Human Rights Commissioner Dany Pen has been selected as the 2016 recipient for the "World Builder" award from OCAD University, Canada. The award is the university's highest honors for alumni achievement.
Pen's family arrived in America as refugees fleeing the Cambodian Genocide. From 1975-1979, over 2 million Cambodians were murdered by the Khmer Rouge communist regime. Many were imprisoned, forced into slavery and executed.
Upon arriving in the Americas as refugees and claiming sanctuary, Pen’s family were separated. Her mother was directed to Canada while the remainder of the family were sent to Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A.
Pen and her mother were placed in Canada's largest government social housing known as Regent Park. In the 1980s and 1990s, Regent Park was considered one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city of Toronto, with many families living under the poverty line bringing home approximately $6000 annually. At the time, due to poverty, drugs, prostitution, gangs and illiteracy in the community, Regent Park had the highest crime rate in all of Canada.
"Education was my opportunity and avenue for success", says Pen. As a young student, Pen scored the highest school grade in the country, along with achieving national honors in secondary school and a full university scholarship.
For Dany Pen, growing up in the projects fueled her advocacy for human rights.
"Growing in Regent Park, you witness many injustices, discrimination and oppression. I have been very fortunate to be able to further my education and pursue a successful career; and so it is fitting to use my skills and abilities to help empower those who feel they don't have a voice or may not know their rights", says Pen.
Pen's social activism over the years includes her advocacy for subsidized housing for young mothers and children and accessible education to at-risk communities in Canada. In Toronto, she has worked with several social agencies to help homeless and at-risk youth. In Bermuda, Pen was formerly a committee member for the Sunshine League Foundation, a member of the Inter-Agency for Children (IAC), and a facilitator for the SCARS program.
In 2013 in Bermuda, Pen launched an advocacy campaign and community march petitioning for a financial increase in the government's art education budget. Pen also launched the first national museum program for early learning at the Bermuda National Gallery. As an art educator, Pen has outreached to over 10,000 students in Bermuda.
Pen is currently a Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as the Education and Communication Officer at the Bermuda National Gallery. In Canada, Pen serves as an Advisory Board Member for the Social Enterprise Program and is currently a key partner in developing art education programs for Syrian Refugees.
Recently, Pen was able to help create a Cambodian translation video for the 'Black Lives Matter' movement and release an article title "Who is Black in America?” published in Today In Bermuda, which reached thousands of readers in Bermuda, Canada, the U.S.A, Cambodia and even Africa.
"I was completely surprised when the university contacted me about the award and even more thankful for being honored with the title of being 'World Builder", says Pen.
To watch a bio film on Dany Pen released by INSTUDIO (CANADA), please click here: https://vimeo.com/188322166