Originally from Sweden, Amelie Sällfors lived abroad in the US at various points growing up due to her father’s job. She credits him for encouraging her desire to travel and interact with different people and cultures across the globe. Her career in human rights has taken her around the world, and the people she has met and worked with are what make her work worthwhile, she says.
As a law school student, it was her courses on public international law and human rights that inspired her to pursue a career in the field. Migration was a particular area of interest to her during this period as she wrote her law school thesis on the subject and later worked with the Swedish Migration Board in Malmö as well as for the UNHCR in Nairobi, Kenya.
When asked about why she works in human rights, Sällfors recalls memories of her interactions with individuals she has met from around the world throughout her career. She talked about the simple conversations she would have with the people she met from her time in Kenya and in Laos when she started her work with RWI about how they perceive the issues they face and their personal conceptions of human rights.
Sällfors also told the story of a particularly impactful experience when a Muslim woman from Malaysia she met at a regional course RWI held on human rights and women in Southeast Asia. The woman thanked her after the course for teaching her about her rights and for the empowering effects of the RWI course.
“She was really fascinated to hear about her rights since she did not really know she had equal rights to the men in her family,” says Amelie. “She said it was empowering to learn that she can confront her father and tell him these are my rights.”
She says she tries to remind herself of these types of interactions when thinking about why her work matters. Sometimes it is these type of simple exchanges where she feels she can have the most impact.
One has to remind themselves of what one individual is able to contribute. Even if you can contribute to one individual making a change or even helping them realize they have rights, they are given the opportunity to provide another perspective in their family or community and can have an impact on the institutions they work in.
Having worked at RWI for thirteen years, Sällfors says it’s the changing environment and the availability of options to work in different ways at the Institute that keeps her motivated. At the same time it is interesting to follow changes over time. When asked how she is able to remain so enthusiastic about her work over the years, she says:
I guess it is because working with our programmes, there are both the opportunities to see the long-term change in institutions, as well as new ways of approaching cooperation with partners. I like the strategic work – how we accomplish our goals when the path isn’t so clear. It changes all the time so I think there’s a feeling that I can contribute and learn in different ways all the time.
Read more about the work RWI does in Europe and in Belarus specifically here.