Making the Law, in the Middle of the Panamanian Rainforests

The Law Brigades program sounded at first impractical, complicated and even nonviable. How are you going to teach such theoretical and technical concepts to indigenous people for the first time? Who is to say that they are going to listen to our suggestions instead of continuing doing things like they’ve being doing for long before we where here? How are you going to teach Panamanian law to American students in just a few days? All of these questions hummed uncomfortably at the back of our heads in the beginning, however the desire to make a difference and the power to do so finally overcame all of the doubts and hesitations.

The program took shape, we marked our calendars on June 14th, and we embarked ourselves towards a unique and memorable adventure. The community of Emberá-Puru in the Chagres National Park, located in the Panama Canal River Basin was waiting anxiously. This indigenous community, forgotten by the Panamanian government, unable to legalize its lands and overall defeated by the corruption and bureaucracy of our public offices, needed our help with obtaining legal entity for an education fund. Our job was to teach them the concept and procedures of obtaining this legal entity, to help them write down their objectives, long-term goals and general guidelines of how was the education fund going to work. We were able to accomplish this and we got an amazing response from the community: they were open, receptive, participative and overall very interested in what we had to offer them.

At the end of the week it was hard to believe how much we had achieved unconsciously. One of the things that will surely get your attention about this program is on how many levels you’ll be able to touch people’s lives. From obtaining legal entity in order to form an education fund, to teaching them about alternative dispute resolutions, to introducing to them the concept of human rights, to exchanging cultural values. I believe that this particular program transcends the concept of law; it has to do with empowering disadvantaged communities with knowledge, self-respect and courage.

Ana

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