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Last week, ELAW’s Michele Kuhnle blogged about the benefits of supporting international work. Many groups, like ELAW, work across borders to achieve lasting change through high-impact work at low costs. The Seattle International Foundation (SIF) is one example of an international group that we love, because they are making a big impact by connecting the human network throughout Central America and around the globe.

ELAW Partner, Clarisa Vega works in Honduras

SIF works globally, providing grants in three areas:  Program Support; Collaboration & Networks; and Research & Special Events. Within their Central America Program, SIF works to alleviate poverty by utilizing three strategies:  Micro-finance; Leadership Development; and Public Policy.

In late 2010, ELAW and SIF teamed up to host the “Uniendo Esfuerzos Centroamericanos,” a three-day conference in San Jose, Costa Rica, where advocates from around the region gathered to discuss women’s issues, environmental concerns, indigenous rights, at-risk youth community, and other critical issues. Advocates shared lessons and strategies and built alliances and partnerships to address these concerns. Mauricio Vivero, SIF Executive Director, and Michele Frix, SIF Program Officer, were at the meeting. There were also many ELAW Staff and ELAW Partners from all around the Central American Region.

ELAW Executive Director, Bern Johnson, ELAW Staff Attorney Jen Gleason, ELAW Partner Maurice Makoloo, and ELAW Staff Attorney Liz Mitchell attended the conference

Lori Maddox, ELAW Associate Director, focuses much of her energy on the Central America region and collaborating with ELAW partners there who are working to protect the environment and communities from destructive mining, offshore oil drilling, and unsustainable development. Lori attended the conference and here is what she had to say:

It was exciting to meet new allies working on poverty alleviation and youth and women’s empowerment and connect them with ELAW partners working to protect natural resources and defend human rights. We all know that both poverty and natural resource destruction in Central America violate basic human rights. And both problems affect the same people, because of the economic chasm that exists between rich and poor. We all deserve to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and live with dignity. The combined networks of SIF and ELAW in Central America have the power to make lasting change. I am inspired by our emerging partnership.

SIF created a fantastic video of the days’ events, highlighting many of the workshop’s participants and objectives. Watch the video here.  (If you have problems viewing the video, try allowing the video to buffer, or turn off the HD.)

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

It was Jeanette’s fault – that is what I think.

Jeanette and me (left) at the 2010 ELAW Annual Meeting in Costa Rica

There is strange feeling I get when I become sleep deprived. It’s something between hunger and the shakes, which you cannot truly put your finger on, until days later.  You see, dear Jeanette Noack, a marvelous attorney from Guatemala, shared a room with me in Punta Leona, Costa Rica. No, she did not snore or talk in her sleep. The truth is, we would meet in our room, after the day’s meetings, work groups and activities, and proceed to talk and laugh until 2 a.m. Was this done on purpose? Obviously not. We had spent the day talking, sharing and discussing stories with many other lovely attorneys we know. But something would happen after we would come in the door, the exhaustion lifted, and we would share the day, look at photos, laugh while we sent emails to catch up with those absent and of course, lose track of time.

Ritwick Dutta of India and Lori Maddox, Associate Director of ELAW

So while I did make a superhuman effort to be ready at 6 a.m. one day, to finally get a chance to see Playa Blanca — that idyllic beach you think only exists after expert Photoshopping — I did not regret it. This is where I saw the toucans, the families of scarlet macaws and the blue morpho butterflies.

There were moments when some of the veteran ELAW members attending the meeting may have felt we were having conversations we had had in the past. We have spoken about access to justice before, and transparency and climate change. But just as new members of the group become aware of kindred spirits around them, the veterans also realize that we have different skills now, new knowledge and capacity which provides for new perspectives. While there is no doubt that the comraderie and friendship felt at the meeting will energize our souls for the struggles back home, we cannot fail to see that there are things to learn, to do better, to try to perfect.

Edu and Gines from Spain sing to the crowd of meeting participants

By now we have all returned home, the memories of our trip neatly packed into digital cameras and memory sticks. The mementos stem from fragrant coffee and chocolate to business cards and emails. We have already exchanged messages thanking our hosts in Costa Rica, and said good-bye with ‘Pura Vida’ on our breath. We have each come back to our local news, security issues, and pending litigation, with the problems we left waiting patiently for our return. Yet nothing can replace the moments we have had singing by the moonlight, listening to songs from Edu and Gines from Spain, Manolo from Ecuador, and Benson from Kenya… Malaika, nakupenda Malaika. It was wonderful seeing you all again, and Jeanette, the only thing I can say is, Gracias.

Carla García Zendejas
Tijuana, Baja California, México

Our first stop was Carara National Park, where our hosts had arranged a stop on the way to our meeting site.  ELAW Amigos sat on airplanes for many, many hours before arriving in San Jose, and we appreciated the opportunity to stretch our legs before the real work started.

Scarlet Macaws

Costa Rica is a mecca for eco-tourists, and Amigos working on sustainable tourism projects at home were interested to learn about what is working well in Costa Rica.  Carara was upgraded from a biological reserve to a national park in 1998, and hosts thousands of tourists every year.

I appreciated the walk for the chance it provided to catch up with old friends, meet new friends, and share the incredible abundance of Carara’s wildlife.  Many of Costa Rica’s 800 remaining Scarlet Macaws live in this area, and the birders among us were thrilled to see these vibrant, endangered birds, among many others.

Thanks to my colleague Ritwick from New Delhi, I can share some of our sightings!

Lori Maddox
ELAW Associate Director

Poison Arrow Frog

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Blue-crowned Motmot

Today’s post kicks off a week of blogging, devoted to stories from the 2010 ELAW Annual Meeting.  Check back regularly this week to hear from the people who were there.  But first, a little background for you.

ELAW founding members meet in 1992

ELAW became ELAW back in 1989 at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon’s School of Law in Eugene, Oregon.  At that time, the Internet and email were new.  You might say ELAW was the first social network.

Much more than a listserv, the ELAW network has been a place for the public interest underdogs to cheer for each other, provide each other with the legal and scientific tools we need to win, and to be the support network that people in our line of work need when times are tough.

But no matter how live and engaging electronic communications become, ELAW will always recognize the value of face-to-face interactions.

ELAW has a tradition of hosting meetings in odd-numbered years right here in Eugene, Oregon.  Those meetings still coincide with the PIELC.  In even-numbered years, an international partner hosts the meeting.  In recent years, we have convened in Mombasa, Kenya (2008); Santiago, Chile (2006); Slavske, Ukraine (2004);  Guadalajara, Mexico (2002); and Arusha, Tanzania (2000).

Graciously, partners in Costa Rica offered to host the 2010 ELAW Annual Meeting,which they scheduled to coincide with an ELAW Central America Regional Meeting, which was hosted with generous support from the Seattle International Foundation.

As in years past, before the packed schedule of interesting panels, exciting speakers, and hot topics was announced,  leading public interest attorneys, scientists, and grassroots advocates from around the globe rushed to make plans to attend the international ELAW annual meeting.  Over 100 advocates from 30 countries participated.

Partners at the 2010 ELAW Annual Meeting say hello to their friends in the network who could not join them in Costa Rica.

The Annual Meeting kicked off on November 28 in Punta Leona, Costa Rica and closed with a panel discussion and traditional dance performance the evening of November 30.  Partners collaborated on new solutions to problems stemming from coastal development, climate change, use of water resources, mining, oil development, and more.

ELAW’s founders agreed to collaborate,  share successful environmental policies, and learn from each other’s experience.  Now that the 2010 Annual Meeting is over, we will continue to collaborate as we always do, but we will look forward to seeing our friends again.  As Carla said:

These are the moments we crave for, to meet face to face after years of digital communication, of pdf attachments and legal memoranda.  …conversations will drag on for hours on end, be it on sand or water or luscious green, about environmental law, about legal strategy and about how to improve the environment.

Follow us this week as we share news from Carla and other participants at this year’s ELAW Annual Meeting.

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