Amnesty International: A powerful force
Nash leads movement of students on campus fighting for human rights
Andrew Nash, a junior speech and hearing sciences major, traveled to the Ecuadorian Andes the summer before his senior year of high school. He taught indigenous children - preschool through second grade and high school students - English, music, art, physical education and math.
These children were born and raised in the Andes Mountains; they lived in small cinder-block homes with their potato and cabbage fields growing on the steep faces of the mountains, according to Nash. He said some of the students were coming to school just so they could eat a few times each week. They often came from families of 17 children; not all of them could be fed.
The children never looked like they were struggling, though. They loved coming to school. They smiled while playing soccer and eating lunch together, he said.
Two of the high school girls told him that they wanted to go to college - one wanted to be a veterinarian and the other a computer scientist. He knew they would never have this opportunity because of their circumstances. This affected him the most, he said.
While the children gained worldly knowledge from Nash, he gained something different from them: inspiration. He was beginning to learn about himself. This was his first step toward becoming the person that he is today: president of Amnesty International, a temporary club at UB.
Amnesty International is the world's largest human rights organization. UB's club is just a chapter of the umbrella organization; the club hopes to bring awareness to UB and the Buffalo community about the hardships people face worldwide, including in the United States. Nash, along with his executive board and the rest of the club, hopes to promote action amongst people in the community.
Many things have motivated Nash to pursue his ambitions.
Upon completing his summer work in South America, Nash went back to his home in Pawling, N.Y., - located by the border of New York and Connecticut - and began an Amnesty International chapter in his high school. Being in South America made a lot of the struggles others face more real and visible; he was determined to continue his philanthropic work when he got back home.
That Christmas, his group sold lollipops and raised enough money to supply each child in the summer school program with a guinea pig - a traditional dish in the South American Andes.
Nash knew he had to continue his efforts when he graduated from high school. He got to UB and realized how much opportunity and potential he had on campus, he said. He joined Amnesty International, and though the club was smaller and he did not know much about it, its presence grew over time.
Each week, the group discusses current events and topics such as gay rights, Edward Snowden, the Syrian conflict, women's access to education and more.
Some of these topics affect Nash personally.
"As I came to college, I grew to learn more about myself," Nash said. "During college, I had come out as gay - something that I had struggled with for quite some time at home. It was the LGBTQ community and the support of my friends here at UB that made things work out well. I owe a lot to UB and Buffalo actually. My experience up here in WNY has opened my eyes to so many things."
Nash comes from a conservative family, who are "quite opinionated on thinking being gay was unnatural," he said. This was a major factor in his struggle.
Nash felt confident enough after his freshman year of college to come out. The first person he told was his best friend's mom. She was open and supportive, but he still had not told his parents. Once he met his boyfriend, Jason, he wanted to come out to his family.
"I called [on] a Saturday afternoon after volunteering downtown," Nash said. "I started it off with, 'So, mom and dad, I met someone here at school...' And my dad immediately interrupted with, 'Did you get someone pregnant?' So I was like, 'Well, you definitely don't need to worry about that!'"
It was a relief and surprise that his parents were accepting and supportive. He was able to express his sexual orientation to his parents with some comic relief.
Because Buffalo has helped Nash truly find himself and has taught him so much, he does as much as he can to do the same for others in the area, he said.
After reading the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and seeing the related PBS documentary about the oppression of women and girls in developing countries, Nash felt a strong desire to support women worldwide. He became interested in UB Girl Effect, a club on campus with the mission to "raise money and awareness to underprivileged girls in less developed countries and to advocate for these young girls into becoming well-rounded women in their own countries and ultimately the future of our society," according to its Facebook page.
Nash believes education about the struggles women face daily is crucial; he hopes to spread this education by attending Girl Effect's meetings and events and discussing women's rights at Amnesty International's club meetings.
In March, Amnesty International participated in an activity that particularly stuck out to Nash. He said it's his favorite event to date.
The club teamed up with a Christian-based organization, Journey's End, whose mission is to "welcome refugees without regard to ethnic origin or creed and to assist them to become healthy, independent, contributing members of the community," according to its website.
A refugee family from Somalia had just arrived in Buffalo. Journey's End gave Amnesty International a list of things needed in order to supply a house. From living room furniture to Clorox wipes, the list stated it all.
Over the course of a few weeks, members of the club collected materials through donations. They were not told exactly when they would be putting these materials to use. Andy Cammarata, community liason at Journey's End Refugee Services, called the members of the club and told them they had one week left to collect all of the goods. She gave them a description of the family.
On a Saturday morning in March, the seven-person family from Somalia went grocery shopping and Amnesty International got to work in their crummy house.
"They had already seen the house, but only knew it as barren," Nash said. "We fully furnished it and got everything ready for them."
Upon their arrival to the house, the members of the club got to meet the people whose lives they had just touched.
"Oh boy," Cammarata said. "All of our families are surprised, overwhelmed [and] grateful when a home is prepared for them; it is a humbling experience for them and for the volunteers."
It was like Extreme Makeover Home Edition, Nash said.
The club also engages in more subtle activities, such as sending letters to inundate world leaders about freeing prisoners of conscience.
Most recently, the group championed the release of the members of Pussy Riot in Russia.
"We don't receive responses from the world leaders - they respond with action after thousands of letters and emails inundate them," Nash said. "We don't expect Putin to be posting us back anytime soon because of our Pussy Riot letters. But I don't think we've gone unnoticed. We're a small club, but we have a great message."
Autumn Baldwin, a senior business major and vice president of Amnesty International, said the club hopes to continue with its efforts to focus on human rights awareness.
Baldwin said her favorite event thus far was JAMnesty - a concert dedicated to promoting human rights. The club partnered with the LGBTQ to bring the band Lucius to perform. All proceeds were donated to a local LGBTQ service. She hopes to have another concert like this one in the spring.
"Being a member has made me more knowledgeable about things happening internationally," Baldwin said. "Not only that, but I feel spurred to action to take a stand for people who are denied any basic human rights, justice or freedom. No matter where I end up working, I'll always be passionate about equality and freedom of expression and involved with Amnesty and other human rights organizations."
Nash believes UB is a great place for relaying messages. He said growing up in the United States often makes people unaware of the vast suffering going on in the world. He said that it takes moments when you engage in building a better life for someone else and realize that you can make a difference, to rid of that immunity.
"Amnesty's mission includes all of us, and I believe that it is fundamentally important to aid those who aren't as fortunate in their circumstances," Nash said. "We have an exciting year ahead of us full of incredible opportunities, and I love all of it."
What Nash loves most about Amnesty International is that every little contribution combines into one powerful force, he said. He encourages students to become part of that force.