Youth Politics in Chile


By the Flying Dutchman,
November 13th, 2017


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Sofia Vargas Aguayo

Participation in political life is not always open to youth and in many countries there are no opportunities for any kind of engagement. Sofia Vargas Aguayo is the youngest board member of Amnesty International worldwide and she was also recently nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize for her work with Amnesty International Chile. She talked to usabout her experience with activism, youth politics in Chile and how she came to UWCM.


 

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Sofia: Ugh! I’m getting UWC selection process vibes. I think it’s messy, beautiful and large.
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TFD: What inspired you to become an activist?
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Sofia: I don’t think we have had much freedom throughout Chilean history. It is very complex. We are legally a democratic nation yet our constitution was written during the dictatorship. It’s illegal for me to go to a protest. I remember my parents’ generation was afraid to share Chilean history, even our schools didn’t talk about it. This reality touched all aspects of life; my mother was born in the same day that the dictatorship came to Chile so I have never celebrated her birthday. I always wondered why, and when I was 8 I started asking questions about the dictatorship. My family helped me understand the context. I think that is why I became an activist. Our culture is like “if you don’t do something, no one is going to do something for it”, so I decided that since I wanted change, I should take initiative.
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TFD: While your family supported you, did you experience any opposition or discrimination from your friend circle or extended family?
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Sofia: Yes, yes! I remember the first topic I was passionate about was gender equality. My mum was a very sporty girl so she never bought me dresses, so my teachers mistook me for a boy. I always asked my mum “I want to be a girl”. She had the brilliant idea of putting me in a very catholic, all-girls school. Then I was like, “no mama, I don’t want to be a girl, I changed my mind.” And I had so many problems in that school. I wanted to do sports and they told me that ballet was my only option. I was seen as a rebel. I decided to change my school on my own so I did the process on my own and they called my mum when they accepted me and that was the first time she had heard about it. In 2011, when I changed schools, the student revolution started in Chile. I was very involved because my entire family is made up of teachers. I was talking to my classmates about it and I created a wave of activity in the school. That led me to having problems in the school. They called the police and I had to have interviews with them. I really think I had to grow up fast because I was 12 and I had to say to police men “No, I don’t want to talk if I don’t have a lawyer or my mum.” After that, I decided to work more in the system so I became part of student council. Then the teachers started prohibiting me from entering the class. In Chile you need recommendation letters when you leave the school and no one wanted to write me one so no school wanted to accept me. I had to leave and go to be home schooled. I had started volunteering for Amnesty a year before I left the school, but when I left I started doing it full time. I was in the directors’ board of Amnesty International Chile when I was 17. The education minister in Chile didn’t let me graduate school in Chile as a result of my activism.
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TFD: Do you want to return to Chile?
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Sofia: I really want to finish school and then after university work in education and human rights. In the beginning, I felt so alone in my passion for human rights and I believe we have to change the way we teach and include human rights in our schools. I really want to go back and be a teacher and change the way things work.
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TFD: What is the best and the worst part about working for Amnesty International?
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Sofia: I have so many favorite parts. I really believe that in Latin America, young people don’t have a voice. People still believe that the child doesn’t know anything in the family. I was the first underage person to work for Amnesty International in the entire world. I think this is so important because even an International organization specializing in human rights didn’t have young people working with them. We have a valid opinion. I also learned so many things. Amnesty is a big organization and they have so many opportunities for people that volunteer so they give you work opportunities for human rights and so I was always learning new things, not about me and my country, but about the entire world.
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Of course activists have a lot of trouble, especially if you live in a region that doesn’t like activism. It’s also a full-time job. We never, never, never rest. I used to work for sexual and reproductive rights and I had a team of people that I communicated with. I was in a workshop trying to talk about human rights and one of the girls asked me “Sophie, is rape a violation of human rights?” and I immediately responded, “Yes, of course.” and she responded “My dad raped me”. You are not prepared for those kind of things, and you don’t know what to do. Sometimes you can’t do anything, but people expect you to something. That’s the worst part.
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TFD: How do you find UWC different from your life in Chile?
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Sofia:  I had to apply twice to UWC and I felt stuck in Chile, it was the first time that I realized that formal education was very important. I knew I wouldn’t have opportunities if I did not finish my studies. I applied again and I had to choose between Thailand and Maastricht because of the situation in Thailand and the hostility against Human Rights Defenders. My mum was crying when we were in the airport, she was so happy I was going to be able to finish school. “You made it”, she told me. I didn’t know anything about Maastricht when they send me here and it felt like I had no choice: it was the only place I could be since Thailand was dangerous. I remember after I came back from October break, I was so happy to be back in campus.  Here, I feel safe.


 

 

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