UT human rights organization brings refugees to Zilker Kite Festival


Miriam Rousseau

UT junior Sahare Wazirali and sophomore Marilyn Adams of the UT Amnesty International club will accompany Casa Marianella residents to the Zilker Kite Festival on Sunday. The club works to promote human rights awareness. 

Danielle Lopez

Casa Marianella, a home for immigrant refugees in East Austin, receives hundreds of volunteers to assist in carrying out legal, medical and educational services for its residents. But one UT human rights group will expose a taste of Austin life to Casa residents by bringing them to the Zilker Kite Festival. 

On Sunday, UT’s Amnesty International chapter will take about 20 Casa Marianella shelter residents to the 86th annual Zilker Kite Festival as part of its efforts to establish a stronger relationship with the shelter.

Amnesty International is a global organization, and UT’s chapter is one of many across the nation. The UT group has existed on campus for five years, with roughly 25 members who work to make a difference in human rights injustices around the world by taking action locally in Austin. 

“The goal of Amnesty is to get anyone thinking that they can make a change in human rights,” said Sahare Wazirali, biology pre-med sophomore and the chapter’s publicity coordinator. “You don’t have to be in power or have any political power to make change.”

Vice president Marilyn Adams, a psychology and women’s and gender studies sophomore, said the organization covers a broad scope of issues that makes it easy for all students to find something they are interested in.

“I’m interested in women’s and LGBT rights and I wanted to find an organization to talk about those rights on an international scale rather than just the U.S.,”
Adams said. 

Volunteer work and awareness events in Austin are a large part of UT Amnesty International’s purpose. They begain working with Casa Marianella this year.

“For local interactions in previous years, there hasn’t really been anything that’s continuous,” Wazirali said. “We want to build a really strong relationship with Casa.”

Casa Marianella volunteer coordinator Jackie Chiofalo said that prior experience with members of UT Amnesty International has been great for the residents.

“Sometimes you get volunteers who need direction, but they were 100 percent self-directive and they took the initiative,” Chiofalo said. 

The idea of taking Casa Marianella residents to the Zilker Kite Festival came after the students spent time getting to speak with the residents while working a food shift for the shelter. 

“We want to get to know the residents there on a more personal basis and spend time with them and know their stories,” Adams said. “Not just have them as something you learn about and then don’t really think about their experiences.”

Members of the organization will be provide kites for the Casa Marianella residents to use during the festival. UT Amnesty International hopes to give the residents an opportunity to experience a bit of Austin life.

“They’re convinced that they can’t go back to their native lands because they want a future for their families and [to start] over,” Wazirali said. “The only way to do that is to get back into society, but most haven’t even seen Austin.”

Chiofalo said Casa Marianella residents are looking forward to their first time attending the festival. 

“We love it when our residents can experience Austin just for fun and just enjoy themselves,” Chiofalo said.

UT Amnesty International members hope to get students talking more about global issues and create stronger community connections.

“I told myself we have to make UT a place where people can talk about human rights because its not really a major topic,” Wazirali said. “We’re making the dialogue more presentable and more fun, which is important.”