Our Alumni team recently caught up with MA Human Rights and International Relations alumna, Crystal Fickers.
Why did you choose to study at Roehampton?
I first studied in the UK for a short summer term study abroad course and had the most thrilling experience.
After I returned I graduated with an undergraduate degree from a university in Florida, I started working straight away. I worked for a law firm, trying to learn more about the legal system and how it can support people who are fighting for their rights. But it was a very corporate, extremely high pressure environment, which in all honesty, doesn’t always work for the people it aims to benefit. And I realised that by the time someone is filing a case, their rights have already been violated and therefore is often too late to do much but seek justice. While I strongly believe that law is very important work, I decided that I personally wanted to help with an earlier intervention.
I ultimately decided on Roehampton for two reasons – the very scenic-looking campus is located in London near to where I studied previously and secondly the student resources department took extra kind care of the international students with regards to housing and various meet-up events organised. I felt welcome.
How do you think that your time at Roehampton influenced your path after university?
My time at Roehampton has certainly influenced my path following graduation. I have utilised many things that I learned in my course and more importantly was able to get work at my first couple of positions due to having a very specific degree in my field. In fact, I got a very highly-coveted position with Amnesty International Australia (I’m told there were 1000+ applicants), solely due to the fact that the person reviewing the applications was considering the exact same course. Sometimes it’s luck, and sometimes it’s being in the right place, right time, with the right qualifications. More practically speaking however, I met my now husband at Roehampton. He was living in the dorm room above mine. We met within the first week and became fast friends. After completing our studies, we moved to Melbourne, Australia where he had a permanent residency and later moved to his hometown in Malaysia. I can say without a single doubt that had I not studied at University of Roehampton, I would not be where I am today.
You currently work at the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur. Could you tell us more about the mission of this foundation?
The Dignity for Children Foundation aims to establish a world-class community-based education programme and a ‘youth village’ of integrated social enterprises. We strive to be a leading hub for transformational education, community work and research in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations by rallying the community to join us on our transformative journey.
Operating for 20 years now, we currently have 1,800 students in our programmes. 18 countries are represented amongst the student body. 80% of our student body are asylum seekers/refugees, while the remaining students are local Malaysians, some of whom are also from underprivileged backgrounds in need of some additional support. As Malaysia is a non-signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, asylum seekers and refugees are technically illegal and therefore unable to attend government (public) school. Dignity believes that all children should have access to quality education, no matter their backgrounds.
One of the main things I do to personally support Dignity’s goals is manage eat X dignity cafe, a social enterprise which gives back to the community it serves. Whilst it is open to the public like other cafes, it also serves as a training platform for underprivileged youth to learn Good and Beverage (F&B) skills. Students learn 2-3 days per week practical knowledge about how a cafe business operates.
I am also working to open a healthy organic food, fruit and veg shop to be called grow X dignity and a bakery, which will be bake X dignity. Our founders and the rest of the team all have big dreams to provide high quality education to anyone who needs it.
I believe social enterprises may prove to be a middle path for all. If companies took on community/social missions in addition to their profits, and charities took on a more self-sustainable model, together we could do a lot more for the planet.
Among your previous experiences was the From the Art: Ethical Handicrafts and Café. Could you tell us about the project?
When I moved to Australia, I worked for a couple of the larger non-profit organisations, as I assumed I would following the completion of a Human Rights degree. However I soon became frustrated that my particular positions were more administrative than helping on the ground. I knew that I had the capacity to do more.
My husband and I found a small affordable shop-front in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. The original idea was to sell fair trade handmade items to empower underprivileged but skilled artisans to support themselves financially. But as Melbourne is such a proud coffee town (they consider themselves only 2nd to Italy in the art of drinking coffee), we thought to add this aspect on as well. Then we realised how much suffering happens not just to humans, but also in the animal livestock industry and thought we would do our part to support eating more healthy nutritious vegetarian meals as well. Furthermore, the refugees in Australia are at quite a disadvantage when it comes to access to opportunities. So we found a partner who would screen and send asylum seeker staff for retail and F&B training. The mission took on a life of its own and quickly became a very holistic initiative.
We hired and trained refugees in the industry. We purchased fair trade organic beans from an organisation who trains formerly homeless people on roastery skills. We sourced retail products made by artisans worldwide. We made every effort to purchase eco-friendly reusable materials so as not to contribute to the mountain of plastic finding its way to our oceans. We served organic, delicious world-fusion vegetarian and vegan meals to customers whose regular appearance meant they soon became good friends. We even partnered with the local primary school to pass our food scraps and waste for their compost. We believe the big problems we face today require big solutions. We empowered our customers to make everyday choices that deepens their connection with their own humanity and the world at large. We offered them solace in the form of a nice hot cuppa.
What advice would you give to our female students?
My main advice to women in the University and elsewhere would be keep powering forward. There are so many adversities, so many people who will tell you that women are not supposed to be a particular way or do a particular work. People should be whatever way or do whatever work calls their heart and seems fair. If we believe what the negative people say, it will only perpetuate the myth that women cannot be successful scientists, CEO’s or whatever else. Women should not be shy to push for a pay raise, a promotion, a PhD or a political position because most men would not think twice. Don’t believe doubts or what anyone else says can or cannot be done. Stay strong and success will find you. Once you’ve found your strength, inspire and empower others to find their own.
What are the memories from Roehampton that you particularly cherish?
During my undergraduate degree, I lived off-campus and worked both a full-time job and a part-time job whilst attending full time Uni classes. So I made the effort to save enough funds from my work to be able to afford to undertake a postgraduate course, and live on campus without having to work. Most students arrived a week before classes started, so we had a chance to form bonds before our course began. I made friends in that first week who have become my closest friends today. I cherish my memories of our times catching a meal at Southlands after classes, late-night hours spent writing our dissertations alongside each other at the Whitelands computer lab, exploring downtown London or just having a pint at the pub together.
Years later, long after we have all spread out around the world, taken up various jobs, businesses, families and other responsibilities, we still remain in touch. Roehampton is what brought us together, and for that I will be forever grateful.