THE passion and intellectual rigour of a 17-year-old West Dorset schoolgirl saw her take the Amnesty International Human Rights Reporter of the Year.
Woodroffe School pupil Ele Saltmarsh of Five Penny Farm, Wootton Fitzpaine, wrote about the forced eviction of a Kenyan tribe but it wasn’t the lure of the prize that inspired her to enter.
She wanted to publicise the plight of the Sengwer tribe and thought the best way to tell their story was through the prize.
She said: “I didn’t expect to win but I thought the competition was really a way of getting the news out there quickly. It was about highlighting what was going on rather than winning the prize.
“But once I got to the ceremony in London I did want to win just because the Sengwer people had given me a message to give to Amnesty.
“They just wanted me to pass on their thanks to Amnesty for giving me the support and spreading the news and they wanted to say that it had given them hope.”
Ele was so shocked to have won she barely took in the reasons she did but thinks it was because she suggested a solution instead of just highlighting the issue.
She said: “It was a very short piece but I managed to get in the information but also wrote about what could be done to solve it.
“The evictions are being done in the name of conservation to reduce emissions – which I am for because I am a conservationist – but they are evicting these people who are actually the ideal stewards of the forest so I was saying go ahead relocate the settlers who are causing emissions but indigenous tribes should be able to live in harmony with the forest and manage it as they have done for generations.”
Ele, who is doing AS levels in biology, chemistry, maths, further maths and environmental science, and mum Jyoti are going to visit the Kenyan tribe this summer.
They hope to be able to help them with their fight to stay on the land.
Ele said they would be trying to raise money to help the tribe with their appeals and collect signatures for a petition.
She said: “If we could deliver them something like that it would be a great help and we will try and get their appeal raised to a higher authority.”
Ele is hoping to go to Oxford to study biological sciences.
Ele said: “I definitely want to carry on with activism. Human rights isn’t really my speciality area, it is not what I am most interested in although I am very active in it already.
“But I am mainly focused on conservation and environmental issues.
“I am hoping to study biological sciences because I am coming at it from the perspective that I can become an activist but with a really strong scientific background so I can have a lot of basis for any statements that I make.”