I recently had the pleasure of reading many of the entries in our ELAW guest book. The guest book contains stories, reflections, and thank yous from those who visit us here in Eugene. As someone new to the ELAW family, I was struck by just how many people have traveled here and how meaningful, and in some cases transformative, each visit was. Of course the Fellows spoke of the resources and skills they gained and the many ways they grew professionally, but each entry also hinted at something more. The experiences that each writer describes differ – some Fellows have attended the PIELC conference, some have taken intensive English courses at the University of Oregon, some have come for the annual meeting, and still others have designed their own unique Fellowship – but the sense of commitment, cooperation, and camaraderie experienced was consistent. One of the most moving entries was written by Jean Andre Victor from Haiti. He wrote:
“When I came to Eugene, I was expecting to find foreigners who knew nothing about my suffering country. I was wrong. When I came to the ELAW office as an ELAW guest, I thought it was impossible to have a home away from home. I was wrong again. So, I have mixed feelings when I have to go back to my country. Happy to come back home, but sad to leave home.
I feel grateful for having known the ELAW family, ELAW staff, and ELAW mission to combine science and law to help people all over the ever changing world. Can I say ELAW is an oasis of solidarity on the arid path of social justice?”
From reading this, and other similar entries, I have gained a greater understanding of what makes working with environmental lawyers from around the world so powerful: many Fellows gain a new perspective on environmental issues and are surprised to learn about other communities facing similar issues. They realize they are not alone in their endeavors. This collaboration helps people forge connections across borders and develop deep friendships. Even from my short time here, I have seen how these linkages make lasting impressions on both visitors and those of us at ELAW. These connections are one of the many benefits of working with partners face-to-face, and I look forward to making more connections as we welcome eight ELAW Fellows later this month.