A Quest to Understand Human Dignity


I had just cleared school and was overly keyed up about the next phase of life. For this next phase I only had two things in mind-to be a successful Perry mason (criminal Defense lawyer) and to make lots of money. It didn’t take long before I secured a job with one of the best criminal attorney in the country. I had no experience but I had enough enthusiasm to make up for a couple of years experience in this particular field. I had this pompous feeling about my progress. This is all I ever wanted to do – dressed in an executive dark blue suit and folders on my hands I could think of a better start.

It was a Friday morning and I was busy doing what I was proving to be very good at – preparing and drafting defenses when my boss called me into his office. He had this high profile client who was being accused of rape and he wanted me to assist with the defense. At first I felt humbled for it could probably mean I was making progress with the whole defense business. But listening to the client confess to having committed a felony on one hand and on the other hand having my boss instruct me to come up with a defense since the client would enter a not guilty plea. I knew this is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Defend wrongdoers. I just couldn’t do it.
For days after I quit my job I was I felt so disillusioned, I lacked a sense of purpose felt like I had been dreaming a lie. I decided to settle for something else- since I had basic training in accounts. Accountancy it was then, but my efforts of securing a job in this particular field were futile. One afternoon I decided to visit my preschool teacher. We talked for a while just as I was about to leave she told me she come across something that might be of interest to me. She gave me a blue card. At the back of the card were 3 letters that would leave a permanent impression in my life, World Youth Alliance.
I visited the website marked in the card and read through. One phrase kept recurring – Human Dignity. For months after my initial visit to their regional offices in Nairobi my life took on a new turn. From the books I read, movies I watched how I treated people to the dreams I dreamt .It was a quest to explore and comprehend the whole idea of the dignity of the person which all of a sudden sound so appealing.

Do I still want to be rich and successful you bet! Only that this time its different I just don’t want to make a living. I want to make a life and add life to the years. If there is anything that I have learnt during my stay at the World Youth Alliance is that education is more than just a transmission of knowledge and fact. It must encompass character, a transmission of values, culture and life itself. Track A was a real eye opener. It gave me a chance to read widely and wisely. And the subsequent discussions involved a critical analysis of issues surrounding us. In a short shell casing Track A was all about intellectual profundity.

Since becoming a member of the World Youth Alliance I kept wondering why the whole idea of the dignity of the human never ceased to amaze me. I think I can attribute that to my growing up. I was born and bred in one of the Africa’s largest slum. Looking back life in the ghettos is more often than not characterized by hopelessness and desperation. But I will point out the very basics .Mine was a typical ghetto life, which in most cases is a life devoid of any securities, privileges and freedom whatsoever. Life’s very basics (food, shelter, washrooms, privacy) become a luxury. Like every kid from the slums have dreams but very little is done to encourage them and nurture their dreams. It is a life of struggle. Right from a very tender age one gets to understand it is a harsh world in here.
I was barely 8 years when I watched a neighbor murder another in cold blood. I had nightmares for days but I may as well had been hardened for there was more to come. I lost count of people I had to watch die in the hands of an angry mob. Loosing count was not the worst that could have happened to me. I become indifferent. I no longer felt troubled that my primary school desk mate was being stoned to death right at my doorstops. Times I watched the scenes unfold, watch them make rattle sounds as they died and simply moved on as it was normal. Not even once did I think they deserved to die. At one time I begged for the life of one but they still did it leaving me with a dying boy in my arms. Efforts to bring him to life were futile. During my time in WYA I have been was able to comprehend in a better way, what the lived experience of the dignity of the human person is and how all of us have an important role to play in building the society in which we live.

Understanding the intrinsic dignity of the human person has softened a part of me that I thought had died. I steadfastly believe that no one has a right to take the life of another notwithstanding the crime committed.

In wrapping up, my internship has been a wholesome experience it has given me a time to reflect, to understand myself better and to grapple the whole idea of the dignity of the person and the idea of human rights.

Pauline Wanja
Intern with World Youth Alliance (August to December 2008)
Alumni of Moi University – School of Law

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