Tenisha Kumar

Tenisha Kumar

Child Advocate, Shine/Programme Facilitator, Ministry of Justice
Master of Human Rights

She loves empowering people who feel unheard, says Master of Human Rights alumna Tenisha Kumar who works for national domestic violence agency Shine.

“I see people at their most vulnerable and when they feel powerless. By working with them, I get the opportunity to show them that their voice does matter and they have the right to a life free from violence.

“Children’s voices often get lost in the family court as they get caught up in an adult world and are told who to live with and what to do. Children have often told me that they feel they have no say in the decisions that affect them. I work with children to ensure that their voices are heard when decisions are made.”

But children aren’t the only ones whose rights Tenisha is defending.

“I also work as a programme facilitator for the Ministry of Justice, helping female offenders safely reintegrate back in to the community. Women often have very different pathways into a world of crime and many have experienced abuse, both in childhood and adulthood. I help them understand their own behaviour and how they can lead pro-social lives with support from whānau, friends and other agencies.”

An eye-opening experience
Tenisha’s passion for human rights started when she travelled through South East Asia and South America.

“That was a time of intense personal growth, and fuelled my passion for human rights. I worked with a number of humanitarian organisations, and it was the first time I came face to face with basic human rights like access to water, food and shelter.

“As I travelled on my own, I became extremely aware of my privilege. I was born in a safe country with access to shelter, food, education and employment. I felt that I wanted to do more for those who didn’t have access to the same opportunities. These experiences shook me to my core and I decided I wanted to advocate for the members of our society whose plights were going unnoticed.”

Human rights are about human potential, Tenisha says.

“When you strip away the jargon, policy and global governing bodies, human rights ensure that people have access to opportunities and can achieve their potential. I’ve always been interested in the way societies and communities are formed, and how norms and social systems are perpetuated over time. If racism and sexism have been created by humankind, then I believe they can be dismantled by humankind.”

Lighting the fire
Studying AUT’s Master of Human Rights was about more than developing new knowledge, Tenisha says.

“The opportunity to talk to inspiring leaders in the field and connect with human rights champions was so enriching and was a real highlight of my experience at AUT. Hearing from people who were working on the frontline on issues like the living wage campaign helped me see the work come alive. Our class became so much more than a class – we became friends and developed a network of people who truly support one another.”

Using digital storytelling to promote human rights was a highlight, says Tenisha who completed her Master of Human Rights with distinction.

“For one of our assignments I created a video of a former refugee, which meant I could highlight the face and voice behind so many of the statistics we see. This has continued to inspire me. Creating a documentary and hosting an event on youth homelessness was another moment where I felt like ‘this is exactly what I want to do’. I felt privileged to be in a position where we could advocate and bring awareness to a group that often feels invisible.

“Studying at AUT provided me with skills, but more importantly, it provided me with confidence to get involved with my local community and share my knowledge and skills for the causes I care about. My studies have also connected me with a number of organisations, and towards the end of my study I joined the Auckland Women’s Centre as a board member.”