Satter Foundation human rights fellow tells the stories of those who cannot tell their own

Sam Koplewicz
Sam Koplewicz

To stop violence, to stop hate, to change the world, you have to tell the stories of other people.  

New Yorker Sam Koplewicz is a young man dedicated to telling the stories of others, especially those who are victims of atrocities or are disadvantaged, to make this world a better place.  

Koplewicz is uniquely positioned to make an impact. As someone who was once considered “special needs” and as someone who is Jewish working in a land that does not like Israel, he creates impact by his very presence and with his camera and ability to connect with people to tell their stories. 

“The human element is often overlooked in all things," Koplewicz said. " People are turned into two-dimensional figures, even objectified, and not thought of as a neighbor, son or daughter.”    

More generally, Koplewicz believes he may be driven, or influenced, at least in part, by the fact that his grandparent's are Holocaust survivors. 

"(That) maybe instilled a drive, this kind of 'never again' idea, something (I was) raised on, felt like a mandate almost but it is not necessarily clear to me that it had to be so closely tied to my whole life," he said. "But (I've) always (been) taught or told that one is to look out for other people."

Koplewicz has already built a reputation as a passionate advocate for others, particularly on his travels abroad. The 29-year-old Harvard Law School graduate is currently in Lebanon on a Satter Foundation Human Rights Fellowship.

Koplewicz is concentrating on telling the human story around the Syrian conflict that draws attention to the indiscriminate attacks on civilians by working with Human Rights Watch (HRW).

His media advocacy work around the Syrian conflict is aimed at producing packages on international humanitarian law and the indiscriminate use of weapons that are legally sound but also have an emotional impact. 

After the chemical weapons attack in Syria, Koplewicz produced a series of videos in the field that coincided with the military advancement in Aleppo.   By showing the impact of chemical weapons on individual people, groups, like Human Rights Watch, can push for change and highlight the human consequence. 

Yet, despite the ongoing conflict in Syria and the humanitarian cost, Koplewicz remains an optimist.

"I am an optimist and do not think this story is over ... re-imagining the laws of war and enforcement mechanisms of war," Koplewicz said. "The world is growing smaller and closer day by day; (there's) no option but to get on the same page."

And he added, "I have seen victories."

As an example, Koplewicz cites the condemnation by the Convention on Conventional Weapons of the use of incendiary weapons and believes there are moves to close legal loopholes that are allowing the deployment of these weapons.

The one-time Fulbright Scholar's other main focus is on the education of children, particularly those with special needs.

He is currently compiling a report on the barriers to the education of children with special needs in Lebanon and has conducted 100 interviews with people from across the country, including educators, school administrators and government officials. 

An advocate for the integration of those with special needs into the mainstream school system, Koplewicz plans to design and implement an advocacy campaign on this issue, but he senses that many in Lebanon do not believe integration is necessary, or even feasible. 

Koplewicz's own background has informed him. 

He grew up with dyslexia, which left him feeling "out of the box a little bit"; but he said it also propelled him to advocate for those in the same position.  He knows first hand how support can make a difference. 

His father is Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the founding president of the Child Mind Institute, a non-profit that helps children with mental health and learning disorders. 

Whether it is Syria, Israel or here in the U.S., Koplewicz's storytelling abilities will undoubtedly impact our world for the better.