By Chelsea Fish: Former Intern at BABSEACLE
I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand for my internship with BABSEACLE the goal of gaining experience in community legal education (CLE). Though my exposure to CLE was limited, I had spent the latter part of my M.A. in Geography studying land acquisition law in India. This had alerted me to the immense inequality in access to information about land law, particularly individual rights and state responsibilities, which contributed to many of the adverse outcomes I observed. With my internship at BABSEACLE, I was eager to investigate pragmatic solutions to these information imbalances and to learn from the individuals in the organization who built the programs throughout South-East Asia from the ground up.
What I found was a tight network of activists, lawyers, and students who worked tirelessly to build relationships between legal clinics, vulnerable groups in the community, the government, and other organizations. Most important for my purposes was my enhanced understanding of the challenges of carrying out community legal education. While I was impatient and eager, the process was slow and painstaking. It required constant negotiation between the educator and the learner. At some times, education, time, and income presented themselves as barriers to disseminating information about the law. At others, language itself was the challenge. Paring down the elaborate and sometimes obscure language of the law not only refined my editing skills, but also forced me to think further about how complicated legal language can reinforce imbalances of both information and power.
BABSEACLE also connected me with Equitable Cambodia, a legal education and advocacy organization based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I spent two weeks in working with the Community Education and Legal Empowerment (CELA) program. Going to villages in Koh Kong Province to deliver lessons on land law reinforced my belief in the power of community legal education to mitigate disparities in access to justice. Not only that, it reinforced my commitment to continuing to work with organizations like BABSEACLE as I enter into my first year of law school in the fall of 2013.