The Coast News Group

Group, high school club earn honors

REGION – Amnesty International North County Chapter 471 was recently recognized with the organization’s National Human Rights Award.

The award was given to the North County chapter and its partner, the Rancho Buena Vista High School club, for the groups’ efforts in the Amnesty International 2015 global letter writing campaign.

“For oldsters plugging away, it’s nice to be recognized,” Kathy Ford, chapter 471 coordinator, said.

The award was given for producing 740 handwritten letters, in one night, in defense of nonviolent prisoners of conscience who are tortured or unlawfully prosecuted. Ford said about two-thirds of the letters were written by high school students.

“It’s a simple thing to do to make the world better,” Ford said. “We know it works.”

The two groups have rallied area residents in annual peace marches and letter writing campaigns for prisoners of conscience for more than 20 years.

For the past two years the groups have met on National Human Rights Day at Rancho Buena Vista High School for an evening of letter writing and inspiration. Volunteers roll up their sleeves to write letters. Snacks are served, there is multicultural entertainment and keynote speakers share how Amnesty International letters helped set them free.

In prior years Chapter 471 and the Rancho Buena Vista High School club gathered in December at the Oceanside pier amphitheater to hear keynote speakers and hold a candlelight peace march. Ford said the chapter changed its annual event when the crowd grew beyond 1,000.

The highlight of yearly gatherings is hearing firsthand accounts of imprisoned bloggers, human rights defenders and individuals, who are now free. Last year Vietnam blogger Dieu Cay spoke and credited Amnesty International letters for helping in his release.

Ford said the experience is invaluable for students. She said it teaches them about global human rights abuses, inspires them to get involved and shows them they can make a difference.

“On a lot of levels it lets them know how valuable our freedoms are here,” Ford said. “In a lot of countries you can’t criticize the government.”

Amnesty International chapters worldwide take part in the annual letter writing campaign.

Unfortunately, not all efforts result in releases. Some individuals remain prisoners or are executed.

Amnesty International has used letter writing campaigns to make changes for decades. The organization started as a grassroots effort in 1961, caught on and became the leader of the largest letter writing campaign in the world, producing 3.7 million appeals last year.

For more information on the Amnesty International North County chapter go to