Students use break to make a difference



Next week, 11 members of the Direct Action program will donate their spring break time to helping developing nations in Central and South America.

Direct Action was founded in 1999 by Harvard Law students. In 2001, the group took its first spring break public interest trip to Haiti. This year, four students from the program will travel to Haiti, four to Guatemala and two will visit Brazil to spend a week volunteering to help struggling populations.

“One of the main goals of the trips is to establish dialogues and relationships with developing communities, so that both our community and their communities see the world through each other’s eyes. Usually, developing communities will know much more about us than we know about them and I think this speaks to our country’s need to promote a better knowledge base and understanding of developing communities,” said 3L Gary Slossberg, the group’s president.

“I’m going because I would like to know the role of an American attorney in an international setting. I think it’s a really good opportunity to take advantage of the break we have,” said 1L Angel Wesley, one of the student travelers.

In Brazil, students will team up with local organization Cruzada do Menor to work with homeless children in the slums of Rio de Janeiro. They will also work with several other organizations to help educate people in the slums, as well as ensure that they have basic medical information and attention. The group will also focus on drug prevention for children through programs to promote alternative activities.

Students traveling to Haiti will work with Fondation Paul Gérin-Lajoie, an organization based in Montréal that promotes education issues. They will focus on adult literacy training in Creole and disseminating information on issues such as health and human rights.

“We are only going for a week, but I wanted to have as much diversity as possible,” said SJD Pascale Fournier, Project Leader for the trip to Haiti. “The goal was to go there and visit a school that has been built, a group of women working and on education and awareness to AIDS.”

Fournier said the trip’s main goal was “awareness of the situation in Haiti in terms of legal reform and the political situation and the relationship between the American foreign policy generally to Haiti and the current culture.” She added that it was important “to know what ‘human rights and education’ means in the abstract and what it means on the ground when you visit the projects and are able to talk to people.”

In Guatemala, students will observe Centro de Accion Legal en Derechos Humanos, a gang intervention program. They will also work with Association Ak’ Tenamit to educate members of a struggling Mayan ethnic group on health, income generation and environmental issues. Upon return to the United States, the students plan to host a Cultural Music Festival.

“The goal would be to bring together different music perspectives and to bring together the community and all of its diversity to celebrate our common humanity. I personally find that music brings people together and adds vibrance to life, so hopefully the Festival would be a vehicle for fostering better community at the Law School,” said Slossberg.

Direct Action also plans to volunteer at local schools and to hold a conference to increase understanding of developing nations.

“We want to visit the Haitian community in Boston, get involved with the community, give presentations in elementary schools and have discussions with children of the same age that we will visit in Haiti about the right to education and what it means,” Fournier said.

Eventually, Direct Action’s goal is to expand to law schools throughout the country in an effort to increase international understanding in the legal profession.

“There are very few experiences at this school like this. Even being in a developing country for a week really opens your eyes,” Slossberg said. “It can completely revolutionize your view of the world.”

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