October 17, 2012
2012 Extern at the Human Rights Legal Network
Preparing for India:
“I’ve been interested in international human rights for a long time… But aside from academic inquiry I hadn’t had any experience with human rights on the ground. I remember moving to Portland in late July before classes started, and enthusiastically emailing my thesis advisor about the India program and about how I could actually have the opportunity to travel across the world and use my burgeoning legal knowledge to help people. Having not done much traveling before, living and working in India for a summer seemed like an incredible and almost unreal opportunity to finally put my academic interests into action.
Sometimes in the quiet of self-reflection the vastness of what I experienced in India hits me. The anticipation of India seems retrospectively like a blur of responsibilities, readying me for what I knew was going to be a life changing experience, but one which I had no way of grasping until I was actually there. Get visa documents together, check. Arrange financial aid and externship documents, check. Immunize, check. Find housing, check. I’ll admit that I was somewhat intimidated about what was ahead of me, but these fleeting moments of self-doubt were overshadowed by how badly I knew I needed this experience.”
Arriving in Delhi:
“The Global Law program helped me to secure a position with the Human Rights Law Network in New Delhi. I arrived in India about a week before I started work, so that I could de-jet lag and get somewhat acclimated before I dove right in. Thankfully, Lexie Zirschky had already been in Delhi for a few weeks, and she showed me where she got her salwar kameezes, recharged her cell phone minutes, and scored delicious South Indian cuisine for under 200 rupees. Once I figured out the metro system I was able to do more traveling on my own, and one of my favorite initial excursions was to the Lotus Temple. One thing I couldn’t get acclimated to however was when small children came up to my standstill rickshaw waiting for the light to turn green, “ma’am please, just ten rupees please, I had only banana dinner. I had only banana dinner.” I’d been warned that I’d see this kind of thing, and I’d been preparing myself emotionally for it, just to find that it doesn’t work that way.
I was so anxious to break out of the tourist role and begin human rights work so I could feel like I had a purpose there.”
The Externship Experience:
“Upon arriving HRLN, I asked to be placed on a child rights initiative. My supervisor, Anant, was such a dedicated and positive human being, I am so grateful I got to work with him. I drafted petitions to the Delhi High Court on a variety of issues including missing children, making railway conditions safer for children living (and being exploited) there, holding organizations accountable to commitments in protecting children’s rights, and more.
I attended the High Court with Anant from time to time, and was able to be involved in our meetings with petitioners. During one meeting everyone was discussing a document I had prepared, asking me questions about certain parts, pointing out things that they liked and things they wanted me to change. It was very energizing to feel so involved and I liked the glimpse of what my future as a lawyer could be like.
I also participated in reproductive rights initiatives during my time with HRLN. I compiled research on maternal health conditions in three rural cities in Maharashtra, and went on fact-findings outside of Delhi. Talking with people who would be affected by the work we were doing made everything all the more real for me.”
“People joke about going to India to “find yourself,” and I won’t go that far, but I truly believe that being immersed in such a different culture and navigating my way both through day-to-day tasks and during the “taking a step back” moments and feeling overwhelmed with [gratitude] had an effect on me. It really touched a part of my heart in a way that I find difficult to articulate.”
Laura is happy to speak with prospective externs. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org