By Michaela Hermanova and Veronika Vanisova, Charles University, Prague
It has been just a year since we first heard about the work of BABSEACLE. We belong to a group of students at our law school who want to pursue the law in practice, rather than only study law in books. We have a street law project, in which we learn CLE methods and then teach legal rights at Czech high schools. Our teacher told us about the BABSEACLE Legal Studies Externship Clinic and highly recommended the program’s leaders.
Although we did not really know what kind of activities were waiting for us, we decided to apply. We hoped to learn more about street law, and also “legal soft-skills“ which are not part of our university curriculum and therefore difficult to adopt.
Thanks to the generous support of Prague Law School, we were able to leave at the beginning of August to the most distant destination we had ever been.
One of the major benefits of our journey became evident as soon as we arrived in Chiang Mai. We had to adapt to a completely different environment, in terms of weather, but especially in terms of cultural habits and traditions — to a different mentality, really. This was a fundamental change, because we rarely meet people from different cultures in Czech Republic.
We were excited by this challenge, because we believe today´s lawyers must be able to orient themselves to a multicultural environment. We want to work with multinational companies and organizations. So, from the moment we arrived in Thailand, we started to pursue experiences for our future professional lives. Here are some of our activities:
One of the first things we worked on was a workshop on mediation with Prof. Melinda Edwards, an Australian specialist on alternative dispute resolution (ADR). We helped her prepare the workshop for two local universities using the CLE techniques (that’s our team in the photo above).
Teaching at Wildflower
Wildflower Home serves young mothers (or mothers to be) in desperate situations. They provide shelter, health services and also education to young women who have had to leave their home villages. (Some are sent away, some are victims of rape or incest.) BABSEACLE runs a weekly class to teach the women basic legal rights. The first week of our stay we only observed, and the next week we taught. It was rather difficult, because we needed interpreters, but it felt great to participate in the work that Wildflower is doing.
If people in Czech Republic think of Thailand as an undeveloped country, they should visit a Thai legal clinic. We were able to see a Thai legal clinic at work and talk to the students, and we were impressed. Chiang Mai University’s legal clinic was established over ten years ago and it is very successful.
One word to describe the hearing we saw in Thailand would be “different”. The case was tried by two judges. You must stand up as they come into court, never sit with your legs crossed in front of them and only speak when spoken to by them. We were quite impressed to learn that when children are questioned, only the child, its family and a psychologist are in the room. The judge can only watch via a camera.
Everyone who comes to BABSEACLE has to work some hours for free to serve the community. Our idea was to teach English, because although Thais usually know some vocabulary and basic grammar, they have a lot of trouble with pronunciation. We designed a flyer and placed it in our favorite cafe and waited. We ended up teaching the baristas.
We did not spend all our time as teachers. We were also learners. Every week, our English teacher, Elaine, gave a lesson on how to use CLE techniques in English and we had a weekly Thai lesson with Dang. In only a month, we did not learn much, but I think the Thai staff appreciated that we could at least greet and thank them correctly. We also had a workshop on networking where we learnt how to establish a contact and not lose it immediately. And finally, we had a training on interrogation (the scary part) and investigation (the nice part).