Amnesty International Freedom Dinner

By Jamie Morris

The 31st annual Amnesty International Freedom dinner is set for Saturday, April 13 with this year’s cuisine focus from Bangladesh.

Each year’s dinner features dishes from a different country experiencing human rights abuses, and each year’s dinner features a guest speaker intimately familiar with conditions in the country. This year the speaker will be Rhonda Gossen, Senior Advisor for the Rohingya crisis, Bangladesh Relations Desk, for Global Affairs Canada.

An exotically flavourful cuisine? Check. An authoritative speaker on a humanitarian crisis that should concern us all? Check. An opportunity to learn about Amnesty International’s work fighting injustice and promoting human rights, with an opportunity to contribute to those efforts? Check. Three good reasons to attend.

The Food

It is a dinner, after all, so let’s start with the food. For the past 13 years the local chapter of Amnesty has turned to local caterer Edna Smith. “I’m asked to research, create and execute a menu for the highlighted country,” she tells me.

In past years Edna has prepared everything from Syrian fatteh and Turkish kofta to African bobotie and Greek kebabs.  

This year’s main dishes will be Kolkata chicken biryani (spiced rice served with chicken in a curry sauce) and vegetarian biryani (the same, but with curried vegetables). The appetizers will include samosas (potato and vegetable filled pastry pockets) and pakoras (battered and fried spiced onions) with a chutney dipping sauce.

Lots of work, but the Freedom dinner is something Smith looks forward to each year. “The members are caring and dedicated people and a pleasure to work with,” she says, “and it is gratifying to be part of an event that brings light to Human Rights issues and to help effect change.”

For Edna — and for diners — the food itself is part of a learning experience. To sample the cuisine of a country is to learn about a culture and traditions.

The Speaker: Rhonda Gossen

In June, 2017, a month after she’d returned to Lindsay  from a six-month stint in Bangladesh, the Advocate interviewed Rhonda Gossen for a column you can read here. As Advisor to the UNHRC Senior Coordinator in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, she’d been on the ground, assisting in the country’s efforts to accommodate over 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing a genocide in Myanmar.

Just last month she was back in Bangladesh as part of a delegation led by Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, the Honourable Bob Rae, whose mission was to engage with international partners on addressing the needs of refugees, the need for accountability and building lasting peace in Myanmar.

Gossen will be reporting on her experiences. There will be some good news: “There has been tremendous progress in the camps in terms of increased services and better shelter and infrastructure such as drainage, sanitation and approximately 1,800 learning centres over the past months,” she says.

But there is still much to be done (particularly in providing  education for Rohingya adolescents and youth) and she will talk of that as well.   A new UN Joint Response Plan calling for $920 million needed in funding for the humanitarian response was launched in Geneva in February.

Amnesty International, Bangladesh, and You

Money raised from the dinner goes to support the work of Amnesty International in Bangladesh and elsewhere. Even though the country’s response to the Rohingya crisis has been compassionate and inspirational (imagine welcoming 700,000 refugees into an already densely-populated nation) there are human rights concerns Amnesty is tackling.

Some of those concerns are set out in the “Country profile” on the Amnesty website. Protections for the refugees and ensuring they are not forcibly returned to Myanmar is on the list.  But there are also concerns about Bangladeshi restrictions on freedom of speech, allegations of enforced disappearances, and the rights of indigenous peoples.

For Kathy Anderson and the other nine members of the small but efficient and hardworking local chapter of Amnesty, the modest amount raised from the dinner is secondary to the opportunity for other community members to  learn about their organization and the issues it addresses.

Those who want to do a little more can of course visit the Amnesty International website and make a donation, but at the dinner they will also get a taste of the kind of work volunteers engage in. On every table there will be  letters or petitions related to Amnesty’s concerns about the Rohingya crisis on each table, and diners will be encouraged to lend their support by signing.

This year’s dinner is held at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, with the doors opening at 6:15 pm and the dinner at 7 pm.

Tickets are $40 per adult and $20 for students. To reserve yours call Kathy at 705-324-2037 or Julie at 705-328-0587.

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