An Understanding of Human Rights by Lilli Loveday

As I close from work at an international development consultancy and head to meet my Gunjurian husband - currently on holiday in the UK – for a coffee, it is easy to identify the very profound and direct impacts of my time spent in The Gambia both on my professional and personal life. Opportunities to travel to The Gambia through the Marlborough Brandt Group both as a group member from St John's School, a group leader and to conduct research for my Masters, have led to opportunities which have set me firmly on a path of working in the international development sector.

As a direct result of conducting research on the impact of external organisations in Gunjur on the process of change, explicitly surrounding gender, I came to work in The Gambia with Tostan, a women's health and women's rights organisation. Since my return to the UK, I have continued to be very involved in work promoting women's rights and women's health, conducting research on the practice of female genital cutting in The Gambia.

Had I not gone to Gunjur, I would never have gone on to be doing what I am now. And I would never have met my husband!

I travelled to Gunjur for the first time in 2003 aged 17. I left the UK intrigued and eager to understand difference – different people, a different culture and a different way of living. During my time in Gunjur spent living and working with Gambians – with friends – I was struck, however, not by the differences which undoubtedly do exist between Marlborough and Gunjur and more broadly between the West and the developing world but by the immense similarities.

I remember distinctly feeling overwhelmed by the shared humanity which I experienced, the shared wants, the shared desires, the shared hopes of my Gambian counterparts; the common thread of being human – of needing food and water, of being part of a family, looking after children, enjoying time with friends, of struggling with life's ups and downs, of learning and sharing – the thread that links us all whether from Africa, Asia, Europe or the Americas.

For me, it seemed that differences lay primarily in terms of opportunity and in terms of material wealth, rather than in any fundamental difference between individuals. At the time, I was unable to articulate what shift had occurred in my way of thinking about the world, other than to state that something within me had changed. It is now that I am able to understand that this was my first experience of being human, of identifying with the 'other' and feeling connected, and of understanding what human rights are as well as what it means to enjoy them.

Not only was this an incredibly powerful experience in itself, but also something that now filters into everything I do – again, both professionally and personally. After my first month in Gunjur, I wanted not only to challenge injustice and inequality but also to challenge my own way of being and bring something of the life I'd experienced 'over there' into my day-to-day. Through living in another family's home, sharing moments, reaching decisions jointly, sitting quietly, talking loudly, observing and explaining, my eyes were opened to the Gambian people's incredibly rich humanity.

Appreciating humanness and advocating for human rights has formed a central component of my small contribution to (hopefully) making the world a better place. Whilst my outlook on life cannot be measured or, indeed, causally linked to that first experience in The Gambia, I certainly feel that the biggest impact of the link for me has been on those things at the core of my being - on the things I value and the things I don't as well as on my interactions with people and the world around me.

Those impacts have enriched my life in ways innumerable and will continue to do so going forward.