Close to 90 people from 40 countries have just returned home after spending the last three weeks at Ste. Anne de Bellevue’s John Abbott College with a solitary goal: to become stronger advocates for human rights in their native countries.

The three-week training program offered by Equitas helped teach them to fight more effectively against inequality, discrimination, exclusion, violence and extremism in their own countries.

It’s a program that has far-reaching effects worldwide.

Trainees from countries including Pakistan, Uganda, Tanzania and Sri Lanka are encouraged to express themselves freely.

An intense program, the group lived, learned and discussed together from morning to night, working towards finding the best ways to effect change – from grassroots campaigns to the highest political levels.

“It's very important for us to get this knowledge and take it back to the communities,” said Consolata, a trainee who works with a human rights organization in Tanzania. “It has been a brilliant experience for me and I go back with no regret at all because I go back with so much in my head.”

Hina, from Pakistan, came to the program to learn how to fight religious fundamentalism in her country.

“Which is increasing in Pakistan day by day and the Talibanization and the extra-judicial killings of human rights defenders and the general public, it's very much in common now in Pakistan,” she said, adding that violence against women and children is also a key issue.

“Early-age marriages and harassment and education (are concerns),” she said.

Faslan is from Sri Lanka, which has just emerged from 30 years of civil war.

“It doesn't mean that the conflict is over. Conflict is still going on,” he said.

Harriet is from northern Uganda, where her family was displaced by war.

“I'm a survivor myself, and I work with a community-based foundation, and we work with women who are survivors of sexual gender-based violence,” she said, adding that the program is teaching tangible methods to target human rights violations.

“Not just theorizing what we know, but putting the knowledge into practice,” said Harriet.

Equitas has taken on this work for 36 years, building a global community of human rights workers.

“Education can be one of the biggest violators of human rights when it's indoctrination,” said program coordinator Vincenza Nazzari.

Some issues fade while new issues arise, but one goal has remained consistent, said Nazzari.

“Building this community, enabling people not only to look at what they need to change in their societies, but starting with themselves, because that's where human rights starts,” she said. “It starts with you.”