Lauryn Oates Human Rights Activist - Vancouver, Canada

Lauryn Oates

Human Rights Activist

Age: February 1982

Provenance: North Vancouver, Canada

How long have you lived in Vancouver? I was born here and left for university at the age of 18, returning in 2006.

Occupations: As a teenager I bussed and waitressed in restaurants, worked in a veterinary practice, a movie theatre, my parents’ garlic store, a clothing shop and then bartended a little in university. However, my real occupation is human rights activism. In 1996 at the age of 14, horrified by the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan and their violent abuse of girls and women, my work started. Since 1998, I have worked — first as a volunteer — with different organizations on human rights and women’s rights issues. I have been especially active with Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and am currently their projects director. I did an internship in New York City when I was 20 with the world headquarters of Dress for Success, an organization that helps low-income women transitioning into the workforce to dress appropriately for job interviews. After that, in 2002, I got a job with a federal government agency in Canada dedicated to human rights and democracy. In 2006 I started working as an independent consultant in international development on both human rights and women’s rights — what is now called ‘gender mainstreaming’ — as well as education. Specifically this has been literacy education, teacher education and using information communication technology (ICT) for education. I plan, design, research and assess projects and programs in these fields to try to structure and steer them in a way so that they have an impact. The ultimate goal is making lives better. I also advocate by speaking and writing about what I see happening around me, especially the reactions in the part of the world I come from (the West) to the struggles being waged in the parts of the world where I work, as a way of making us better global citizens.

Passions and Interests: There is no separation for me between my ‘job’ and my passions. The things that I work on professionally, I also read about, study, debate with friends, and ruminate over when I’m driving, jogging or sitting on a plane for the umpteenth time. I’m very lucky in that way. I think I have the greatest job in the world. It’s never boring, usually challenging, and when something you’ve worked on has an impact on bettering lives, extremely gratifying.

What do people know you for? Being outspoken. One of my uncles once gave me the title of Disturber.

Thoughts on Vancouver? Peace and prosperity. When I come home from Afghanistan, I’ll just watch people in public out and about their business, interacting with each other, in a beautiful, clean, green, safe place and think of how lucky we are to live where we can conduct our lives without fear, with security and with so much freedom. I love the rain. Afghanistan is very dry and after my dog, my family and friends, I miss the rain more than anything as well as the greenery, which comes from the rain. Oh, and of course the wonderful abundance of sushi that is here!

Tallulah’s Musings

I met Lauryn for the first time in Kabul, Afghanistan. I was photographing her and the projects she oversees in Kabul and the provinces of Afghanistan. Her vitality, passion and ability to communicate complex concepts is remarkable and awe-inspiring. Amazingly, with all the travel and work she has done, she also finished a PhD in language and literacy education from the University of British Columbia in 2012.
I took Lauryn’s portrait on top of Nadir Shah Hill in Kabul, which is a place where families and friends gather to fly kites and ride horses. Lauryn wore a waistcoat created by Kabul designer Zolaykha Sherzad of Zarif Designs in Kabul.