So some of you are probably wondering what I’m doing in Cameroon? Thanks to generous CIDA funding I’m doing a Legal Internship. But what does that really mean?
My job is pretty varied. My main role is a Legal Associate for YOP, which stands for Youth Outreach Programme. YOP is a Cameroonian NGO which has been in existence for over 20 years. They basically do a lot of programs and training for youth on a number of different topics including life skills and entrepreneurship with the goal to “empower Youth to recognize their own development”.
One of my roles is that is to facilitate sessions on leadership, women’s rights, etc, at the Women’s Empowerment Centre. These basically last an hour every Monday. The women are so nice. They range from ages 14-35(this is an educated guess). These women are so inspiring and kind. The first day one of them stood up and “thank you for coming”. I sometimes ask them really hard questions, for instance “What are Human Rights?” and they come up with better ideas then I ever would have. Or maybe this is just a reflection on my intellectual abilities…
Another thing I personally do is run training sessions for Youth about Human Rights. By Youth this definition ranges from anyone age 6-30. It’s a bit awkward trying to teach about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights when the people you are teaching are older than you.
I also work with Justice and Peace Commission, which is a YOP partner. Justice and Peace is a Catholic based organization based out of the Archdiocese of Bamenda at the Catholic University. Laura Anytola Tufon is the coordinator and she an incredible inspiration to me. She just recently came back from America where she won an award for her fight against child trafficking. The website for this is located at www.justiceandpeacebamenda.org.
Justice and Peace does a ton of really cool programs. One that I’m involved in is Access to Justice, which is kind of like Legal Aid. I work with numerous other Barrister’s who met clients. Basically anyone can just make an appointment and show up. Then the Barrister will help represent them, Pro-Bono.
What I find interesting about this program is that because it isn’t technically Legal Aid, the barrister’s are a bit more, well, shall I say creative about finding solutions. I think in Canada we would call it such tools as Mediation, Arbitration, which we talk a lot about but I rarely see being used. For example if a client comes in about a land dispute with his brother we will call his brother to come and visit us. Maybe have them both in the same room. Maybe send the brother a letter. Lots of solutions and rarely do we go to court. However I think it’s really helpful.
Most of the cases so far involve land disputes, family matters, custody, inheritance and other things like that.
A lawyer my old firm, told me once that the Family Court is one tool to use in a divorce, but sometimes it doesn’t produce the best results. He compared to “a scalpel, when sometimes you just need a band-aid”. I think watching these methods have made me more aware that just because a person enters a lawyer’s office, doesn’t mean the legal option is the best one. However the legal system still has a role to play, although it doesn’t have to be the only role.
Also what’s cool about Justice and Peace is during these “Access to Justice” sessions they encourage reconciliation. So if a husband wants to divorce his wife they will try to see if there’s some other way to get through the issue. Reading over numerous case files that sometimes is what happens. It’s also less adversarial then the Legal System in Canada. For instance the Barrister will sometimes just call up the relative and see if they can work out a solution. It’s inspiring.
That’s just two projects I’m involved in now. Other ones I’m involved in are Human Rights Training, making sure prisoners are being treated fairly, and education about Child Trafficking. More on these another day I need to met with a client!