Rosalie Forget Lacoursiere - Combined Law & Human Rights in South Africa
Along the three months I volunteered with Projects-Abroad Human Rights Office (PAHRO) in Cape Town, South Africa, I had the opportunity to work with people from a variety of cultures including other volunteers from all around the globe as well as the natives of the land.
As a second year law student from Canada, I couldn’t have hoped for a better legal experience than the one I had with the legal services department of PAHRO. Not only the interns get to work in many areas of laws such as Family Law, Property Law, Labour Law, Refugee Law and Criminal Law, they also get to directly deal with clients allowing them to get real hands on experience in a professional working environment.
Due to the inability some clients have to attend their appointments in our office, an outreach team was created where three times a week Interns like myself would attend legal clinics located in Townships, which are areas in the outskirts of Cape Town suffering from social ills including gang violence and high rate of substance abuse. The legal clinics were the perfect opportunity to practice my communication and interviewing skills as I worked one on one with clients to identify the clients’ needs, providing legal advice, and assess their overall needs for possible referral.
This experience also helped me develop my research skills, not only about legal issues but also on domestic and foreign policies as we dealt with refugee cases from many nations. With PAHRO, interns are brought to assist lawyers in researches and drafting legal procedures. Through these researches and discussions with professionals, for example partaking in strong discussions on social issues affecting the population such as the aftermath of the apartheid, I had the chance to familiarize myself with the legislative policies and the social issues that impacts South Africa. Therefore I could better understand the realities of our clients and how they are impacted along with the complicated legal issues they face.
Tact and judgment are qualities that I have further developed due to the sensitive nature of the cases we dealt with. All of the clients I dealt with were incredibly thankful for the work we did and it is really heart-warming to see them smile at the end, which makes the entire experience worth much more than money.
PAHRO also has a social justice department where I had the opportunity to facilitate workshops in juvenile detention centres, shelters for abused women, and also work with other local organisations. Through my experience with this program, I learned from the locals as I also taught them many valuable life skills that will help them plan a better future for themselves. It was a great way to get involved in the community and make a direct impact.
Apart from work, it was great to be able to go out and explore with the other volunteers while discovering the beautiful city of Cape Town and its surroundings. There is so much to learn, if you are a curious person South Africa is a great place to visit as you will be exposed to many new things as the country is known for its diversity and shocking wealth disparities. The people’s big hearts and endless generosity will make you fall in love with their rainbow nation.
I am very thankful I had the opportunity to live such an eye opening and enriching experience. Volunteering brings people together and unites them from diverse backgrounds to work toward a common goal. A proverb says “the heart that gives gathers” and I think it applies perfectly to the work done by PAHRO.
I thank everyone at the office for making me feel at home while in Cape Town and allowing me to live a once in a lifetime experience