A wave of emotion passed over me, on the very last day of the 2016 Bridges Across Borders South East Asia Clinical Legal Education Initiative (BABSEACLE) Summer School. As I was saying my goodbyes to the wonderful people I had met, I suddenly felt overwhelmed, and struggled to hold back the tears that welled in my eyes. Let me tell you why I felt that way.
One word: Wow. The modest nature of the summer school training room belied the exceptional qualities of its temporary inhabitants. This room housed a breadth and depth of talent that could only be collectively described as incredible. Drawn together from 16 countries globally, including 11 from the region, was a group of people that was underpinned by a rich list of qualifications and experience. I found myself in the company of highly educated, multi-lingual intellectuals, who also shared my passion for clinical legal education. These fabulous people provided a context that took my breath away.
Central to my awe at the regional summer school participants, was the creativity, innovation and energy that each applied to this unique (Clinical Legal Education) CLE programs. Many different hurdles to the introduction of CLE, in vastly different cultural and political contexts, were revealed. Driven by a pure passion for the social justice outcomes that are at the core of CLE, these hurdles were met with incredibly creative, and often courageous, responses in CLE design and delivery. From pop-up Street Law clinics to community legal education programs in remote rural settings, the human right of access-to-justice was everyone’s motivation.
The last day of summer school was really lively and a perfect way to finish. Participants were divided into two groups, and given the task of pitching CLE program ideas to a prospective policy maker and/or funder. These pitches were well thought out, heartfelt, active expressions of the passion for CLE in action, a total joy to behold and a great way to complete the experience.
Like-minded clinical educators, with a real depth of experience, were there for me to learn from and be inspired by. I am a relative newcomer to the academic world of Clinical Legal Educators, and I am very soon to begin a PhD on CLE. Co-teaching, class exercises and coffee and lunch breaks all provided golden opportunities to have one-on-one idea-exchanges, with academics whose CLE research and publications are world-renowned. It was invaluable to have access to this wisdom.
In addition, I participated in a wide range of teaching pedagogies. The BABSEACLE summer school paired me with innovative thinkers, in order to work on lesson plans and delivery of content. Being able to work with, watch and understand a variety of new approaches to learning and teaching, which was being actively applied, was really inspiring. This peer-to-peer learning in action is a great way to continue one’s own development, as a teacher. I am always looking for new ways of engaging my law students, and I picked up great new methods to implement, at home, in Melbourne, Australia.
I also realised how lucky I am to come from an organisation that highly values and invests in work-integrated learning, as an integral university-wide learning and teaching pedagogy. This encourages cross-disciplinary experiential learning to happen in new ways. Others at the BABSEACLE summer school were eager to hear about the Justice and Wellbeing Hub that I am currently working on, with other faculties, at my university and with external CLE partners. It was great to be able to share.
Across the ten days of the BABSEACLE Summer School, I not only watched strong connections being forged, I also personally experienced this. At the start of the summer school, I observed and felt a respectful distance, in relation to others, in Chiang Mai. As the ten days progressed, the fun of ice-breaker games, shared learning experiences and social activities slowly broke down this distance. Real friendships were sparked and alliances forged, all based on mutual passion for CLE-style access to justice.
Some final words that describe my first, and hopefully not my last, BABSEACLE summer school, and explain the feelings I had, as I said good-bye, in Chiang Mai: fun, inspiring, heart-warming, moving, strong, together, justice for all.
By Su Robertson, Victoria University, Melbourne Australia