Michelle Yesudas, 28Human rights activist, Legal/campaign co-ordinator for Lawyers of Liberty
I started volunteering at various NGOs during university and I was truly inspired by the work of tireless human rights defenders. I had the privilege of finishing my chambering in an incredibly supportive firm that balanced both commercial and public interest work. As soon as I saw that Lawyers for Liberty were looking for a legal/campaign coordinator, I eagerly applied because it was exactly the type of lawyer I really wanted to be. I have been told that Malaysia is not the place to champion legal reforms, but it is possible to make small changes providing legal assistance and advice to human rights defenders and activists.
In crisis situations, being calm and being able to draw from the experiences of other lawyers who have been in similar situations always helps. This line of work also comes with support from many other activists willing to share their experiences and abilities to make sure you don’t feel that you’re struggling alone. I think that’s out best-kept secret: human rights work opens you up to the most compassionate network of people. It’s almost impossible to imagine achieving a huge, quick-fix solution to social issues, but it seems doable when you have a group of people willing to work hard for their beliefs. I believe the most important thing about doing human rights work is that it is consistent and I’m doing my bit.
“What’s next for you?”
I plan to move into a more research-based, consultative job with an international organization and to focus on the protection of human rights activists, defenders and the vulnerable. My long-term goal is to go back to university, but I also hope to keep on volunteering and helping out; we must start learning to trust ourselves more, plan further and believe that it’s possible to be strong-willed without compromising our kindness and compassion.