May 5 2013
Allison Vitkauskas, BSILR '14
As a part of my ILR international spring travel experience, I provided pro-bono legal consulting to rural communities located within the Darien province of Panama along with 27 other Cornell students. This trip was organized through the on-campus student organization, Cornell Global Law Brigades, which is a university chapter associated with the non-profit organization, Global Human Rights Brigades Panama. The main objective of this trip was to develop a legal support system in these rural Panamanian communities, as these communities have extremely limited access to legal resources, and therefore limited knowledge of their own legal rights.
Under the guidance of Panamanian lawyers, we organized legal clinics and workshops in order to educate community members on their legal rights in various situations, such as property and land-title disputes, child support cases, and employment related conflicts. One of the particular cases I worked with involved a mother who was in need of guidance regarding a child support dispute. With the help of our Panamanian lawyer who had explained the legal process and relevant jurisdiction, we were able to inform the mother of her legal rights as well as provide her with the appropriate steps she must undergo in order to obtain child support. We also had the opportunity to host two debates with students at the local high school in the community. We were able to introduce these students to the process of debating and constructing logical arguments as a means to provide them with an alternative way to resolve disputes. We also engaged with young children in the community by organizing educational games involving human rights topics.
As an ILR student planning to attend law school in the future, this opportunity provided me with valuable experience of how to effectively provide legal aid to individuals. I was also able utilize my ILR education in a way that contributes to the betterment of the global community by engaging with issues that occur on a global scale. Additionally, I fostered new relationships not only among my peers at Cornell but also with people of different cultural backgrounds and experiences. To have the opportunity to engage with others of a completely different cultural background on a personal level and witness their sense of empowerment was such a truly rewarding experience that I will be most fond of when I look back at my time at Cornell.