October 18 2013
Daniel Muniz-Garcia, BSILR '16
My Spring Break consisted of traveling to the province of Darien in Panama and working with community members to inform rural Panamanians about their legal rights. I traveled with a group of 26 volunteers as a part of the Cornell Global Law Brigade. We worked with three Panamanian Lawyers experienced in the fields of criminal, corporate, and civil law. We submerged ourselves in a cultural exchange where we learned about the basic principles of Panamanian Law, its application, and the nuances that stem off of the law. We focused on the issues prevalent in the community we were working with, the community of Zapallal. The issues included but were not limited to divorce, child support, alimony, custodial rights, land entitlements, etc.
We were split up into different groups and assigned a specific legal topic to work with. My group worked with alimony. We learned the basic principles and regulations of alimony law and the way it was applied in Panama. We created a flyer in Spanish with the basic principles that dictate alimony as well as a separate flyer for frequently asked questions addressing the Who, What, Where, When, etc. We presented our flyers to community members as part of community “charlas” (discussions) at a local school in the region and answered any lingering questions.
One of the days consisted of volunteers traveling to community members’ homes and hearing specific legal cases. We visited a Panamanian woman who sought legal consulting regarding alimony. She was trying to figure out how she should approach her situation where her child’s father stopped paying alimony, despite the extreme necessity of the funds. Our group, with the help of one of the Panamanian lawyers, advised her in regards to the steps she was to take and helped her fill out legal paperwork. The lawyers then finished it off by forwarding the materials to the community court to ensure that the legal process was well underway.
Along the lines of working with the community, we also interacted with elementary school children to teach them about their general legal rights. We played several games with the children where we categorized several activities as either rights or duties. The children learned whether a certain activity such as education was a right or a duty. Through this activity we were able to hint at the different legal rights that Panamanians should have which was beneficial for the students to be aware of at an early age.
The ILR travel grant which I was awarded was of extreme support in my endeavor to help empower Panamanians regarding their legal rights. The grant helped me pay for the program fees which in turn allowed me to contribute to the community of Zapallal. The money facilitated my ability to work with Panamanian lawyers to address the many issues prevalent in the province of Darien. There were several expenses that added up to a large monetary amount which would have become a hindering burden without the ILR travel grant. I am whole-heartedly thankful for the aid I received and will gladly acknowledge ILR International Programs’ support in any paper or publication that sprouts from this amazing experience.