The day before the start of the 21-27 June central committee meeting, the stewards visited the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on Geneva's lakefront, where a staff member who was once a steward briefed them on his work.
Morse Caoagas Flores, from the Philippines, was a steward at the WCC 9th Assembly in Porto Allegre, Brazil, in 2006 and now serves as a human rights officer for an Indigenous and minorities' fellowship programme in Geneva.
"Human rights is not a person—it’s our lives; it's our dignity that's stake; it's our relationship in our families; it's our communities; it's our religion," said Flores, explaining that he comes from the northern Philippines.
"I've been a steward myself with the World Council of Churches. I'm a Methodist. But at the same time, my father is a Catholic. So I'm part of two worlds. So what do you call it? Ecumenical."
Flores said minorities can be the most vulnerable and disenfranchised people.
Security was tight as usual at the Palais Wilson in the historical building housing the human rights office that once was the headquarters of the League of Nations, the body that preceded the UN.
Flores told the 28 stewards from 23 countries and all corners of the globe that the Minorities Fellowship Programme was launched in 2005 and is OHCHR's most comprehensive training programme.
Human rights core business
"This is where human rights are at the core of the business," said Flores explaining that the programme provides training for human rights and minority rights defenders belonging to national or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.
At the end of the fellowship programme, the fellows should have a general knowledge of the UN system, international human rights instruments and mechanisms in general and those relevant to minorities.
Offered in English, Russian, and Arabic, the programme is an opportunity for human rights activists to work towards protecting and promoting minority rights to expand their partners' base.
They do this by building a strategic dialogue with fellow activists from across the globe, the United Nations, and relevant Geneva-based non-governmental organizations, amongst other partners.
The goal of the fellowship programme is to offer persons belonging to minorities the opportunity to gain knowledge and skills in international human rights so they can assist their organizations and communities in protecting and promoting human and minority rights.
Flores said that candidates proposed and nominated by a minority organization or communities must return to their non-governmental organization to work in the human rights field.
An alumnus of the Erasmus Mundus Master Programme in International Humanitarian Action, former WCC steward Flores is also president of Ugnayang Bayan, the federation of Filipino communities in Switzerland and chair of the Committees on Youth and Human Rights with the European Network of Filipino Diaspora.
The WCC's stewards programme aims to provide an opportunity for learning about the ecumenical movement: its history, its present, and where it is leading, and analyzing experiences with others at the council.