High Life / A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Shedding Light on Rights Abuses : Cause: More than 60 dedicated students and adults attend Amnesty International’s candlelight vigil at Irvine High School.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Claudine Ko is a senior at University High School, where she is editor of Sword & Shield

Despite the Southern Section playoff football game just a few steps away and impending Scholastic Aptitude Tests the next morning, Amnesty International’s candlelight vigil at Irvine High School on Dec. 6 drew a good turnout of dedicated teen-agers.

“I think that the whole vigil is important. It’s a way students can get involved, and it affects the whole world,” said Nandini Velayudhan, a senior at Irvine and one of more than 60 students and adults who took part in the 1 1/2-hour march to Woodbridge Lake.

“Every year there has been a vigil for some important cause to enlighten people in the community,” Velayudhan said. “Students as a whole are very active. We take part in the community, and getting involved with Amnesty International is a good way to start getting involved in world affairs.”


This year’s vigil, tied into Tuesday’scelebration of Human Rights Day, was to make people aware of torture taking place in Mexico.

“Over 80% of the people arrested in Mexico are tortured, which is an extremely high percentage,” said Aditi Roy, vice president of the Amnesty International chapter at University High in Irvine. “The prisoners are arrested for crimes just like ones that happen here, and the stories of the torture are very disturbing and graphic.”

Nalini, sister of Nandini Velayudhan, said, “One year the theme (of the vigils) was the massacre in China, another was Romanian children, but it doesn’t matter what the theme is, it’s just human rights in general.”

Founded 30 years ago, Amnesty International has been working for the release of prisoners of conscience and the elimination of torture, executions and other human rights violations. Amnesty members try to help combat these abuses by signing petitions, promoting human rights education, arranging events such as the vigils and writing letters of protest.

“One of the things that maintains our interest and motivation is the effectiveness of the organization itself,” said Roy, a senior. “Amnesty International is one of the most resourceful and powerful organizations of its kind. It’s got everything down to a science.

“You would think, though, that considering how efficient the organization is, the letter-writing process would be mechanical and impersonal, but that’s not the case at all. In fact, one of the most compelling reasons to join is to learn about the prisoners of conscience and their stories.”


Said Rachel Tivens, president of University’s chapter: “The reason I’ve remained involved in Amnesty is that while there are a lot of things people can do--like giving money to ‘remember those less fortunate’--we do it on the faith that we’re actually helping someone, not by just writing a check, but by writing letters to ameliorate the situation.”

Cindy Miltimore, co-president of Irvine’s chapter, said during Friday’s vigil that “a few people played guitar and sang songs. It went by really fast.”

At Woodbridge Lake, they listened to speakers, including a man who had been a tortured prisoner in Mexico, talk about the problem south of the border.

“I started writing letters to government officials to stop inhumane torture,” said Sandy Rotter, a senior at Irvine. “Not only are prisoners released, but the world becomes informed through vigils like this.”

High school chapters are Amnesty International’s fastest growing segment in the world. Irvine plans to hold another vigil in the spring to protest human rights conditions in China and Tibet, and, like most other high school chapters, University holds weekly meetings during which members write letters, watch videos or listen to guest speakers.

“The club was kind of falling apart last year. We didn’t do much,” said senior Anh Ly, president of Tustin High’s chapter. “This year, we’re fund-raising to pay for stamps--it costs 50 cents to send (letters) out of the country. We’re trying to have jams where we get talented people from school to play guitars, etc., and (students) pay 50 cents or bring a stamp to watch.”


Sandra Gardner, Western regional coordinator for Amnesty International, said, “None of us can do enough for people who have nowhere to turn; we’ve got to do what we can. Human rights are the mother of all rights, and that’s what Amnesty International works for--the preservation of human rights.”

To become involved with Amnesty International, contact the Western regional office in Los Angeles at (213) 388-1237.

Claudine Ko is a senior at University High School, where she is editor of Sword & Shield, the student news magazine, and a member of the school’s Amnesty International chapter.