This summer, Hofstra Law Brigades members Annam Farooq 2L, David Kline 2L, and Alexis Sarnicola 2L joined students from around the world to participate in a weeklong human rights brigade in Yaviza, Panama. This annual trip offers students the opportunity to provide pro bono legal services in rural communities where access to legal advice and information is rare and much needed.
Yaviza is a rural community in eastern Panama at the end of the Pan-American Highway. It is the farthest community from Panama City that is accessible by road. Because it is so distant from the capital, rural eastern Panama is characterized by a lack of government resources and a large disparity in wealth and information compared with Panama City. Judiciary systems are underfunded, understaffed and largely inaccessible to rural populations.
“I feel lucky to have been able to share the knowledge I’ve received from my legal education thus far with the Panamanian community of Yaviza”
As part of the brigade, the students, or Brigaders, participated in a three-day open legal clinic, where community members were invited to walk in and receive free consultation on the legal issues they were facing. The Brigaders worked alongside Panamanian attorneys and interpreters to provide the necessary advice and counsel to community members that sought help with matters involving family law, matrimonial law, immigration law and criminal law.
“Law affects virtually all areas of human life, no matter where in the world you are,” said Kline. “It was an indescribably profound experience to take the tools I have crafted in the classroom and use them to make a positive impact, no matter how small, in another’s life.”
This year’s legal clinic attracted a record number of community resident participants.
“I feel lucky to have been able to share the knowledge I’ve received from my legal education thus far with the Panamanian community of Yaviza,” said Sarnicola. “I feel even more privileged to have gotten the opportunity to help cultivate their progression in return.”
As a way of spreading awareness and implementing preventive measures to reduce the prevalence of the common legal issues in the community, the Brigaders spoke about women’s rights with women of the indigenous Embera community in Metetí and gave presentations on bullying, drugs, abuse and children’s rights to elementary, middle, and high school students at the local school in Yaviza.
“Being in the Darien region, which is not a typically tourist-prone and popular area, we were truly able to experience and be part of a community that I don’t think I would have ever had the opportunity to even visit,” said Farooq. “Providing legal clinics in this area, where access to legal aid is nearly impossible, was extremely rewarding and beneficial to the community.”
First-year law student Neelam Chhikara also spent her summer in Panama with the Public Health Brigades. Her brigade built compost latrines in order to prevent the spread of disease in the Darien region.
“In addition to learning the basics of construction, I learned the importance of helping others,” said Chhikara. “The gratification and appreciation of the village was overwhelming. The entire experience reaffirmed my ambitions of using my law degree to advocate and improve health law and policy.”
Learn more about the Hofstra Law Brigades.