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INTERNATIONAL BRIDGES TO JUSTICE
July 19, 2011

In the summer of 2010, I was fortunate to work with one of IBJ's JusticeMaker fellows in rural, western Kenya. Over the past year, the fellow had done work to promote women's legal rights in an area where women traditionally are either unaware of or unable/unwilling to exercise their rights due to tradition. Through community meetings and various other outreach channels like radio shows, he had provided knowledge and an accompanying desire for change to many members of his community, and subsequently set up meetings with local government officials where people could express their concerns.
During my stay, he was still working tirelessly to promote discussion and advocacy for better governance in the region. I attended many, many community meetings to discuss the upcoming referendum on a new Constitution as well as other community concerns, including those surrounding prison conditions and the inadequacies of the legal system.
I was also fortunate enough to work briefly with another IBJ funded organization in the nearby city of Kisumu. Awarded a JusticeMaker fellowship in the same year, CLEAR Kisumu is essentially a legal aid organization for citizens who probably otherwise would not be able to afford/retain representation. While it is part of a broader organization, the Kisumu office was started as a result of IBJ funding. Even in my short time there, I could see their positive impact on the community and the legal environment in western Kenya, which is an 8-hour, pothole filled world away from the comparative sophistication of Nairobi. I attended a paralegal training where one of the attorneys was explaining basic property law to local citizens and outlining the forms and procedure required by the courts. Those citizens were then setting up a legal aid center, where they could turn around and help other citizens. Another day I tagged along to a prison where the attorneys and staff members made a presentation on the upcoming constitutional referendum and answered some of the inmates legal questions. At the prison it was very apparent that the legal system moves very slowly in Kenya and that many of the inmates would not have representation at all - even to answer routine questions about paperwork/forms to be filed at the court - if it weren't for the Kisumu office. As far as I remember, the inmates are provided with a single typewriter to type their own appeals, so any time or correspondence wtih an attorney can be extremely helpful.

I had an overall fantastic experience living and working in Kenya for the summer with two of IBJ's JusticeMaker fellowship recipients. The work that the $5,000 fellowships made possible was valuable to the community and humbling to behold - I saw people whose homes have no running water or electricity passionately advocating for improvement to the system of governance, the legal culture, and the prison system in their country. As an American law student interested in rule of law work in the future, my experience with IBJ was, in short, awesome, and it would be hard to overstate the importance of the work they supported in Kenya.

The Great!

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

western Kenya.

Ways to make it better...

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

encourage them to establish more field offices!

MY ROLE:
Volunteer & Assisted JusticeMaker fellow(s) with community meetings/advocacy/education/etc. for a summer.