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.
Becoming a humanist was sort of an inevitability for me as someone who comes from a family that is multi-religious and multi-ethnic. Along with another foreign ethnic identity of Indian ancestry, I have three state-recognized ethnic affiliations. My mother’s side of the family practices Buddhism, which is the dominant religion in Burma, and my father’s side practices Islam, which is one of the dominant religions worldwide.
My lifelong experience of discrimination and being a witness to the forced conversion my mum had to endure — such intersectional oppression—had a profound impact on me.
Despite all of the emotional hardship my journey entailed, I am grateful that it inspired me to learn more about religions, ethics, morality, compassion, love, humanism, progressivism, and sympathy. For as long as I can remember, one of my dreams was to spread love and respect between people. I don’t want people to suffer discrimination because of their race, religion, sex, gender, etc. That is why I have been an active member of the Burmese Atheists, and I am proud to spread secularism and progressive values under this organization. Burmese Atheists is an affiliate of Humanists International, and I am really excited to become more involved in the events of Humanists International. I am also actively working with working-class organizations such as the IWW and IWA.
Over the past five years, I am proud to have collected and hosted many of the most renowned resources that were being censored by the Myanmar state and its Theravada Buddhist nationalist establishment.
Hein Htet Kyaw is a member of Burmese Atheists
My journey towards humanism started by doubting, the existence of Satan, when I was in catholic priesthood formation. I asked myself if Satan is the source of all evil, can human beings be held accountable for their actions, the whole reflection led me to the conclusion that for one to be accountable, surely freedom is a necessity. Therefore, I freed my mind from a belief in the existence of Satan which led to the slow collapse of the belief in a deity, now I can comfortably call myself a humanist or apatheist. Upon finishing my philosophical and religious studies in catholic priesthood formation, I decided to completely drop out of the priesthood formation; currently, I am pursuing philosophical studies through research, my area of research being human rights and religion. I have managed to publish some articles in academic journals and Freethinker Magazine. I do frequently engage in public debates, using various platforms from radio to television to explain how Humanism works to the local public and work with humanist organizations such as PICH, AFAW, and Ex-cellence Project. I am also a founding leader of the Social Democrats Association (SODA), a budding youth civic movement that advocates and lobbies for the inclusion and recognition of Youths in decision-making boards throughout Zimbabwe. I am also a lover of science and philosophy; in the interest of scientific experimentation, I have donated my body to science in case of my demise.
Tauya is a member of PICH and Advocacy for Alleged Witches
As a Kashmiri-Canadian who has lived all over the world, I love exploring ethical, existential, emotional, and equity issues. At the age of 18 at university, I discovered Humanism and realized that there was a group of like-minded individuals who loved to debate major social and philosophical issues facing society. It was through these discussions that I felt a sense of community and realized that I wanted to express my care for humanity through advocacy for vulnerable and marginalized populations. After doing a number of different roles, I recently became the youngest accredited Humanist Chaplain in Canada. Bringing my humanist story full-circle, I have the privilege of serving the student and employee community at the University of Ottawa.
As a lifetime member of Humanist Canada, I serve on a number of committees including those advancing access to secular chaplaincy, abortion, and critical thinking. I am also a Humanist officiant providing a range of ceremonies from child/adult namings to weddings to celebration of life services. Given the many different places that I consider home and my desire to be a bridge between different communities, I actively support the American Humanist Association, Humanists UK, Humanists Australia, and Humanists International.
Srishti Hukku is a member of Humanist Canada
I grew up attending the Ethical Humanist Society of Chicago. My parents, atheists themselves, wanted a community where my brother and I could be with other non-theistic kids and learn ethical values without the dogma. This community had a profound impact on me. I have pursued studies and a career in human rights thus far, which has taken me around the world and brought me back home to the U.S. I am pursuing a Master’s degree to transition to the peacebuilding and conflict resolution fields. Apart from ethical humanism having influenced my academic and professional pursuits, I have remained involved in the Humanism movement itself.
I have been an active member of the Future of Ethical Societies (FES) since college, where I am the liaison to the American Ethical Union. I worked on building the Americas Working Group network for Young Humanists International (then IHEYO). More recently, I became the American Humanist Association’s Youth Representative to the United Nations. I also remain active with the Ethical Humanist of Chicago whenever I am back in town, and hope to become more involved with the Ethical Humanist Societies in New York.
Julia Julstrom-Agoyo is a member of Future of Ethical Societies and the American Humanist Association
Becoming a humanist was sort of an inevitability for me. My Catholic upbringing’s myopic view of the world was never sufficient in quenching my intense curiosity and on top of that, I was also queer! This predicament, as you might imagine, compelled me to choose my own morals rather than blindly follow that of my religion’s.
Despite all of the emotional hardship my journey entailed, I am grateful that it inspired me to hone my skills as a writer, speaker, and presenter — all of which I now use for Humanist Alliance Philippines, International, the organization I am a part of.
Over the past two years, I am proud to have overseen, voiced, and edited many of our most renowned media works and articles.
For as long as I can remember, my only dream has been to use my voice to spread knowledge to humanity. With HAPI and through humanism, I have been able to do that and grow as a human along the way.
I could not have possibly asked for more.
Sherwin is a member of the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International
Sarah Levin is the founder of Secular Strategies, a consulting firm that is pioneering the mobilization of secularist voters and empowering policymakers, lawmakers, and change-makers to be effective champions of secularism in the United States. She currently serves as Director of Advocacy at OnlySky Media, a participatory civic media company providing journalism and storytelling from a secular perspective.
Sarah worked for the Secular Coalition for America from 2013–2019 in various roles, including Director of Grassroots and Community Programs and Director of Governmental Affairs. In 2016, she facilitated the establishment of the first-ever Secular Caucus in the Texas Democratic Party and worked with secular Democrats to get three secular policy resolutions incorporated into the party’s platform. Sarah proudly represents the secular community as a Co-Chair on the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) Interfaith Council. She helped to pass a resolution at the DNC in 2019 that expressly welcomes religiously-unaffiliated voters into the party, recognizing their values and historic marginalization.
Prior to joining the Secular Coalition, Sarah completed her AmeriCorps service by serving low-income immigrant and refugee families as a bilingual community liaison at the Greenbrier Learning Center in Arlington, Virginia. She graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in International Studies from American University, where she served on the leadership board of the university’s Secular Student Alliance affiliate.
Sarah is a member of Atheists United
I grew up in a very conservative Islamic family in Pakistan. I was required to pray and fast as a child. Even though I knew from a young age that I did not believe in God. I was forced to learn and practice. When I asked questions, I would be beaten by my teachers and father. I was told that there was something wrong with me for doing so. Gradually the dismissals turned into threats.
When I came to the UK, I felt free from religion, and I was no longer forced to pray. I could explore my own beliefs without fear of violence. In search of my own identity, I studied various other religions, but nothing made sense. Then I came across humanism. I finally had a term I could describe myself with – ‘humanist’.
I applied for asylum in the UK because I received death threats from my family and the wider community in Pakistan when they found out that I had left Islam. My claim was rejected because I did not name Plato or Aristotle (who were not even humanists as confirmed later by 150 philosophers) when I was asked in my interview to prove my humanism by naming Greek Philosophers who were humanists.
Humanists UK created a petition which had 12,500 signatories and co-organised a joint letter signed by 150 philosophers around the world which was hand-delivered to the-then UK Prime Minister and sent to the then-Home Secretary. My case, which was raised in the parliament, led to a major and successful campaign for reform of how the Home Office deals with non-religious asylum seekers, including new compulsory training for assessors on religion or belief claims.
I received remarkable support from Humanists international as they raised my case in the United Nations Human Rights Council and featured me in their Protect Humanists At Risk campaign. My Local MP raised my case in parliament which lead to greater changes as the government announced a review into handling of LGBT+ asylum claims.
In 2019, I was elected to the Board Trustees of Humanists UK to help run one of the world’s most high-profile humanist organisations. It’s been an honour to be a director of Humanists UK for past couple of years. I volunteer for Faith to Faithless, organising apostate socials and providing peer support in Greater Manchester where I live, and I have trained as a non-religious pastoral carer. I have also given talks in various parts of the UK on various subjects and given the international media attention I received due to my case; I have become a point of contact for fellow apostates.
Hamza is a member of Humanists UK
Bonjour, I’m Marie-Claire Khadij, and I am the first military humanist chaplain in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), and I believe of the Americas!
As years go by, more and more members of the CAF do not affiliate themselves with a religion. These members were not yet represented within the Royal Canadian Chaplain Service (RCChS). CAF chaplains serve everyone regardless of their spirituality/religion, but also each represents a specific tradition. I had been a Catholic chaplain for 4 years, but as time went by I felt that it matched less and less my values and how I view life. So when the opportunity to become a humanist chaplain was made possible by Humanist Canada, I jumped right in. It was a really freeing experience for me and I am truly happy to officially be a humanist chaplain and to wear the “Happy Human” symbol on my uniform every day!
Becoming a humanist military chaplain was only the first step, and now the challenge is to recruit more to join me. If you know any Canadians interested in becoming humanist military chaplains (the best job ever) send them my way! And if your country has no military humanist chaplains yet, start asking! I am living proof that, with hard work and patience, it is possible to make it happen.
Marie-Claire is a member of Humanist Canada
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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)
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 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
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
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
I have spent most of my life traversing between island-living and the U.S. mainland milieu. I acutely developed a triple 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, and nonreligious traditions seek to coexist and support a democratic and progressive ethos for all.
Currently, I serve as the Humanist Chaplain at Tufts University Medford/Somerville U.S.A.) 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 a Masters in Theological Studies from Andover Newton Theological School.
I am an avid reader and try not to get too engrossed in too many technical texts. When not thinking about theology, culture, 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
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
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
I have been a youth rights activist for years, and as the Hungarian government’s theocratic regime was strengthening, I saw how the intersection of religious social constructs & traditions and children’s vulnerability created a toxic environment where society normalized harmful practices such as circumcision or religious indoctrination, even though they are de jure illegal based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is almost universally ratified. Nobody is born religious, and everyone should be allowed to exercise their freedom of conscience.
I realized we cannot build a truly sustainable society if we raise generations who are denied their most basic human rights often based on religious practices, yet are later expected to be active and responsible citizens contributing meaningfully to a democracy. This is why I chose to be an activist for secularism, humanism, and atheism in Hungary.
Due to my activism, I have been fired from my job and publicly shamed by the government and even the ‘opposition’ major of Budapest. I have received numerous death threats, which the police refuse to investigate. Yet I am not afraid, and I will continue to fight for the rights of my fellow citizens, young or old, and I am bringing a number of lawsuits against those who think secular voices can be silenced through a smear campaign. It comforts me that many humanists in Hungary and abroad had raised their voices about the issue and even contributed to my campaign to secure freedom of conscience, expression, and press in Hungary.
Gáspár is a member of Hungarian Atheist Association
I was brought up in a family of open-minded, curious, and critical thinking atheists; and that’s how I was raised to be. While I always identified as an atheist, it never felt like I was part of a movement bigger than myself. It was simply my personal conviction.
It wasn’t until I started working with (and later for) Humanists International on cases of individuals at risk that I learned that there was such a thing as humanism – where the ethical imperative is as important as the belief that there is no higher power. That’s when it dawned on me that that’s what I am. I found my community.
I am now privileged to work for Humanists International as the Casework & Campaigns Manager, running our End Blasphemy Laws campaign, publishing the Freedom of Thought Report, and supporting individuals at risk across the globe. Being a humanist empowers me to have a purpose; to try and leave the world a better place than when I found it. The humanist activists who serve on the front line – putting themselves on the line for their convictions – are a source of constant inspiration to me, and it is my privilege to support them in any small way that I can.
Emma is a member of Humanists International
Hi! I’m Şeyma Unlu, a 24-year-old student in art sciences and archaeology at the Free University of Brussels, Belgium. Since I am a woman with a migration background, I’ve had to deal with a lot of systematic discrimination at school. At home, I’ve had to deal with the struggles and conflicts originating from the duality of being raised in a culturally religious family while mainly finding myself surrounded by open-minded atheist friends and acquaintances.
At the moment, I am a human rights activist and CHanGEmaker. CHanGE is a project organized by UCOS (University Centre for Development Coordination). It exists a selection of 12 students who are engaged about topics like sexual and reproductive health and rights, and gender equality. Six months of workshops about gender studies and sexual and reproductive rights prepared us for a research trip during the summer. Three other CHanGEmakers and I traveled to Lebanon where we had the chance to interview other activists and non-profit organizations. I came into contact with a
wonderful queer scene and drag scene. After our trip, we started our campaign about inclusive healthcare in Belgium.
In October, I was invited to speak at a panel discussion titled ‘Young, LGBTQ+ and Muslim’, organized by deMens.nu. I spoke about my experience growing up in a Muslim household while being bisexual. I also spoke for the first time about being an atheist.
I learned a lot about myself during the last year. Safe spaces and the safe community within CHanGE gave me the courage to come out and choose my own path, without the feelings of guilt that have accompanied me for years. My wish is for everybody to have a supporting and safe group that shows you are not alone and that it is okay to be yourself completely and unapologetically.
Şeyma is a member of deMens.nu
Manish Kumar is associated with Ambedkar Social Institute, a humanist organization working in the Giridih district of Jharkhand State, India.
Presently, Kumar is organizing rural masses on secular ethos, communal peace, communal harmony, and scientific temperament. “Witchcraft” and “witch-hunting” are still in practice in the area. Each year, around 100 and more people become victims of this wrong tradition. Most of the victims are from Dalit and other weaker sections of the society. Manish Kumar is creating awareness about “witchcraft” and “witch-hunting” in rural areas.
Indian constitution has given equal rights to all citizens. It has given fundamental duties to all citizens to develop scientific temperament and promote humanism in society. At present Manish Kumar is working as one of the cadre/staff of Ambedkar Social Institute. He is giving training on the legal and constitutional rights to the rural youth.
Manish is a member of Ambedkar Social Institute