“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This is the beginning of Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but what exactly does dignity mean? And why do we talk about this quality at EARTH?
On October 27, the EARTH community came together to celebrate Global Dignity Day, a safe space where, through the stories of special guests, questions like these were answered – from dignity and empathy to love and courage.
Here’s a snapshot of the speeches from our guests this year.
Mauricio Artiñano and self-empathy
From a very young age, Mauricio Artiñano has worked to defend the human rights of people in different parts of the world. He worked in UN Peacekeeping Missions in countries such as South Sudan, Somalia, and Colombia. In Costa Rica, his home country, he helped create the “A que sembrás un arbol” (Plant a Tree) initiative and was co-founder of Chepecletas, a social enterprise that promotes the urban recovery of the capital city of San José.
“It is important for us to think about how we can be the kind of people who move from indignation to action, so that a person, family, or community can reach their potential to change and contribute to the world,” he told all who were listening.
Although Mauricio has dedicated his life to defending the dignity of others, he recently paused to look inward, to find himself, and realize that the compassion, affection, and forgiveness we show to others must be applied in how we treat ourselves.
Being HIV positive and part of the LGBTQ+ community, he has had to break down social stigmas to accept and love himself, be able to defend and embrace his own dignity, and raise awareness about the virus and the discrimination suffered around it.
“Often when we talk about dignity, we talk about other people, but I would like us to talk about our own dignity … In recent months, I realized that to change the world, it is necessary first to change oneself,” he said.
Luciana Alvarado and the value of small actions
At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, we witnessed several social manifestations through sports. Many athletes protested through actions or gestures that sometimes seem small but that carry with them a whole political and social discourse that seeks to break with stigmas, raise the voice of populations that have been mistreated, and recognize the rights of all people.
We saw gymnast Simone Biles prioritize her mental health. We learned about 29 athletes – full of stories – on the Olympic Refugee Team who highlighted the complicated contexts in their home countries. We watched shot putter Raven Saunders receive her medal and raise her arms in an “X” shape for the LGBTQ+ community, black minorities, and people with mental illness. And we witnessed Costa Rican gymnast Luciana Alvarado put one knee on the floor, with her head back, and raise her right fist in one of her routines. It was a sign of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which emerged after the murder of several black people through police brutality in the United States.
Luciana, the first athlete to represent Costa Rica in Olympic gymnastics, comes from an Afro-Caribbean family. So, for her, this gesture was highly personal, even if the decision to execute it was risky because the Olympic Committee sanctions such actions.
“I did it because I feel it is important to recognize and support all the people around us who are not being treated as they deserve. Many are not recognized with dignity, as worthy human beings, such as the Afro-descendant community around the world, which has a history of a lot of violence,” Luciana told the EARTH community during the event. “Through platforms like social media, we have seen these injustices firsthand. I incorporated this movement into my routine because my goal was to give a message of love, respect, justice, and freedom. Also, to honor my roots.”
Aziz Safi and the long road to a dignified life
Afghanistan has been at war for more than 40 years. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 3.5 million Afghans have had to flee their homes to seek refuge and save their lives. This year, the Taliban, a fundamentalist regime considered by many to be terrorists, seized power in the country, threatening the fundamental rights of all people and resulting in an even greater migratory flow.
Aziz Safi is one of the young people who had to make a long and dangerous journey to reach Spain, where he has been welcomed and started a new life. When the Taliban threatened him with death for not fulfilling a mandate, Aziz had to flee his country. He walked for three years, crossed dozens of borders, and was often denied his most basic rights.
It wasn’t easy. Aziz remembers walking for days in the middle of winter through the mountains of Bosnia, locked up in a Bulgarian jail, hungry in an abandoned station in Serbia. He also remembers the faces of other children, women, and men who, like him, fled their countries to have a dignified life in a peaceful environment.
“Since I was a child, I don’t remember ever having had peace in my country. I didn’t feel safe. I felt that people could not go out on the streets or study or work. The Taliban go anywhere they want and kill people. I fled my country, and I have not seen my family since,” Aziz said.
Aziz says he wishes that his loved ones and the people of his country could have what he has today: peace, the certainty of shelter and sustenance, the freedom to go out in the streets without fear, ready to be whatever he wants to be.
A quality we are born with
Roly Choque (2021, Bolivia) shared a message about an intrinsic value we all have from birth. We are worthy simply by being alive in the world regardless of our origin, skin color, preferences, or gender. With all our differences, we are equally deserving of respect, love, and dignity in life.
“It is up to us to open our minds and hearts to understand what our colleagues, friends, and mothers have been through… We must all have empathy. One person’s universe extends as far as their knowledge allows. If we don’t open our minds to know another person’s world, our life is stagnant. But if we do, the more we will be able to grow,” Roly shared.
In addition to these guests with their incredible stories, singer-songwriter Alejandro Elizondo sang songs with his guitar. His lyrics highlighted the value of dignity for all. Psychologist Fabiola Alfaro spoke about the importance of mental health to protect our individual and collective well-being.
We thank our special guests for sharing their stories and messages and our EARTH community for honoring the values that identify us and seek, above all, that dignity be a value respected for all people anywhere in the world.