research using case study method in three countries of varying levels of development – Uganda, Mexico, and the United States.  The Project is currently developing collaborative follow-up initiatives in the participating countries based on research findings, workshops and trainings that have been completed. 

Throughout my fellowship, I was primarily responsible for the Mexico component of the Child Survival Project.  While in Minneapolis, I conducted extensive research, documentation and dissemination of materials for myself and other members of the Mexico team on issues such as: child survival, child abuse, economic, social and cultural rights of women and children, domestic violence, and the impact of structural adjustment policies on Mexican citizens from 1998 to present. 

Another element of my fellowship entailed traveling to Mexico on a follow up initiative in order to re-establish relationships between Minnesota Advocates and other organizations working on behalf of women and children’s human rights in Mexico.  While there, the main objective was to meet with approximately 27 groups, about 21 in Mexico City and 6 in Oaxaca, to exchange ideas and knowledge concerning child survival as a human rights issue. 

Other objectives included learning about current Mexican initiatives regarding children’s rights, particularly the right to survive, to develop (together, with the Mexican groups) ideas for an initiative regarding children’s rights that would also have a women’s right component, to identify an initiative as well as determine which group (or groups) Minnesota Advocates is able to partner with, and to spend time with the partner organization to begin the preliminary implementation steps of the initiative.

After working in Minneapolis for three months, prior to spending two weeks in Mexico with a team of five other individuals, I came home feeling excited and confident that we had achieved our goal of re-establishing ties with other prominent Mexican organizations, in both Mexico City and Oaxaca City, who are working on issues related to women’s and children’s human rights.  In the future, the Children’s Program of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights will continue to work in coordination with other groups in Mexico in order to enhance and improve current initiatives already in place focused on child survival as a human rights priority. 

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