Out of HLS, into Africa

BY CRISARLA HOUSTON

This summer was probably one of the most edifying, enlightening and enjoyable employment experiences of my entire life.

What can be so exciting about punching the clock, meeting deadlines and reporting to supervisors, you ask? Your perspective on work changes when you’re traveling to Accra, Ghana to join the team of lawyers and interns who commit themselves to ensuring human rights for the entire nation.

This is the mission of the Legal Resources Centre of Ghana (LRC), a human rights non-governmental organization that provides various legal services to indigent clients in Ghana’s capital city of Accra. Several of these services include parliamentary advocacy, community education and mobilization and research and advocacy.

Harvard Law School students, under the tutelage of Prof. Lucie White, have undertaken an ongoing health care and sanitation reform project with the ultimate goal of securing equal access to medical treatment and public sanitation services for all – not just those who can afford to pay. I was encouraged to look into working with this project by someone who worked with Prof. White’s Community Activism seminar during the Winter term, who knew I was seeking public interest jobs that would be personally gratifying and non-traditional.

I got my wish and more. Although I did not contribute to the healthcare campaign, I was able to learn about the ins and outs of the LRC as co-author of the organization’s strategic plan. This gave me valuable insight into the operation and maintenance of a non-governmental organization from a financial, managerial and legal perspective.

I also worked with a team of interns and interpreters to collect personal data from married and divorced Muslim citizens, which will later assist in the drafting of a proposed Muslim Marriage Ordinance that will be submitted to Parliament as an alternative to the current inequitable law that treats Christian and traditional marriages more favorably than Islamic marriages. This work, done through the aid of translators (which was itself a fascinating learning process) allowed me to observe facets of Ghanaian law, life and culture far beyond the view of tourists or televised media.

As part of LRC’s parliamentary advocacy role, I attended parliamentary meetings on a Second Hand Vehicles bill which was proposed to ban the importation of used cars over ten years old and which would effectually render cars unaffordable to a vast portion of the working class. As defenders of the rights of the underprivileged, the LRC is trying to prevent the passage of the bill.

These tasks, among others, highlight the depth and breadth of my internship experience at the LRC. My foray into the realm of human rights law and advocacy proved to be intellectually, spiritually and culturally enlightening. I bargained for a unique, unforgettable work opportunity, and I received much more.

As far as my living arrangements were concerned, I lived with a college friend’s family, so I experienced daily life as a Ghanaian. This was an an invaluable experience for me as an African-American whose genealogical roots are virtually untraceable but are likely to have originated in or near Ghana. I was able to tour the Ashanti King’s palace in Kumasi, to visit the Cape Coast and Elmina slave castles in Cape Coast, and to photograph friends sitting on the backs of huge crocodiles in Paga (something I chose only to watch!)

Thanks to my summer experience at the LRC, I am now more aware of the tremendous need for lawyers and advocates of various human rights causes around the world. Although I am uncertain about my future legal career, I am now sure that I must enter a field that seeks to meaningfully impact the lives of others.

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