The “Humans of HRTS” met with Matt West, a freshman in the human rights program. An East Coast native, Matt is inspired to work on human rights issues in the developing world – and particularly in Haiti.
1. What is an interesting fact about you?
I have been studying human rights since I was in sixth grade. I went to a really progressive middle school in Massachusetts on Cape Cod. It was a huge school system, all about diversity and social justice. I took a lot of courses around that. It really inspired me to do human rights work.
2. What is your approach to protecting human rights?
The high school in our district had a really great human rights program that took students to Haiti through an organization. The teacher, Lisa Brown, specialized in social justice. I became good friends with Lisa and she became a huge mentor for me throughout the years. Ever since then, I started joining all types of human rights and action groups.
My senior year of high school, I was able to go with Lisa and five other students to Haiti. We had one project in particular that we were working on. It was this company called Because International. They are a company that has shoes that grow; they expand out sizes. Their claim to fame is that they expand out five sizes. So what we could do is get a bunch of these shoes and bring them to Haiti, and then people would have shoes for a very long time.
There are a few big projects that our high school helps support. One is an orphanage, which started from an art center. Another project that we are helping is the Matenwa Community Learning Center, which is a school in the little village called Matenwa. They formed a coalition of parents, teachers, and students as a way to get all of the kids in the surrounding areas to go to school.
[The trip I took] is an educational cultural immersion trip. You don’t come in as the Americans or the white people wanting to save everybody. You come in with the idea that I am going to work with these people and these people are going to become like my family. After my first trip to Haiti, I went again in June and I am planning on going again in April. If you do what people want or need, they are going to want to improve their situation. The biggest thing that I have learned from this trip is the piece that you have to be willing to work with people.
Thanks to Matt and Webster University Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies for this inspiring conversation!