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Young Humanist Faces

Read the stories of the young humanist activists who are trying to make a difference in their countries all around the world.

When we think of modern-day humanist leaders and activists, we always think of people who made a difference when they were well into adulthood. But young people can—and often do—make a significant impact on their communities.

Through the Young Humanist Faces project, Young Humanists International is putting the spotlight on young humanists around the world who are working tirelessly on the frontlines to shape the future and their contributions to the global humanist movement.

From organizing a community project, advancing human rights, to bringing their advocacy to the United Nations, their work is the flame that keeps the humanist movement ignited, and here is their story.

 


Meet the Young Humanists


 

Marieke Prien (Germany)

I grew up with humanist values but never knew the term ‘humanism’ until I got to know my local humanist organization. I took part in their coming of age celebration when I was 14 and stayed in the organization as a volunteer. Since then, I have been involved with national and international humanist organizations in different positions, the most recent one being the presidency of Young Humanists International from 2016 to 2020. I have always loved being active in this community for different reasons. It allowed me to grow and educate myself, and gather a lot of great experiences, while at the same time doing something that I consider useful for society. Plus, I was able to give others that same opportunity.

This is why organized humanism is so great: Not only does it provide support and education through its programs, it also provides a framework for people to do something impactful. It helps people create purpose in their life, which is very valuable. And that’s pretty humanist as well, isn’t it?


Marieke is a member of the German Humanist Association

Andrea Ruggeri (Italy)

I was born in a family that was part of an evangelic sept in Palermo, and I grew up in what many would call “white trash”. I was also a rainbow child with an out-of-the-ordinary creative mind and, at the same time, a sense of reality immensely more adult than my age.

In my journey, I slowly realized that defending myself wasn’t the only way to interact with people, but there are ways to feel good around them. And in doing so, I began to build my personal humanist ethics.

I think I even went to law school to understand my ethics better. Still, I believe that the strongest realization is that your own beliefs are the best for yourself and yourself only: not impose them on anyone, and don’t pretend from anyone to respect your own beliefs.

Today I’m the youngest member of the Board in UAAR and its first non-binary member. I’m also the UAAR contact person for LGBTI + issues, and I write for a thematic column for the youth section of the association. I also sit on the Board of Gruppo Trans, a large empowerment group of trans * people, Centro Risorse LGBTI, a thematic research group, and NaKa, a youth center they helped found in a tough neighborhood in their hometown. Since May 2021, I’m taken on the role of Regional Coordinator for Europe for Youth Humanist Internationals.

I live in Bologna and I’m currently working as a fundraiser at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.


Andrea is a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics

Anya Overmann (United States)

Anya was raised in St. Louis, Missouri, by two ex-Catholic atheist parents. When Anya was in kindergarten, the family joined the Ethical Society of St. Louis – a humanist congregation, where people come together to explore the biggest questions of life without reference to scripture, religion, or God.

They attended weekly Sunday gatherings where Anya and her brother received education on religion far more comprehensive and nuanced than their peers, many of whom attended church on Sundays. It was here that Anya’s critical thinking skills and passion for human rights developed, and where she began taking on leadership roles.

She started as a leader of her local teenage youth group at the Ethical Society then took on more leadership roles at the national level. Through networking, Anya eventually came into contact with Young Humanists International (called IHEU at the time) and took on the role of Communication Officer in 2015. In 2020, she was elected President. Today she’s proud to be part of the global humanist network and serve as a voice and a connector for young humanists everywhere.


Anya is a member of the American Ethical Union

Giovanni Gaetani (Italy)

I grew up in Gaeta in a mildly Catholic family. I followed the standard path for many Italian kids: catechism, first communion, and confirmation. Around the age of 14, my mother pushed me to keep going to Church on Sundays, and that’s when I started questioning my faith. At first, my target was just the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church and how it betrayed the message of Jesus Christ. But then I started reading the Bible by myself and I realized that the problem was religion in itself. So I can say that I became an atheist…by reading the Bible!

It took me many years to accept that I was an atheist because I had some sort of internalized stigma. Studying at a Catholic university didn’t help. Yet, I started defining myself as an atheist when I was around 18 years old. Seven years later I even debaptized myself and I officially left the Catholic Church.

At 25 years old I started volunteering for the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics. I also started exploring humanism and I quickly realized that I was a humanist myself. Then when I was 28 years old I moved to London and started working for Humanists International. My life changed completely and, during my free time, I started promoting humanism in Italian on my blog adaltezzaduomo.com with my books on the atheist and humanist philosophy.


Giovanni is a member of the Italian Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics

Ana Raquel Aquino (Guatemala)

My relationship with religion was, at the time, a duel to the death: one of us had to give up so the other could survive. With its death came my resurrection, so to speak.

I was born in a Catholic family. When I was four, I started studying at a feminist Catholic school. At the age of twelve, my dad decided to change his religion. I didn’t even know that was possible.

The questions started to bloom: What was God for? Was he real or an invention? Was it a who or a what? Was it him or her? Why was it so easy to change religion? Is there only one truth?

I tried to understand my dad when he told me that there were many religions and that they all taught the same thing: love. With time and many experiences based on other philosophies such as Buddhism, I returned to the initial point: doubt. I decided it was not necessary to have a religion in order to be a ‘good’ person; that ethics is not entangled with one belief.

In my country, Guatemala, where everybody says ‘God bless’ for every farewell, I say ‘take care’ because I respect their beliefs and share to wish them well; because I appreciate it, but never understand how a god who sees everything can bless me (selectively) and not many people who suffer from hunger in the same country and die with a rosary in their hands.


Ana is a member of the Humanistas Guatemala

Javan Lev Poblador (Philippines)

What people overlook while discussing environmental causes is that they frequently limit themselves to ‘planting trees’ or ‘rescuing captive animals,’ but it entails much more than that.

Over the years of my environmental work, when I have climbed mountains to interview indigenous tribes or soaked in the heat to interview fisherfolks, I have learned that all rights are equally vital and interdependent with one another.

Who would have thought that climate change is creating a new generation of child brides or there’s impunity behind murders of our environmental defenders? See, this is my work as an environmental journalist to communicate and piece these puzzles together so we can come up with better strategies and solutions. When I was president of a youth-led news agency, we dissected events and told stories that mattered.

Now that I am the Chief Executive of Humanist Alliance Philippines, International, I make certain that environmental advocacy, along with other vital human rights problems, will be a part of our work. And as the Young Humanist Coordinator, we will integrate climate justice into the humanist movement. After all, it’ll be the young people who’ll face the full effects of the climate crisis.


Javan is a member of the Huminist Alliance Philippines, International

Roslyn Mould (Ghana)

I was raised Catholic, and sometime in 2007, in search of deepening my spirituality, I de-converted myself and became an atheist but it wasn’t until 2012 after meeting Ghanaian Atheists and others from West Africa, at the age of 28 that I started to identify as a humanist openly.

I have been the former Secretary and Chair of the African Working Group for IHEYO, now known as Young Humanists International, and Former President of the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG). Currently, I’m the first African Woman Board Member at Humanists International and Coordinator of the West African Humanist Network. I also hold positions as a Board Member at FoRB Leadership Network and LGBT+ Rights Ghana. I work to make HAG the umbrella organization for atheists and agnostics in Ghana, and make it one of the most active humanist organizations in Africa. My involvement in different advocacy works includes various campaigns such as the ‘Anti-witchcraft’ campaign in Africa, LGBTI+ Rights, feminism, environmental awareness, science education, and a children’s library project for deprived schools. And I have been proud of my work in helping organize Major International Conferences like the West African Humanist Conference Ghana in 2014, African Humanist Youth Days 2016 in Kenya, and 2017 in Nigeria.


Roslyn is a member of the Humanist Association of Ghana

Ding Jie Tan (Singapore)

My exposure to humanism began when I started studying in the UK and volunteered with the student humanist society at UCL. We wanted to build a community for non-religious students to socialize and network with other like-minded individuals, and to pool our collective resources to do good for the larger community. Now that I’m back in Singapore, I see that there is an even greater need for a humanist, non-religious community to defend secular spaces, promote inter-ethnic and inter-religious understanding, as well as to encourage active citizenry.


Ding Jie (DJ) is a member of the Humanist Society (Singapore)

Lillie Ashworth (United Kingdom)

My name is Lillie Ashworth, and I am the Advocacy Officer (part of a two-person Advocacy team) at Humanists International.

In my role, I represent the humanist movement at the international level, at institutions like the UN Human Rights Council, Council of Europe, and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Giving input at these high-level institutions is important because international law has the capacity to set the standards which States go on to implement in their national policies and legislation. It is also an important forum for raising evidence of human rights abuses that may be ignored by national governments (often because the government itself may be responsible for those violations!).

In the past year, I have focused my attention on the urgent issues that unite humanists across the globe: from advocating for science-based public policy as a means of overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, sounding the alarm over rising autocratization and threats to democracy under cover of the pandemic, to speaking out on behalf of those whose rights are undermined by harmful religious beliefs and practices. Throughout, I have been very lucky to collaborate with many of our active and knowledgeable Members and Associates, helping them to amplify their concerns and campaigns at the international level.

For me, taking positive action in defense of human rights, and campaigning for social justice, both in my role and outside of work, is really a way to put into practice humanist principles, such as the recognition of the inherent dignity of every individual and our responsibility to work towards a fairer and freer society for all.


Lillie is a member of Humanists International

Evan Clark (United States)

Evan is an entrepreneur, political consultant, and public speaker with over 12 years of experience tinkering with secular communities and humanist projects. Evan started his humanist advocacy journey as a student at California Lutheran University (CLU) where he founded and led the school’s first Secular Student Alliance chapter.

In 2010, Evan was elected CLU’s first openly atheist Student Body President and began public speaking about atheism. After college, Evan joined the national Secular Student Alliance Board of Directors and co-founded the Humanist Community of Ventura County in Thousand Oaks, CA. In 2014 Evan moved to Arizona to become Outreach Director for the James Woods for Congress campaign helping the only open atheist running for federal office in the United States that year.

Evan then co-founded Spectrum Experience, America’s first humanist public relations firm, with co-conspirator Serah Blain and subsequently launched the Humanist Experience podcast which he co-hosts. Since 2019, Evan has served as the Executive Director for Atheists United in Los Angeles, California, and co-founder of Curiosity Collective, a new young-professional humanist community.


Evan is a member of Atheists United

Joshua Ofiasa Villalobos (Philippines)

In a highly religious country like mine, not only it is difficult to be a queer nonreligious activist, sometimes, it can also be dangerous.

I was 16 when I joined Humanist Alliance Philippines, International and it has helped me shape my values and morals. Being in a community of humanists, who are fond of doing good things for humanity without expecting anything in return is empowering and inspiring. After a few months, I assumed a leadership role in the youth wing of the organization and it has exposed me to a lot of social movements where I then became a part of.

At 16, we successfully lobbied for the amendment of the plastic bag regulation ordinance in the city, though the amendments we pushed were adopted by the City Council, they then failed to implement it. At age 17, I became one of the campaigners against the proposed establishment of a coal-fired power plant in our province, which is not only harmful to the planet but also very detrimental to people’s health and well-being, and we won. At age 18, I became a part of a human rights non-government organization helping landless farmers acquire their land through the government’s agrarian reform program. I am also still highly involved in environmental and social justice movements in my province and in our country, the Philippines.

In a country with shrinking democratic spaces and highly religious government leaders and legislators, it can become a very complicated place for queer nonreligious activists.

It is our responsibility, as humanists, to not only do good but to create the world we want to live in. Because of the threat of the climate crisis and environmental destruction, people from the sidelines are the ones who are continuously suffering from its impacts. Creating a better world for everyone requires us to move collectively to free this world from destruction, discrimination, and degradation.


Joshua is a member of the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International

Namyalo Viola (Uganda)

My name is Namyalo Viola. I am a humanist leader in Uganda and the former Chair of Africa, at Young Humanist International (2019 -2021).

My journey to critical thinking, humanism, and atheism began as a high school student when I saw the wrong things done by so many pastors in Uganda. People in the business of church have been making fake miracles, extorting money from gullible people that as a teenager I started questioning the relevance of religion.

I got to know about humanism through school debates known as Open Talk Debates organized by HALEA. When HALEA introduced Open Talk debates at my school, I was an active participant and the debates were eye-opening. For the first time I heard people questioning the authenticity of God. This gave me a sense of belonging. My confidence soared I was proud to have an organization that helped me reason and to question everything.

I decided to join HALEA. In 2013, I was a peer leader and I helped my fellow teenagers learn more about critical thinking and how to make rational choices.

In 2015, I was elected as a Board Member. Since then, I have been serving HALEA in different capacities and my understanding of humanism has increased. I am a proud humanist, I love helping people, I put people first despite their having or not having religion.

As a young humanist leader, I’m working on promoting humanism especially to the young people, and keeping all humanists united. I have promoted humanism on social media through short videos and memes, I have organized young humanists workshops and have talked to several young humanists in Uganda and Africa who are still in the closet encouraging them to be strong. It’s never easy to say you are a non-believer in Uganda. We face discrimination, character assassination, and physical abuse much often because people believe that non-believers are evil.

All the projects we do at HALEA are geared towards empowering teenagers, women, the elderly, and the disadvantaged.

We are advocating for SRHR and empowering the girls and women to know their rights, we handle menstrual issues and we have given out menstrual kits to women and girls to help them stay healthy and comfortable during their periods. We are helping women get financial independence with the support of Humanists International. We are helping teenage mothers get a second chance at life, by giving them skills that can help them generate income.

I do all I do without expecting anything in return, I’m being a humanist.

I am a proud humanist and I hope to raise my own children as freethinkers.


Viola is a member of the Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability

Anthony Cruz (United States)

I have spent most of my life traversing between island-living and the U.S. mainland milieu. I acutely developed a double consciousness from being born in Puerto Rico. This complex reality provided the opportunity to grow in an environment where Afro-based religions, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Islam, other faiths, and non-theist traditions seek to coexist and support a democratic and progressive ethos for all.

As an endorsed Humanist Celebrant and Associate Chaplain by The Humanist Society, I work at the intersection of ethics, constructive theologies, and decolonial orientations to culture to understand the human condition. Currently, I serve as the Co-Chair of the Latinx Humanist Alliance. I am collaborating with young adults addressing vaccine hesitancy, as well as spearheading socio-political consciousness projects through action research and narrative methodologies. I earned an MTS from Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School.

I am an avid reader and try not to get too engrossed in too many technical texts. When not thinking about theology, culture, and society, or existential questions, I enjoy a strong brew of café Bustelo coffee with a dash of honey. I am also curious about self-care practices that are not overly commercialized.


Anothony is an Individual Supporter of Humanists International

Piero Gayozzo (Peru)

During my early youth, my interest in citizen participation was strongly influenced by conservative thinking. This motivated me to join a fascist political group made up of young people in Peru.

After some internal disputes, I resigned. When I left that environment and out of the square and grayish mentality of fascism, I found myself with a colorful range of people, experiences, and knowledge waiting to be discovered. Old and new friends taught me anew how to live without prejudices.

In parallel, at the University I came across a fascinating subject: transhumanism. It was thanks to this futuristic philosophy that I met one of the founders of secular humanism in Peru: Professor Víctor García-Belaunde. Thanks to him, the doors of the humanist community were opened to me and, with it, a radically different way of thinking.

After a process of reading and introspection in which I was nourished mainly by the work of humanist philosophers Paul Kurtz and Mario Bunge, I embraced reason, science, and skepticism as guides, leaving dogmas and superstitions in the past. This is how I discovered that this is the time and place to be happy and help others live. If not now when?


Piero is a member of the Secular Humanist Society of Peru

Seif Zakaria (Norway)

I am a member of the Norwegian Humanist Association, which sponsored my 6-month internship in London as the caseworker and campaign officer at Humanist International. I was born in Damascus, Syria, I grew up in a society soaked with religious conservatism, a society where being different from the “others” is wrong, and opposition is equated with destruction. people were expected to mostly agree on the same values and positions.

Having internet access and speaking English was a privilege I enjoyed in Syria that helped me have a window with a view of the free world. After learning about Renee Descartes in school, I was amused by the idea of thinking for myself and trying to build my view of life independently from the handed-down religious tradition. I was reckless enough to discuss my views with some but didn’t “come out” during my early years in Syria. I moved to Norway as a teenager and had a new start in life where I got the chance to live authentically. I believe it’s crucial to our life experience that our identities and choices are self-created.

I believe that freedom and justice for the individual are the core of society and that freedom of expression brings forward progress.


Seif is a member of the Norwegian Humanist Association

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If you want to nominate a young humanist to be featured on this page, please email Young Humanist Coordinator Javan Lev Poblador at  javan@humanists.international

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