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Laura Palmese

Laura Palmese

We look forward to welcoming ELAW Fellow Laura Palmese on Sunday.

Laura is a public interest environmental attorney at Instituto de Derecho Ambiental de Honduras (IDAMHO, Environmental Law Institute).  ELAW has worked with IDAMHO for many years to protect the Mesoamerican Reef and challenge short-sighted tourism development.

Laura says:

We are amplifying the voices of communities and making the government accountable to its people, its land, and its natural resources.

While here, Laura will work one-on-one with the ELAW team and study English at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute (AEI), which generously provides ELAW Fellows with a “Director’s Distinction Scholarship.”

AEI’s Intensive English Program receives high marks from ELAW Fellows.  Earlier this year, Ukrainian attorney Nataliya Horodetska completed the Program.  She recently wrote that she is now using “legal and scientific resources that are not available in Ukrainian or Russian.

We look forward to collaborating with Laura and connecting her with the global ELAW network!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

Smith Rock State Park, Oregon

I am currently in Eugene on an ELAW Fellowship and nearing the end of my term at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute (AEI). I am a lawyer and have worked at Environment-People-Law (EPL) in Ukraine since 2007.

Thanks to ELAW, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, and AEI, I am able to study English while collaborating on my work with ELAW staff. At EPL we provide legal support to protect human rights and the environment. My work focuses on access to information, climate change, forests, waterways, biodiversity, and protected areas.

English proficiency is important to me. It allows me to collaborate on my work with ELAW and use legal and scientific resources that are not available in Ukrainian or Russian.

ua.2013.Nataliya.Horodetska and Heidi

Working with ELAW Staff Scientist Heidi Weiskel

One problem I am working on is the proposed construction of hundreds of small hydropower plants in the Carpathian Mountains. These projects would be dangerous for rivers, fish, and the forest, and violate the rights of local people. Here in Eugene, I have met weekly with ELAW staff and received their professional consultation on this problem.

My Intensive English Program at AEI is well organized and interesting. The teachers are highly qualified, including Peggy Dame, Lydia Shen, and Marko Mwipopo, who supervised my elective course.

American English Institute gathering

American English Institute gathering

Outside of class, AEI has weekly events to help students improve their English, including meeting with conversation partners, coffee hours, and volunteer work. My conversation partner is Brandon, a University of Oregon political science student who is thinking about law school and may one day volunteer at ELAW. While in Eugene, I’ve had the opportunity to do many things.

When I first arrived, I traveled with Professor John Bonine’s LLM students to Portland where we met with Columbia Riverkeeper, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, and visited Smith Rock State Park. I later attended the graduation ceremony for these LLM students.

I have enjoyed attending Saturday Market and the Ukrainian Catholic Church. I toured Greenhill Humane Society, watched American football, and woke to raccoons playing in the trees outside my window.

In my last two weeks, in addition to my English studies and work with ELAW staff, I will visit local courts, learn more about recycling processes, and possibly travel to Seattle or Portland.

Thank you ELAW for hosting me, and to everyone who helped while I was here.

Nataliya Horodetska
ELAW Fellow

Ana Lucía Maya Aguierre at the Oregon Coast

Ana Lucía at the Oregon Coast

Last week, ELAW Fellow Ana Lucía Maya Aguirre returned home to Bogotá, Colombia after nearly six months of studying English at the American English Institute (AEI) and collaborating with ELAW in Eugene. During her Fellowship, Ana focused on strengthening the Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad (Association for Environment and Society), a newly formed organization of which Ana is a member.

Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad has four programs:

1. Climate Change, human rights and poverty
2. Citizenship, access to information, and participation
3. Biological and cultural diversity
4. Socio-environmental justice

Within these focus areas, the organization employs an array of strategies: providing legal support and trainings for communities working to protect their right to a healthy environment; researching policies and regulations; and working with ELAW and other international networks to create a broader, collective impact within Colombia and across borders.

During her Fellowship, Ana worked with ELAW staff to develop a strategic plan for Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad, exchange information about climate change and Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and potential for future projects in Colombia, learn more about funding opportunities, and formulate research questions for a report on mining cases in Latin America.

ELAW volunteers helped Ana study English, conduct research for the mining report,  design a brochure, and translate the website for Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad.

ELAW is eager to collaborate with Ana and her colleagues at Asociación Ambiente y Sociedad to help realize their vision of a culture that understands the interdependence of humans and the environment, promotes environmental defense and human and environmental rights, and improves environmental governance and effective participation of civil society in environmental matters.

A huge thank you goes to all of the volunteers who helped make Ana’s Fellowship a success and to AEI for its generous support of ELAW Fellows. Find more information about ELAW’s Fellowship Program here.

Melanie Giangreco
Latin America Program Assistant

Emilio d’Cuire, Honduras

Grassroots advocates are eager to travel to Eugene for individually-tailored ELAW Fellowships that help them  collaborate and build skills to better protect communities and the environment back home. In 2011, ELAW hosted 12 advocates from 11 countries in Africa, Latin America, and Europe.

ELAW seeks support for Emilio d’Cuire and other promising environmental advocates who seek ELAW Fellowships in 2012.  Support for the ELAW Fellowship Program will make it possible for Emilio to gain the skills and resources he needs to craft a greener future.

“I want to protect nature and improve the quality of life for the dispossessed,” says Emilio.  “I want to empower civil society.”

Emilio received a degree in biology from Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Honduras and took his passion to the Environmental Law Institute of Honduras (IDAMHO).   Short-sighted  tourism development schemes threaten the coast of Honduras, protected areas, and small fishing communities. Emilio and his co-workers are doing excellent work strengthening the rule of law and protecting the Mesoamerican Reef.

Meanwhile, Honduras is becoming increasingly violent.  The Peace Corps recently pulled out of Honduras and this is an excellent time for Emilio to travel to Oregon to gain skills and work with ELAW.  Honduras has the highest homicide rate in the world, and violent attacks against environmental activists are increasingly common.

Emilio has landed a tuition scholarship for the University of Oregon’s American English Institute’s Intensive English Program.  Stronger English skills, he says, will open up “a world of information.”  Many ELAW partners have gained English skills through the American English Institute and found it tremendously valuable

For more information about how you can support the ELAW Fellowship Program, contact Maggie Keenan at

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

We are thrilled to welcome Yimy Chirinos to Eugene for a 10-week ELAW Fellowship.  Yimy is a newly appointed judge from Honduras who is eager to learn about environmental law.  He started his career as a prosecutor for the Public Ministry and his interest in the environment was piqued when he began prosecuting illegal development of the Honduran coast.

Yimy ChirinosAs a participant in 2011’s Mesoamerican Reef Leadership Program, Yimy is working to realize his vision of all judges and prosecutors in Honduras being trained in environmental issues and, in particular, measures for prosecuting environmental crimes.  He is also very concerned by the fact that environmental crimes often have such a long-lasting impact and that awarding damages may not remedy the problem.

“After a tree is cut down, what good would it do to throw one hundred, or even one thousand dollars at it?” he asks.

Yimy will be collaborating with ELAW staff during his stay to develop his vision for training his fellow judges in Honduras.  Yimy will also be improving his English skills through an intensive course at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute (AEI).

Thanks to dedicated volunteers, Yimy’s visit is off to an enjoyable start and he is already starting to feel at home in Eugene.  ELAW volunteer Killian Doherty interpreted for Yimy during his orientation to AEI and tour of the UO campus, then introduced Yimy to soyburgers at Eugene’s own Holy Cow Café.  ELAW volunteer interpreter Gabriela Perez helped show him the ropes around the UO campus.  If you are interested in volunteering with ELAW as a translator, web programmer, or office assistant please send an email to

In addition to our amazing volunteers, ELAW thanks the Summit Foundation and AEI for making Yimy’s fellowship possible.

Melanie Giangreco
Office Manager

I arrived in Oregon on June 19th. To get here I took four airplanes. It was my first time on an airplane, and I was both excited and nervous. My first impression of Eugene was pretty good. Bern Johnson, Executive Director of ELAW, picked me up from the airport and was very friendly.  The next day, the ELAW staff welcomed me in the office and I met ELAW Fellow Imrich Vozár from Slovakia. I began to feel more comfortable. Now I feel at home.

Maria with Aleah (center) and Imrich (right)

My first week in Eugene was difficult. Eugene is very different from the Dominican Republic and the language is not the same. Luckily, ELAW introduced me to the Summer Intern, Aleah Jaeger, who helped me acclimate to Eugene and find my way to the University, the supermarket, and the ELAW house.

I am very happy to be studying English at the University of Oregon. The AEI program is really good and the teachers are excellent. In addition to building my English skills, I am learning about different countries and cultures. My classmates come from around the world and I have met students from China, Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Taiwan.

Maria and Imrich at BRING Recycling in Eugene, OR

From the beginning, I could tell that Oregon is a green state.  I love the forest and the environment here, the city is clean and the people are conscious of the environment. Early in my stay, I visited NextStep Recycling and BRING Recycling and was amazed at the job that these organizations are doing.  I wish that we used the 3 R’s in the Dominican Republic -reduce, reuse and recycle- but know that this may be difficult. To use the 3R’s we would need the support of politicians in the Dominican Republic.  Then we would need to learn how protect the environment and how to educate citizens about ways they can become involved.

With the exception of a water law and a forest law, which we don’t have, we have many laws to protect the environment in the Dominican Republic. But economic interests often get in the way and many citizens are either unwilling to protect their rights or unaware of them, which presents a big barrier to protecting the environment. I know that the organization where I work, INSAPROMA (Instituto de Abogados para la Proteccion del Medio Ambiente), sometimes has a hard time gaining public support for environmental projects, but we continue to try. We are doing the best we can for the Dominican Republic and I love my job.

Maria at work with INSAPROMA

The knowledge that I’m gaining at ELAW is invaluable. When I return to the Dominican Republic, I will use this knowledge to help INSAPROMA do a better job protecting the environment. Maybe we can’t change the minds of our politicians, but we will continue defending our environment in court. We will also continue teaching community members about the environmental laws we have, because each time one Dominican changes his behavior and becomes environmental friendly we take one step in the right direction.

I want to thank everyone at ELAW for helping me learn and for making me feel at home. Also many thanks to Laurie Prosser and Xialoi Jiang, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the American English Institute for supporting my fellowship.

Maria Rosario Mayi
ELAW Fellow

Last week, ELAW welcomed Maria Rosario Mayi as our 2011 Laurie Prosser and Xiaoli Jiang Fellow.  Maria is a promising grassroots environmental advocate in the Dominican Republic. She has worked at the leading grassroots environmental organization, Instituto de Abogados para la Protección del Medio Ambiente (INSAPROMA), for the past four years while completing her legal studies.

Maria, and Imrich at NextStep with Lorraine Kerwood

Maria (left) and Imrich (right) at NextStep Recycling with Lorriane Kerwood of NextStep Recycling

Maria now comes to Eugene for a 10-week ELAW Fellowship that includes working with ELAW attorneys and scientists on priority projects and attending English classes at the American English Institute at the University of Oregon.

Maria’s priorities include protecting the Dominican Republic from mining operations and ensuring that beaches are protected from short-sighted development projects. When Maria is not working with ELAW staff or honing her English skills at AEI, she will be going into the community to learn about environmentalism and environmental law in the United States.

According to Maria, one of the major barriers to enforcing environmental law in the DR is that many citizens don’t know their rights. In addition, communities often don’t see the problems they face as environmental issues. To effectively build and protect environmental law in the Dominican Republic, INSAPROMA does a lot of community education. The community education and community building go above and beyond specific environmental cases, yet is essential to building a strong foundation for environmental law. There is a lot of work to be done, even before going to court.

Imrich and Maria at Short Mountain

Imrich and Maria (right) visit Short Mountain Landfill

This is Maria’s first visit to the United States and she is staying at the ELAW House for the duration of her Fellowship. Maria just started English classes at AEI this week. Last week, Maria toured NextStep Recycling, BRING Recycling, and Short Mountain Landfill. She also visited Saturday Market, a beloved Eugene tradition.

Many thanks to Laurie Prosser and Xialoi Jiang, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the American English Institute for supporting Maria’s Fellowship.

Welcome Maria!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

Each year the Laurie Prosser/Xiaoli Jiang Fellowship brings a lawyer, activist, or student to Eugene to gain critical skills and resources. These Fellows return home equipped to make a lasting, positive difference for the environment. When thinking about ways to help ELAW achieve lasting progress, Laurie Prosser and Xiaoli Jiang embraced the ELAW Fellowship Program. Laurie says: “We help promising grassroots leaders make real strides at home while sharing lessons learned with the international ELAW network.”

We are pleased to welcome Yonghua Zhang, ELAW’s Laurie Prosser/Xiaoli Jiang Fellow.

Yonghua Zhang at UOYonghua is an environmental attorney from Shenzhen, China. He works pro bono at the Shenzhen Legal Assistance Center to clean China’s air and water, and challenge noise pollution. He received his LLM, with a focus on environmental law, from Northwest University of Political Science (Xi’an, ShaanXi Province).

Yonghua will be with us for three months. He will participate in an Intensive English Program at the University of Oregon’s American English Institute and work one-on-one with ELAW staff on marine, mining, and carbon trading issues.

This is Yonghua’s first time in the U.S. If you live in the Eugene area and are interested in helping us introduce Yonghua to American culture and the beautiful Northwest, please leave us a comment!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

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