Andrew Johnson, recipient of a 2012 Annette Stewart International Summer Travel Stipend, spent the summer at the Legal Aid Center of Eldoret, in Eldoret, Kenya. Below, he shared his reflections with us on the value of his experience, and on the value of this organization within the community it serves. Thank you for sharing, Andrew!
This summer, I worked as an intern at the Legal Aid Centre of Eldoret (LACE). LACE is a pro bono legal clinic for people infected or affected by the HIV / AIDS pandemic located in Eldoret, Kenya. My responsibilities ranged from interviewing new clients, to composing demand letters, drafting pleadings, and assisting with conducting mediations. Most often, clients would come in who were being harassed due to their real or perceived HIV status, and LACE would send a demand letter to the offending party, demanding an immediate cease and desist of negative actions towards our client.
My experience working in Kenya was not a typical internship; still, several aspects of the work surprised me. Several times over the course of my internship, client interviews and mediations were completed in multiple languages, including English, Swahili, and American Sign Language. Additionally, there was a client who came to the clinic who had been strangled by her neighbor, but was only filing for defamation, because in Kenya the abuse was less serious than the stigma of the virus. Another surprise was that LACE did not turn people away, even when our clients were clearly in the wrong.
This summer, while conducting mediations it was occasionally hard to maintain objectivity. During one mediation, the husband was an alcoholic who continually beat his wife, who had since left him. He desired her return, and attempted to intimidate her throughout the mediation. I realized that in order to reach a settlement it was important to not act as an advocate for one side or the other. That objectivity will be invaluable in my career moving forward. Additionally, I learned the value of working with clients and maintaining positivity throughout the legal process.
I learned the importance of working positively with people. The clientele served by LACE encompassed an entire spectrum of people. Some clients were very easy to work with, and understood the importance of patience while working through the legal process. Other clients were offending parties who were in the wrong and wanted to “fire the first shot” legally. The remedy advocated by LACE was largely an invitation for mediation so fortunately generally amicable settlements were able to be reached when both parties came to the office.
LACE provides legal service to the less fortunate. Without the clinic, many of these people who are infected with HIV who have had their legal rights trampled would be out of options. The value of a free legal clinic in this area with the objectives of LACE cannot be overstated. The challenge moving forward is the limited accessibility of LACE for clients. LACE relies solely on outside funding, as it is a non-governmental organization, and it has a limited reach. Many potential clients are unable to reach the clinic, and will be unable to receive any legal support for their needs.