Chayes Fellow Katie Braun on working at the Equal Education Law Centre in South Africa

Katie Braun in Cape Town

Katie Braun in Cape Town

My main project at the Equal Education Law Centre is a memo about sexual offenses committed by educators in schools—a very sad but interesting and important topic. It can be frustrating, as some of the data I need about the implementation of various laws and policies just doesn’t exist, but it’s also exciting because there are real gaps in the law and administrative guidelines that I can explore. I also think that it’s good for me to get more comfortable with this kind of research, mixing the legal framework with information about how the laws actually operate throughout the country. I’ve circulated my final memo to the office, and recently gave a presentation to the attorneys on my findings.

I’ve also been working on other ongoing projects, such as checking provincial plans to see if they’re consistent with commitments made to specific communities. I also had a chance to attend and help out at the Equal Education National Congress. Equal Education is the broader social movement to which the Law Centre is attached, and this was their second conference after the first in 2012, with delegates from a number of provinces.

Equal Education National Congress

Equal Education National Congress

I also went with the attorneys to Du Noon, a township in Cape Town, to collect information from parents whose children have been illegally rejected from school. That was downright inspiring—a group of the parents have set up their own unofficial school to try to keep their children learning and safe. Hopefully we can help, too—the Centre is currently in contact with the Department of Education on their behalf.

For the last period of my stay, I am helping with the EELC shadow report on the Department of Basic Education’s 2015/16 annual performance plan and analysis of implementation plans for national norms and standards regarding school infrastructure that the provinces have recently released, partly in response to a previous EELC/EE campaign to get the national Department of Basic Education to promulgate these legally binding norms and standards.

Chayes Fellow Patricia Alejandro on working at Legal Resources Centre in South Africa

Patricia Alejandro '17 in Xolobeni, South Africa.

Patricia Alejandro ’17 in Xolobeni, South Africa.

Since my very first day I’ve been immersed in interesting and varied work. The South African constitution is very much a living document, allowing international law to be used as an aspiring standard. It also creates a range of socioeconomic rights, seeking to correct decades of inequality under apartheid.

Our office focuses mostly on education. In this area of the country, schools are falling apart, supplies and furniture are lacking, education quality is low, many teachers are absent from the classroom, and children often walk hours and many kilometers each day to get to school. The constitution enshrines the right to education, but that right is jeopardized without access to these basic elements.

I have been working on issues of providing students with transport to school and proper sanitation facilities. I researched international law for an upcoming court hearing on student transport and made an advocacy video using photos and videos of students walking to school. We received the judgment and order last week from the case; the judge has ordered that transportation be provided for many of those students. I am now in the process of calling other schools that have transport and toilet issues so that we can build upon that judgment and provide for these students.

Part of the experience has been to rejoice in the good, like the court’s order, while facing the emotional challenges of this work. Soon after the hearing we received word that one of the children who walks to one of the schools we represented had been raped during her commute. She had not been included on our case because she walked less than the distance required by the government for transport (5 kilometers each way). I wrote a memo to the police, calling on them to provide security for the students who walk on dangerous roads, so that the school community could use it to request protection.

During my last week, we will be traveling to interview a rural community embattled against a mining company that wants to work on their land. On the way back, we plan to visit some of the schools we represent and to assess whether the government has made any progress in improving their conditions.

I wish I could stay longer than two months. I am doing substantial legal work and am constantly exposed to a range of social issues.

Chayes Fellow Lisa Dicker on working at Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers in Beijing

Lisa Dicker '17 with fellow HLS student Dan Li '17 at Fengtai District Court in Beijing.

Lisa Dicker ’17 with fellow HLS student Dan Li ’17 at Fengtai District Court in Beijing.

I am now in the fifth week of my 10 weeks at Zhicheng Public Interest Lawyers in Beijing. A recent series of juvenile crimes in China has brought national attention to the country’s lack of a juvenile criminal system, so the director of ZPIL asked if any of the interns were interested in undertaking a research project comparing juvenile criminal systems. I jumped on the opportunity and have now been working on that project for over three weeks. I am lucky to be directly supervised by an attorney who works on children’s issues with advice and input from the director of the center. It is a highly relevant and hot topic, so I am very glad to be able to offer something to the dialogue.

In addition to my summer-long research project, I am also doing mini-research projects and casework. My office consists of three attorneys and me, so I get a great deal of overflow and translation work. The attorneys practice in three different areas of law, criminal, children’s rights, and NGO assistance, which means that I am getting a taste of everything. I have developed a survey that will be used in a three-year study of child sexual assault in China, written briefs related to disability law and children’s rights, written memos on US civil procedure processes, and everything in between.

My biggest takeaway so far from the summer is to be flexible! My ability to adapt and eagerness in accepting assignment requests has allowed me to work with many different attorneys who focus on many different areas of pro bono legal aid. I have been able to work in many subject areas and have completed assignments that take many forms—and I am only halfway through the summer!

The work environment itself also necessitates flexibility. The power shuts off at least twice a day, the internet crashes at least once an hour, and I never know when my VPN is going to work so access to typical legal research sites is often limited. But, these challenges have forced me to move outside my comfort zone, and I am confident that if I can produce good research work here, I can do it anywhere.

Lisa Dicker '17 at the Great Wall.

Lisa Dicker ’17

Meet the 2015 Chayes Fellows

Nineteen Harvard Law School students have been awarded the 2015 Chayes International Public Service Fellowship this summer. They are working abroad in China, Colombia, France, Ghana, India, Kenya, Myanmar, Namibia, Palestine, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, Uganda, and the United Kingdom, as well as in Washington, DC. Read the 2015 Chayes Fellows Biographies.