Chris Chang and Ciarán Suter - alumni profile

From degrees in Modern Languages to protecting the rights of some of the world’s most vulnerable people, Chris Chang and Ciarán Suter have come a long way.

First steps

Chris Chang and Ciaran Suter

Making your mark in the incredibly competitive NGO sector is no mean feat. Chris Chang and Ciarán Suter make it look almost effortless, even though it was not all plain sailing. Chris studied at college, worked full time and volunteered at Reprieve, in London, all at once because he was passionate about helping people.

“I reached out to Reprieve about becoming a volunteer because I was, and still am, staunchly anti-death penalty, firmly against injustice and the many forms that it can take and because I really wanted to find a way to help make a change. Volunteering is a great way to break into the field if you can find a way to make it work whilst being able to support yourself, so it’s a balancing act...” says Chris.

Ciaran, too, worked hard to establish himself in the field. After completing the Graduate Diploma in Law, Ciarán completed a graduate scheme at Bloomberg, followed by a stint with Ipsos-MORI. He then decided to volunteer with Reprieve’s London office to pursue a particular interest in human rights. Ciarán explains, “It is a very competitive sector.

"Unfortunately, a lot of opportunities in the UK seem to be in London and, since interning is often the first foot in the door, the expense of living in London on a low wage or no wage is clearly very prohibitive and many people will not be able to have this opportunity. If people can save for something like this, I would encourage them to look abroad for internships or voluntary opportunities where their money may go further.”

A day in their lives

“A day in the life can be incredibly varied,” says Ciarán, “but essentially, it will involve some degree of contact with the many individuals related to this area of work: family members of people facing the death penalty, those individuals themselves, lawyers, government representatives, representatives of other non-governmental organisations – essentially a whole range of people and groups. Much of the role is office based but, at times, domestic and foreign travel is involved.”

“Unfortunately, there are not enough hours in the day!” Chris laments. His days can be extremely varied he says, “from working long hours at my desk reviewing files, analysing case-related information, writing memos, planning investigation and investigation trips”. But his days on the road can be long ones too, attempting to “locate and interview witnesses; gaining access to insular communities or hostile individuals and groups; navigating the infrastructure and the bureaucracy in countries outside of the UK; long drives; liaising with local contacts and partners; prison visits and family visits”.

Greatest challenges

When asked what the most challenging moments of their careers were, Ciarán said: “Maintaining funding for charities and NGOs has become more difficult over recent years and concerns about maintaining projects, commitments to the people you assist, adds an additional level of stress to an already stressful line of work.”

Whereas for Chris it is a constant challenge as an investigator to jump on and off a plane and hit the ground running so as to be able to get results on the frontline, wherever that may be. “Often, time and resources are limited and one is faced with having to gain trust quickly and move from that trust-building to obtaining the information that is needed; to converting the information into a format that can be used in a legal context to strengthen an individual’s legal defence. And that challenge can be a great one especially when individuals are staring death in the face or are being abused and tortured in prisons such as Guantanamo.”

The hard work pays off

It’s not all gloom and doom, however. “There have been many exciting and rewarding moments,” says Chris. “My work as an investigator has been incredibly exciting in many ways and I have travelled across the world working hard conducting investigations that I hope will always impact positively on the cases of those you are working for. I am proud to say that the work I have been involved with has led to the release of prisoners from the legal black hole that is Guantanamo and has impacted positively on the case of a number of prisoners held on death row or facing capital charges.”

For Ciarán the most rewarding moments have been while working at Reprieve. “I would likely say the times when there has been some improvement in a person’s situation, giving that person and his or her family something to hope for and showing them that other people care and are willing to help fight their corner,” he adds.

Chris concludes, “I am very proud of the work that I do and often feel privileged to be able to assist those held in some of the worst prisons in the world. And at the same time it is rewarding to be able to play a part in the fight against injustice and a fight for fairness and equality.”

Looking towards the future

“I would hope to continue doing this work for the foreseeable future, however, at some point I entertain the idea of working somewhere around the Mediterranean and escaping the winters here!” says Ciarán.

Chris intends to continue to work on improving investigation and legal representation. His goal is to “bring those facing criminal charges closer to an equitable space when up against some of the most powerful governments in the world. And hope to be able, in the same vein as Ciarán, to do this from a beach house in Jamaica.”

Would you like to get involved?

In addition to voluntary opportunities, Ciarán suggests a great way for others to support the work they’re doing is by sharing petitions and articles with their friends and family. See www.reprieve.org.uk

Chris, having set up 255 Research and Investigation, invites volunteers and funding.

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