Today is my last day at the Human Rights Office and as I look around the room the faces are all different from when I first arrived. It’s hard to believe how many interns have come and gone since I started. It has been great getting to meet so many people from around the world and interested in similar things as myself. I feel as if I can go anywhere now and I’ll know someone.
The six weeks I’ve worked here have flown by and I’ve certainly seen a lot come across my desk in that time. From immigration applications, to xenophobic attacks, police violence to rape, to assault charges, it has been a whirlwind of problems. I’m sure these issues are present everywhere but it seems like they are concentrated here.
It is sad to leave some cases unresolved and have to pass them off to other interns. I had hoped for resolution but that’s not always possible. Indeed, if there is one thing that can be said of Africa it’s that everything takes forever.
In terms of my experience here, I think it was worthwhile and will help me to be competitive as I look for internships next summer. It certainly helps that I’ve been working for years and know how to use my time wisely. I also feel fortunate to have been immersed in the culture here, as most of my travels have been short, comparatively.
Although I’m done with my volunteer work, I still have about two weeks left in the country to sightsee. I’m hoping for good weather as it has rained buckets every weekend since I arrived. On tap: shark cage diving, caving, maybe bungee jumping, and a safari. Yippee.
Despite what lies ahead, I am very excited to be going home soon and can’t wait to get back on American soil. I’m not usually patriotic, but being in a chaotic environment like this one has made me appreciate the little things like good public transit, steady Internet, and a generally organized society.
The next time I write a post I’ll probably be at home in my 14th floor apartment enjoying coffee and reminiscing about all of this. But until then, I’ll keep taking advantage of all Africa has to offer, even its craziness.
I can’t believe I’m entering my fourth week here in Cape Town. It has been a crazy, fun-filled ride so far; except for the cold I’ve been battling. For the last week I’ve had laryngitis and sounded like a seal whenever I talked. I finally sound somewhat normal.
Work has been slow, mainly because I was out sick a couple of days last week, but I came back into the office today and there was plenty to do. I think I mentioned before that I’ve been working on an assault case preparing arguments for the prosecution. The trial is this Friday so it should be interesting to see what happens. We meet with the clients on Wednesday to prep so hopefully I’ve thought of everything.
I had my first real victory today. During our free legal clinic in Manenberg I met a couple that had been receiving the wrong utility bill for three years for thousands of rand per month (8.4 rand = $1). Because of financial limitations and age they had never been able to go to the Rental Office to address it, so they came to see us. After doing a Google search that turned up nothing I did a search for NGOs that serve the township. I only had to call around to three of them before someone gave me the number I was looking for, or at least a starting point. Finally, weeks later, I connected with an actual person who changed the address to the correct one. Jen, 1. South African crappy billing system, 0.
I also had my hand in helping two clients who were unlawfully evicted get restitution from their landlord. Basically, because of a letter I wrote to the landlord detailing South African law about tenant’s rights, a member of the high court ruled that the landlord knowingly broke the law and ordered him to allow the tenants to move back to their home. He also required the landlord to restore the property to the way it was before the forceful eviction, which involved breaking down the tenants’ doors and throwing their stuff into the street. Yeah, it was shady. But, I felt I had a little part in sticking it to the man, which is what I’m all about. Take that sucka who didn’t heed my advice. Jen, 1. Shady landlord, 0.
So far my score is 2-0. I have three more working weeks and about 15 cases left to resolve so I’m doing my best to bat 1000 before I leave. We’ll see, the South African Legal System can truly be a bear sometimes. For now, I’m happy with my progress.
Until next time.
I’m sitting in my room drinking tea while outside it’s raining buckets. I think I need to invest in a pair of galoshes this week. Winter is in full effect here in Capetown: that means cold and wet and wearing lots of layers both indoors and out.
My workload is ever increasing as new clients come to the office daily to share with us their burdens and ask for help. Last week I was assigned an unlawful eviction and rape case and spent my time writing letters and making phone calls on their behalf. Making calls is always frustrating because there is no such thing as a directory in South Africa; you start with a number and call around to about 100 different people until you find the right one. Offices move and numbers change so frequently here that this seems to be the norm. Thankfully, Google has been very useful. I’ve also been helping to prepare a case that goes to trial in the next few weeks. One of our clients is charged with assault, we believe wrongly, so I’ve been looking at it through the prosecutor’s lens to see how we can strengthen the defense. Basically, I’ve been studying South African criminal law and building a case against our client with the hope that we may be able to anticipate the prosecutor’s argument.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday we do a free Legal Clinic at one of the poor townships in the area. People in these communities have few resources and lots of problems so volunteers from our office go to pick up new cases and meet with clients on existing ones. This week we went to Manenberg. My partner and I saw a few clients but one had a particularly sad story. She was a 63-year-old woman whose legs had been amputated without her permission. Apparently, she was meant to have a by-pass surgery and when she woke both her legs were gone. Now she is in a wheelchair and living on the top floor of a building and cannot find anyone to switch apartments with her so she can be on the bottom floor. Since she is without family she has to pay people in her community to help her in and out of her home. What can one even say to that? When we go back in two weeks we will have her sign a power of attorney so I can call the hospital on her behalf and try and get her medical record and see what actually happened. Hopefully, we can take it to trial and perhaps win a settlement on her behalf, or at the very least get her moved to a downstairs apartment. I doubt it will be resolved before I leave though. Things move incredibly slowly here.
Last week wasn’t all work though. You have to let off steam when you deal with crappy situations all day. On Monday a group of us went to this great African restaurant where they serve samples from all over the continent and do traditional African dancing. It was amazing food and I got to try ostrich and springbok meat, both very tasty. Yesterday, some of us went to what’s called the Old Biscuit Mill for lunch. It is by far the best place I’ve been yet. All of my foodie friends back home would have been in heaven there. It is sort of like a big farmer’s market but with high quality food stalls of every kind: Thai, Italian, Spanish, African, desserts, etc. and restaurants, and shops. It is so big and there is so much to eat that you just stuff yourself until you can’t move. Seriously, some of the best food I’ve ever had. I think this will become a new Saturday tradition. There is just too much left to try. Continuing on the food track, today we immersed ourselves in the South African experience known as braai. Braii is basically another word for BBQ but this is no regular BBQ. About 15 of us went to a ‘restaurant’ called Mzoli’s; it’s really just a ton of tables in a large tin shed with music and a DJ. All they serve is meat so you have to bring in everything else: utensils, plates, any other food and drink. You go up, pick out your meat, and they BBQ it with this amazing marinade and bring it to your table. We had a huge bucket of meat (chicken, sausage, beef, lamb) and no utensils so it was seriously like we were cavemen, eating with our bare hands and fighting over the spoils. And this place was hopping: music, dancing, people doing crazy things. It is the place to be on the weekend and full of locals so you really get a feel for South African culture.
There is so much more I could write about but this post has been long enough so I’ll say cheers for now. Oh, and I've been having a hard time adding photos to these posts so check me out on Facebook to see my adventures.
I survived my first week in South Africa (SA). I hit the ground running, getting assigned several cases and going to court already. Currently, my caseload involves police violence, refugee matters, and domestic affairs. I could be assigned other cases, it just depends on what comes in to the office. Once I get the case, I’m responsible for all of the follow up with the client and anyone else involved. This may be via phone calls, letters, email, or visiting a location to gather more information. I may also need to work on law briefs or opposing arguments for court or general research on South African law. No, I’m not trained in any of this but most of the volunteers aren’t either. You basically learn as you go and get your work checked by one of the two lawyers in the office. I love it so far.
When I inquired about human trafficking work I learned a terrible truth: it’s not really an issue in SA. You might think that this is good news, but the reason is because sexual violence and rape against women and children is so common here those types of ‘services’ aren’t needed. In fact, I learned that SA has the highest incident of rape in the world, so much so that they had to dedicate an entire court system just to hear the cases. Needless to say, it has been very difficult to deal with this information and I find myself having to tell myself repeatedly that there are more good people in the world than bad. Of course, I expected this somewhat. We are working with human rights abuses, after all. It just confirms even more my desire to work in this field and the law.
In terms of my host family and accommodation, both are great. I’m living with a young couple and their three children in a suburb of Capetown called Grassy Park. I’m currently by myself, but will be getting five other roommates in the next several weeks so things will become a bit crazy. I only wish I was a little closer to the office as it takes me about an hour to get to work in the morning. My travel routine involves walking 10 minutes to the minibus station near my house. The minibus is the primary mode of transportation and accommodates 15 passengers. I get to the minibus and get in the lead van and wait anywhere from 5-20 minutes for it to fill up. We never leave with fewer than 15 people. From here, the minibus heads to the train station about 20 minutes away, and then I catch a train for another 20 minutes. Thankfully, the train station is near the office and all that’s left is to cross the street, SA style. In SA pedestrians do not have the right of way, and the few crosswalks are not reliable, so basically we all just play chicken with the cars. It can be a bit crazy, especially since they drive on the opposite side of the road and I always think it’s clear until I realize I’ve looked the wrong way. I’m getting better at this though and so far have survived.
All in all, I’m having a great time and meeting a lot of awesome people. There are about 15 other volunteers in my office and another 10 or so in other projects in the city so it has been easy to make friends. So far I’ve watched a couple of soccer matches, climbed Table Mountain, and am going to a rugby game tonight. It’s a good thing I have six weeks here since there is so much to do and see.
Cheers, as they say.
This time tomorrow (oops, I guess it's today now) I'll be somewhere over the Atlantic heading towards London and finally Capetown! I learned I'll be staying with Tasneem and Shafiek and their sons Ismaeel (5) and Yahya (3) and daughter, Ghaamidah (1). I'll also have three roommates from England, France, and Holland. How exciting!
I'm mostly done packing but have a laundry lists of tasks to complete first thing in the morning. It's hard planning to be gone for eight weeks. Although I leave tomorrow (June 10th), I don't get to South Africa until Tuesday. Apparently, it's on the other side of the world or something. But at least I have something to look forward to during my six hour layover in London. Another volunteer from Sweden will be on my flight to Capetown so we're planning to meet up before we start the 12 hour homestretch.
In other news (big news), I got in to Berkeley Law this week! I am still in shock as Berkeley is my top choice and I had settled that I would not be going there. I will never underestimate the power of waitlists again.
My internet access will be limited but I hope to post about once or twice per week depending on how often I make it to a cafe. Also, if you considered donating to my trip it's not too late. Just visit www.golike.com/southafrica to make a contribution.
Catch ya later.
As Nelson Mandela so wisely put it, "There is no such thing as part freedom." Help me to ensure this is true for all people, starting with those I enounter this summer in Capetown, South Africa.
For the past five years I have been working for Habitat for Humanity and advocating for affordable housing both in the Bay Area and abroad. While I feel fortunate to have helped so many hardworking families find a permanent place to call home, I am ready to help further people’s rights in a different way. For a while now I have been volunteering with MISSSEY, an Oakland-based organization that supports young girls that have been forced into prostitution. The sexual exploitation of minors and of women trafficked from abroad is unfortunately a lucrative business in the US. While laws have been passed to try to mitigate these abuses, a number of factors keep the business alive and well. One such issue is that there are two few lawyers to effectively deal with the problem; in this, I have found the perfect way to be involved in the fight for women’s rights. I will be attending UC Hastings Law in the fall and focusing on Criminal Law with the hopes of prosecuting those responsible for these forms of modern-day slavery.
To prepare for this new venture I will be heading to Capetown, South Africa in June for a six-week law and human rights internship. I am excited about this opportunity as I will be working alongside Theodore Kamwimbi, a Human Rights lawyer and associate of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. While I am unsure of the particulars, some of the work I could be involved with includes educating domestic violence victims of their rights, helping refugees from neighboring countries to receive asylum status, monitoring the situation in refugee settlements for human exploitation, or doing legal research on various cases. I also hope to sit in on a trial or two. With its brutal history of apartheid and the current plague of gender-based violence, South Africa is a great location for me to advocate on behalf of the oppressed and to focus on women’s rights.
While you may not be able to go with me to South Africa or fight in the courtroom for justice, you can still help be part of changing the landscape for women and girls here and abroad. As an intern with Projects Abroad, a UK based organization that mobilizes volunteers internationally, I am responsible to pay for all expenses associated with this trip. The total cost is $7,000. Would you consider making a donation of $300, $200, $100 or some other amount towards my trip? Given the organization’s antiquated system, the easiest way to donate is through my PayPal account at www.golike.com/southafrica or by mailing a check made out to me to 100 Grand Ave, Apt 1402, Oakland, CA 94612. I would greatly appreciate your support.
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