Maria Assaf

MA student, Development and Emergency Practice, Oxford Brookes University

I am a writer and a native of Bucaramanga, Colombia, and I am now specialising in development and emergency practice at Oxford Brookes University.

One of the major challenges for those, like me, wishing to raise awareness about issues in distant lands is that of humanising them and making them relevant to local audiences.

However, in a world of increasingly interconnected politics and economies the idea of problems being foreign and only affecting people in far-away countries is becoming less and less relevant.

In 2015, more than a million people including refugees and migrants crossed the European borders, some escaping war and others running away from dire economic conditions.

In their quest for survival, both of these groups have had to leave their families and the life they once knew to venture into unknown territories where in many instances they are met with rejection and persecution.

The annual Oxford Human Rights Festival is designed to convey the idea that humanity shares such problems as we become more interconnected.

With exhibitions, performance and films from all over the world, myself and other Master’s students in development and emergency practice are trying to create an artistic and intellectual platform for the Oxford community to interact and be part of these discussions.

The festival is free and runs from February 10 to 13 at the Oxford Brookes’ Headington Campus.

We want to take viewers on a journey through the perils faced by people fleeing from adversity and environmental decay, and the challenges women worldwide face.

We will also focus on problems in the UK – often when we think about human rights issues we think of far-off countries where people's freedoms and liberties are far less than our own.

But in reality, there are actually many facing hardship and adversity right on our doorstep.

The central piece of the festival will be the exhibition Women in Adversity: Contemporary and traditional crafts as a source of hope and income.

This is a set of artisanal pieces made by, among others, Palestinian, South African, Indian and Sri Lankan women, as well as here in the UK, who have been victims of war, poverty, conflict and other forms of adversity.

Their life stories are told in these colourful items.

The exhibition is on display at The Glass Tank in the Abercrombie Building on the Headington Campus until February 19.

Since it began 14 years ago, our festival has highlighted a diverse range of topics surrounding human rights, including the effects of war and climate change.

This year we hope to captivate the audience with fascinating speakers such as Ziauddin Yousafzai.

Mr Yousafzai is the father of Malala Yousafzai, a teenage girl who was shot in the head in 2012 after campaigning for the education of girls in Pakistan.

Miraculously, she survived and the film He Named Me Malala documents her awe-inspiring journey.

Mr Yousafzai will introduce the film screening shown in conjunction with the university’s Documentary Club.

We will also be showing documentaries, short films, animations and dramatic movies, as well as an exciting performance by Ice & Fire/Actors for Human Rights and a Dabke dancing workshop with Palestinian writer and director Ahmed Masoud who works at the university.

Joining this festival means taking part in a journey to understand the themes that are shaping the world and are of relevance to any country or profession.

Humanity has now more things in common than ever before. Refugees, migration and climate change are just some of the issues that concern all of us equally.

For more information about the festival, including a programme of all the events please visit