Human rights fellows tackle critical human rights issues this summer

The Program on Human Rights at Stanford's Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL), together with the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society, are pleased to introduce the 2013 Summer Human Rights Fellows. These four remarkable Stanford undergraduates were selected from a competitive pool of applicants to spend the summer serving in organizations advancing human rights work around the world.

The Summer Human Rights Fellowship enables undergraduate students to gain practical experience at international organizations that promote, monitor, evaluate, or advance human rights work. In order to apply, potential fellows must identify their ideal placement and work with the partner to ensure there is a viable project that allows the student to contribute meaningfully to the organization’s work. This year, the fellows will be working on the ground in India, Jordan, and Guatemala with informal workers, at-risk children, trafficking victims, and using technology to advance social justice worldwide. Upon their return to Stanford next year, each of the Human Rights Fellows will participate in campus events to describe their work.

Below are the profiles of our four fellows highlighting their summer projects, interest in human rights and some fun facts. Click here to learn more about the fellowship program.


Name: Firas Abuzaid (’14)

Major: Computer Science

Hometown: Plano, Texas

Tell us about your project. I'll be working with Visualizing Justice in Amman, Jordan. The mission of Visualizing Justice is to empower people worldwide to create visual stories for social justice and human rights. My mission for the summer is to exploit new software innovations in web development to augment Visualizing Justice’s data visualization capabilities, thus making their stories more expressive and accessible worldwide.

What first sparked your interest in human rights? I think there is a disconnect between the technologies we develop and the societies we live in, and that gap is most noticeable in the area of human rights. In particular, our innovations in technology have created an information overload problem. We are now inundated with information about various human rights issues, but struggle for a more nuanced or contextualized understanding of those issues. Also, the quality of the information has not kept up with the growth in quantity. If we can invest the time to build better tools and re-couple the quality of information with its quantity, then we, as a society, can make a lot more progress in the field of human rights.

What are your post-Stanford aspirations? I want to develop new tools that make it easier for individuals to create compelling data visualizations, especially those that lie outside the traditional domains of technology.

Fun fact about yourself: I can solve a Rubik's cube in under a minute.


Name: Lara Mitra (’15)

Major: Human Biology

Hometown: Washington, D.C.

Tell us about your project. I’m traveling to Ahmedabad, India to work with Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a union of 1.4 million informal economy workers, which provide community-driven socioeconomic services, including healthcare, local banking, social security, and housing to marginalized groups. Given my interest in public health, I will focus on SEWA’s initiatives responding to people's inherent right to a healthy life, working with the health team to analyze and document the changing role of front-line health workers who deliver care to expecting mothers. I aim to assess the effectiveness of services provided by three unique classes of health workers, and identify how their knowledge and skills can be harnessed to deliver primary health care to a broad swath of the rural and urban population.

What first sparked your interest in human rights? The day of my 16th birthday found me waiting in line at the DMV in Washington, DC. When I reached the front of the line, I was given one final form to fill out. I mindlessly scribbled my name and date of birth before I stumbled upon a question that I did not know the answer to: “Would you like to be an organ donor?” This was my first exposure to a human rights issue that I hope to pursue well into the future. Upon doing some research, I became hooked on the topic of organ donation. The future human biology major in me enjoyed reading about the dire need for kidneys in the US, but the humanitarian in me found another area of the debate more gripping – the black market for organs. 

What are your post-Stanford aspirations?  Find a job that allows me to combine my interests in medicine and human rights! 

Fun fact about yourself: My parents made me take classes in juggling and unicycling growing up in case the whole college thing didn't work out.


Name: Nicolle Richards (’16)

Major: Human Biology (planned)

Hometown: Vienna, Austria

Tell us about your project. I will be traveling to Guatemala to work with Kids Alive, a nonprofit that works to rescue orphans and at-risk children. In Guatemala, they run a care home for girls who have been abandoned or abused – often in the form of forced labor and/or physical and sexual abuse. I will be working with the girls in the care home, and also evaluating a program that works to continue supporting the girls who have returned home.

What first sparked your interest in human rights? Throughout high school, I volunteered at a care home in Romania for women and girls who had experienced abuse. This first exposure to drastic poverty sparked my interest in social work and development, and led me to explore different aspects of human rights. Later in high school, I taught summer school in the Dominican Republic to at-risk children, where exposure to obvious injustice solidified my passion to fight for human rights. As a Christian, I believe that I have a responsibility to help those less fortunate – and fighting for human rights is an obvious way to do this!

What are your post-Stanford aspirations? I hope to study international human rights law and eventually work combatting human trafficking around the world. 

Fun fact about yourself: I get to spend my vacations in Seoul, South Korea where my family currently lives.


Name: Garima Sharma (’15)

Major: Economics

Hometown: New Delhi, India

Tell us about your project. I am going to be working with Apne Aap: Women Worldwide, an anti-trafficking NGO based in Forbesganj, India. Forbesganj is in close proximity to the Indo-Nepalese border, which has led to its emergence as a source, transit center, and destination for women trafficked for prostitution. I have spent the past two quarters designing an interactive human rights education curriculum focused on sex trafficking, which I will use in Forbesganj to engage with at-risk girls who are the daughters of sex workers in the red light district, as well as 12-14 year-old girls belonging to the Nutt (lower-caste) community. Simultaneously, I will be working with older men, women and community leaders, with the goal of making preliminary headway into a community-wide anti-trafficking strategy.

What first sparked your interest in human rights? I cannot count the number of times that I have been verbally harassed, whistled at or sung to by strange men in the course of my fairly “normal” existence as a middle-class girl in India. My passion for wanting to ensure that women are able to demand and access a life of dignity is a consequence of having grown up in a society that normalizes aggression against us. This prompted me to intern at the National Human Rights Commission of India, where I spent my time reading reports on trafficking, examining anti-trafficking legislation, and talking to activists and victims of human rights violations. I realized we critically need to place greater focus on the prevention of violations and develop a true, nuanced appreciation for the concept of human rights – a change I am hoping to effect through this fellowship.

What are your post-Stanford aspirations? A few years down the line, I hope to work as a policymaker advancing women’s rights in India.

Fun fact about yourself: I am one of two—I have a twin sister named Anima, who attends medical school in India.