Education & Employability
The Justice Desk: Creating a more just and equal world
"We are effecting real and long-lasting change, and empowering individuals to recognise the power they hold. We are mobilising thousands of people to be everyday activists."
Jessica Dewhurst, founder of The Justice Desk
Jessica Dewhurst founded The Justice Desk in 2013 to challenge the social and systemic injustices that can influence a person's life and the path they take.
Gender-based violence, human trafficking, child abuse and various other human rights violations have denied communities in South Africa, Zambia and other African countries a safe environment within which to thrive. The Justice Desk works to address such issues through educating and empowering vulnerable communities to better advocate for themselves and others.
QCT is working with The Justice Desk to support their core costs of running their range of education, training, bridging and advocacy programmes, whilst also providing staff with mental health care services and wellbeing support as they continue their vital work.
To allow ongoing programme delivery during the COVID-19 outbreak, QCT further supported Jessica and the team in delivering vital supplies to the communities they operate in, alongside revising their human rights training programme during the pandemic.
Continue reading to learn more about The Justice Desk, and hear from Jessica herself in the Q&A and video below.
The Justice Desk is working towards SDG 4. Quality Education, SDG 5. Gender Equality, SDG 10. Reduced Inequalities, and SDG 16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions.
A significant divide in social equality within South Africa, Zambia and other African countries leaves many without knowledge or access to their fundamental human rights, whilst a lack of organisations working to tackle this at a grassroots level is preventing the cycle from ending.
The Justice Desk helps to bridge the gap between governmental policy and real-life experience by educating, training, empowering, advocating for and mentoring local school and community leaders to become human rights defenders in their own right, encouraging positive social action at a grassroots level.
To date, The Justice Desk has assisted over 335,400 individuals, schools and communities to help them better understand the meaning of the word ‘justice’ and the processes of advocacy. The Justice Desk also continues to provide effective, practical ways to lead the way forward and challenge injustices.
"Having the opportunity to work alongside such an innovative organisation has not only helped us increase our reach but it has also supported us to be the best version of ourselves as an NPO. The culture of QCT is one that blends effortlessly with ours as it is one that values growth, adaptability and respect."
Jessica Dewhurst, founder of The Justice Desk
Getting to know Jessica Dewhurst
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Jessica Dewhurst and I am the founder and CEO of The Justice Desk, a human rights NPO based in South Africa. I have been in the NPO sector since I was 14, when I first recognized a need to challenge the root causes of injustice by empowering “Everyday Activists.” I believe that the power to change the world and challenge systemic injustice lies within each and every one of us, and I use my platform to mobilize people to effect long-lasting change by recognizing that they each have their own valuable voice.
Why did you decide to work in this area?
My dream to educate others about their human rights was ignited when I was 18 years old. I was attacked by four men – one of whom was eventually arrested. After a few months, I was asked to attend the court hearing and face the man who had hurt me. When I saw him I was shocked because he didn’t look the same. He was so skinny I could see his bones, he smelt like nothing you could ever imagine. His clothes were torn, and he was terrified. I have no idea what came over me, but all I wanted to do was hug him, not to excuse his actions but in recognition that there was more to this story. I went on to learn more about the man who had hurt me and found that he had led a life with no access to his basic fundamental rights and freedoms.
This man was born in a broken-down shack in Khayelitsha. His father left when he was five, and his mother was unemployed. He hadn’t had an education because his school was overcrowded and he couldn’t afford books or a uniform. His home frequently collapsed and didn’t have water, electricity or security. He was continually harassed by gangs threatening to kill him if he didn’t join them, and because he didn’t finish school, he couldn’t find a job.
Every morning at 4am, he made the long trip to the city to beg for money so he could feed his mother, who was dying of HIV/Aids. He begged, and begged, and his dignity was chipped at again and again – until one day, he snapped and he did something terrible. But what dawned on me in that moment was that he was let down by his society; his rights were not protected and this ultimately resulted in the life he was leading. He was a young man who had grown up unprotected and forgotten, forced to live in unimaginable conditions. He grew up having his rights violated on a daily basis and was failed again and again by those who said they would protect the children of this country.
It was in that moment that I realized I could no longer simply engage in charity work, handing out food and clothes, making children smile, and then sending them home. What was the point if I was sending them back to broken homes and dysfunctional communities where people had little to no respect for the rights and dignity of others? Instead, I started The Justice Desk in order to challenge systemic injustice, and make sure that no child would ever have to grow up and live a life that they would not choose.
What were your first steps to get the project off the ground?
Step one was about getting to know the true experts in a community, the community members themselves. By actively engaging, listening and conducting needs assessments to ensure that the project is impactful, we were able to build a strong foundation. Step two was about building a strong team in order to carry out the work, and step three continues to be about creating a culture of awareness and continuous learning.
What challenges have you faced along the way and how did you overcome them?
Funding. Human Rights work is not popular; it’s not ‘pretty’ and you don’t feel good and warm inside after completing it. It’s hard work, traumatic, and consuming. Because of this, many donors shy away from funding this type of work. It continues to take an immense amount of effort to help funders understand the vital importance of justice work, and that if we don’t engage now, nothing will ever change. However, the climate is changing and we are seeing a gradual shift in focus as people are beginning to see the vital need for Human Rights and development work.
What has been your proudest moment within this work?
We are effecting real and long-lasting change, and empowering individuals to recognise the power they hold. Our educational materials and campaigns are used all over the world, and we have thousands of students, teachers and parents building safe communities. We are influencing the policies of countries and mobilising thousands of people to be everyday activists. Human traffickers are being caught, corporal punishment is being abolished and police stations are being built. Relationships with the people we work with and their representatives are stronger than ever. People, both young and old, are being equipped to recognise that ‘yes, I can lead my own change’ – and it’s working!
What is the most important thing you’ve learnt?
It is tough to choose between the valuable lessons I have learnt on this journey with The Justice Desk. However, one that continues to stay with me is the power the youth of our country holds. The power of our South African youth is that we don’t often let ourselves get distracted! We know that we were not born hating one another, and that hate is a carefully crafted tool of distraction for the benefit of those in power. The youth of our country have seen through that and instead, we choose to turn our energies to dismantling systems of greed and systemic injustice. We are on a mission to shape the country we deserve, and whether those in power like it or not, we will do that together. We are human and we cannot live silently or without action in a world that disregards the value of our fellow humans.
What are your future goals for The Justice Desk?
The long-term goal of The Justice Desk is to continue to build strong ties and relationships with local community members. The plan is to have The Justice Desk’s Human Rights offices operating across the continent of Africa and to establish offices in East, West, Central and Southern Africa. This will all be while continuing to work alongside community members to advocate for long-term change in the current systems that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and injustice.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be equal partners in driving change in the world?
Everyone needs to be at the table, regardless of age. We all need to play our part and that means that the youth must no longer be left out of the decision-making process. We work with incredible young movers and shakers who know and understand the urgency to bring about positive social change. Our young people are our future, yes, but more importantly, they are our present! Youth today have the most incredible and life-changing skill; the ability and courage to stand up and ask ‘why?’. We challenge the unquestioned answers, we defy the status quo, and we no longer accept nor find value in the oppressive and unjust expectation to conform. We aren’t afraid to take off our blindfolds and question why things are the way they are, and most importantly, we are the first to stand up with the audacity to dream of and build something new - THAT is how we will become the generation to change this world.
What are your top 3 tips for young people who have a great idea, but are wondering how to get started?
1. Be adaptable and resilient: Our team is able to adapt to a variety of different circumstances and contexts allowing us to continue to drive positive change, whatever hurdles we may face.
2. Mobilize young people: We highly value trust and celebrate the knowledge, skills, passion and dedication of young people. We give them opportunities to take the initiative and create truly wonderful programs.
3. Build partnerships: We thrive by working alongside people, supporting one another as together, we transform our world.
What does working with QCT mean to you?
QCT is one of our phenomenal partners in the fight against social injustice. Having the opportunity to work alongside such an innovative organization has not only helped us increase our reach but it has also supported us to be the best version of ourselves as an NPO. The culture of QCT is one that blends effortlessly with ours as it is one that values growth, adaptability and respect.
Article updated: September 2020
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