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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.”

In February, I had the pleasure of traveling to Haiti for ELAW.

AHDEN Members

I went to work with friends and partners at l’Association Haitienne de Droit de l’Environnement (AHDEN).  Haiti has faced enormous challenges in recent years, but the commitment and enthusiasm of our Haitian partners left me inspired and hopeful.

During the first few days, I participated with AHDEN members in a meeting hosted by the MacArthur Foundation, which brought together its grantees who will be working in Haiti over the next three years to see how we could support each others’ efforts, build synergies, and ensure that we’re all successful in our work in Haiti.  The meeting was fantastic, largely due to the inspiring conservation work that people are doing in Haiti.  ELAW and AHDEN learned about the legal needs of organizations working to conserve key biodiversity areas in Haiti and looking for alternative livelihoods for people dependent on exploiting natural resources to put food on their tables.


After the meeting of MacArthur Foundation grantees, we welcomed ELAW partners from the Dominican Republic who came to help AHDEN with its inaugural public event.  INSAPROMA’s President Euren Cuevas and Director Jorge Verez traveled all day by bus to share experience strengthening and enforcing environmental law in the DR with their colleagues in Haiti.

On February 11, 2011, l’Association Haitienne de Droit de l’Environnement (AHDEN) and the Faculte de Droit et des Sciences Economiques (FDSE) hosted the Colloque International sur la Promotion du Droit de l’Environnement en Haiti. The event was advertised as a place to discuss environmental law as an instrument in the national reconstruction and as a tool for sustainable development in Haiti.  The all-day workshop went from 8:30 am until 7:30 pm, and nearly all of the 108 registered participants remained with us to the end of the very long day.

It was a phenomenal event with informative speakers and a highly engaged audience.  Representatives from many government agencies, university professors, students, aid organizations, and local NGOs came to discuss environmental law in Haiti.  People were thrilled to hear about the establishment of AHDEN and the role it will play in shaping Haiti’s environmental policy and contributing to the country’s reconstruction.

The colloquium consisted of five panels.  The first described environmental problems in Haiti from a technical perspective.  A panelist from the Ministry of the Environment described recent studies, including one showing high levels of pollution in breast milk.  One of the panelists focused on problems related to land registration.  Land registration is clearly an important issue in Haiti, as it came up in each of the five panels and was the focus of at least half the questions posed to panelists.  This was also an issue discussed frequently in the meeting of MacArthur Foundation grantees, where grantees working on conservation noted a need for clarity regarding land ownership.

I joined INSAPROMA’s President Euren Cuevas and Director Jorge Verez on a panel where we described environmental law in our respective countries and described citizens in the DR and around the world successfully using law to protect the environment.

Many speakers explained environmental law in Haiti, including AHDEN President Jean André Victor during the last session.  Earlier in the day, he distributed the index to his compilation of Haitian environmental laws, which served as a list of existing laws.  He then used his position as the final speaker of the day to respond to questions that had been raised throughout the colloquium by providing specific legal answers, historical context, and other relevant information.

One speaker described the need to give environmental law a life beyond the textbook in Haiti.  She happily acknowledged that AHDEN was filling two of the needed components she identified – advocacy and education.

Jean André Victor (AHDEN) talks with reporters

AHDEN’s President, Jean André Victor, was absolutely mobbed by reporters from television and radio stations and newspapers.  Many of the reporters stayed for much of the morning and filmed or recorded several sessions, including AHDEN presenting a guide that ELAW recently published (and an AHDEN member translated) to help communities and NGOs prevent mining abuses.

I was thrilled by the interest in the colloquium and the energized, active participation by everyone in the room.  The level of enthusiasm for the work and the amazing discussions following each panel were truly inspiring and gave me incredible hope for what AHDEN can accomplish in Haiti — even as I sat in the city center of Port au Prince, surrounded by constant reminders of just how hard things are in Haiti right now.

On my return home ELAW launched a website for AHDEN where we will gather presentations from the colloquium and publish other material relevant to AHDEN and environmental law in Haiti: Check out the site and know that AHDEN is making history – it is helping shape environmental protection in Haiti while educating and involving Haitians in the decision-making processes.

Jen Gleason
ELAW Staff Attorney

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