Claudia Blandon

I have been working within the Institute of Education (IoE) as a Research Assistant for almost two years now. During this time, I have had the opportunity to look into different aspects of education research within very unique contexts, in projects led by Jan Georgeson, Linda La Velle, Jocey Quinn and Sue Waite.

I have found a vibrant community with wide expertise and interests where my previous research experience on international human rights law and migration studies has been welcomed. Because of my personal history, I am particularly interested in indigenous rights, the sociology of law, inclusion and social justice.

I grew up in Colombia, in a city that, back then, held the unfortunate title of ‘the murder capital’ of the world. We lived in the cross hairs of a society overtaken by violence; where drug cartels, revolutionary groups, paramilitary groups, and the government all fought for control. Despite all the fear and violence, a few exceptional people engendered a strong sense of community that sustained us. Since then, I respect and value the importance of belonging and contributing to a strong community and the power of inclusion.

As a migrant living in the United States, community took a different shape and brought other challenges. In Miami, I studied sociology and anthropology at Florida International University because I wanted to understand how cultural contexts and migration (either forced or voluntary) changed people and their values. More significantly, it was the first time I experienced living in a state with a functioning legal framework that presumably supported human rights, and consequently its communities. As an undergraduate, I was part of a project led by Dr Alex Stepick on volunteerism and civic engagement that inspired me to subsequently join the Peace Corps. Thus, after graduation I spent two illuminating years in Niger that were immensely rich and yet painful and difficult. I learnt so much. From my time in Niger, I am proudest of the fluency I achieved in Hausa (the local language spoken in that part of West Africa), it opened many doors; and once more, it enabled me to feel as part of a community. Living in a small village on the edge of the Sahara, gave me valuable insights into different societal structures and its complex context. Based on that day-to-day experience, I facilitated girls’ literacy campaigns and assisted with emergency food distribution during the 2005 famine. Most importantly, I assisted my community with projects they wanted to develop; it was a real window into cooperation at subsistence levels.

Subsequently, following on my interest in indigenous rights, I visited Chiapas in Mexico to volunteer as a human rights observer in a Zapatista community. Zapatista communities are exemplary in their democratic practices amidst their organised struggle; they have become a permanent source of inspiration in my life.

Niger and Chiapas reignited my desire to find out more about human rights and responsibilities. Thus, I enrolled at the American University in Cairo with the hope of understanding the legal framework that sustains human rights with the discrepancies of their implementation at ground level. Hence my master’s dissertation focused on the cause of the Saharawi people living in refugee camps in southern Algeria. I visited the camps and interviewed their residents to explore their understanding of the right to self-determination, of which theirs is landmark case in international law. I found that most people are disillusioned with the obfuscation of the implementation of their recognised legal rights; leaving them feeling powerless and isolated in their chosen path of peaceful challenge.

Here at the University, I have felt welcomed, encouraged and supported for which I am immensely grateful. My work as a research assistant has given me the opportunity to get to know the community much faster and a deeper level than that I could have expected in such a short time. My heartfelt thanks to Hephzi Herman for the photograph that accompany this profile; a very talented young photographer who is part of one of the projects conducted in the in IoE.