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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

Salsa Dancing

I’ve spent the past two months as ELAW’s summer intern, working on a wide variety of projects. Some highlights include assisting Maggie with the Fellowship Program and spending time with Imrich and Maria (which included a night of Salsa and Bachata dancing!); using my French to communicate with lawyers from the Central African Republic and to work on a website for a Haitian environmental law association; doing research on the Miskito people of Nicaragua and plans for oil exploration in the area to help Maggie draft a proposal for an ELAW project; and working with Jen to build a website to help facilitate collaboration among lawyers in the Caribbean. I should also mention how privileged I feel to be able to go to anyone on the ELAW staff with questions, and to always receive a patient, thorough explanation. That has also been a key highlight of my internship.

My experience at ELAW has been quite an inspiring and encouraging one. I have always been passionate about protecting the environment, but I have also sometimes felt frustrated and somewhat pessimistic about the state of our environment and our ability to protect it. I was very excited about this summer internship and hoped it would teach me about a non-profit organization, expose me to the legal aspects of environmental protection, and maybe even help me figure out what to do with my life after I graduate from college. I wasn’t expecting this experience to reshape the way I view environmental protection, but it definitely has.

Working at ELAW has made me realize how much a small group of determined, dedicated, intelligent people is capable of. ELAW’s work has such an impact! I am still astounded by how much these people have been able to and continue to accomplish. During my first weeks at ELAW, when Lauren would check in on me to see how everything was going, I found myself (constantly) blurting out that I couldn’t believe that ELAW does all it does. After interning here for two months, I definitely believe it, and I understand more how it works. Each day I am here I feel a tremendous admiration for the staff I get to work with and for ELAW’s partners abroad.

Working at ELAW has proven to me the power and importance of community. With some translation to help the process run smoothly, hundreds of people are working together to share ideas and strategies, tools and resources, success stories, and encouragement. ELAW helps connect these people with one another, working as a link between lawyers all over the world. I don’t know where we would be if this type of international community did not exist. ELAW exemplifies the endless possibilities and unlimited potential of collaboration despite thousands of miles of separation, cultural differences, and language barriers. I have so much more optimism about the future of our environment, and the power of people working together to protect it, because of this experience.

Maria, Aleah, and Imrich

In addition to teaching me an enormous amount and helping me to develop a more positive outlook on environmental protection, this internship has been fun! The staff at ELAW US is friendly, welcoming, supportive and often hilarious. I have thoroughly enjoyed every staff meeting and Bern’s sense of humor. Showing the summer fellows around Eugene and the Oregon Coast during their first visit to the United States was also fun and rewarding, as was finally figuring out how to change something on a website-in-progress after blindly trying to do so for hours.

My internship at ELAW has been incredibly educational and inspiring, and I feel like I have actually helped a cause that I care deeply about. This has been such a gratifying experience. I will carry what I’ve learned at ELAW with me as I return to college and decide what to do with my life. Thanks to everyone at ELAW for providing me with this opportunity. I will miss you!

Aleah Jaeger
Summer Intern

I’ve just returned from an unparalleled adventure – rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  I waited more than a decade for my private permit – the chance to run this river with a crew of my own choosing, and accountable for our own safety and adventure.  It is a thrilling “once-in-a-lifetime” adventure that I have been fortunate to take more than once in the last 20 years.

Lori and her husband David

Our river trip was unparalleled – every camp, every hike, every rapid, every slant of light on the canyon walls, better than I could have hoped even if I could have pre-scripted all those details.  The Grand Canyon is truly one of the wonders of our planet – it still feels wild and remote, which is a rarity in our modern world.

Being in places like the Grand Canyon inspired me to do the work I have done for nearly three decades now – I started because I wanted to protect wild places, because they feed the human spirit, and because they have value that is separate from us, and we have much to learn from the systems of interconnectedness that wild places hold.

Even this world-class treasure faces threats right now, from the one species that most threatens the wild places of our planet — us.  As a species, we take actions every day that chip away at the integrity of natural systems.

At the same time, every single day I come into contact with people who are doing something to protect the integrity of our planet.  I am inspired by individuals who are taking steps, large and small, to shift away from our destructive patterns.  When I came home, I returned to a job in which my colleagues have committed their lives to protecting the planet.  We share values, goals, work, and friendship.  I am fortunate to have connected myself to a team of people all around the world who, by virtue of their commitment, are making things better.  My first day back in the office we had a visit from some ELAW supporters – three generations of a family that all choose to support ELAW’s work financially.  The youngest one was about seven – she and her siblings voted to make their year-end donations to ELAW.  They’re part of our team – we’re all in this work together.

One of my tasks this week is to coalesce a number of great ideas about how ELAW can help protect a different natural treasure – the Mesoamerican Reef – and tie those ideas together into a cohesive regional work plan with achievable goals for the year to come.  My colleagues are ambitious, and serious about protecting the Reef and coastal ecosystems from oil exploration, resort development, overfishing and pollution from industrial sources.  Because our natural treasures, and the people who depend on them, are more important than oil or luxury resorts.  We are winning some, and sometimes we have setbacks.  But I’m confident that our commitment, and our collaboration, are making things better.

Back to work!

Lori Maddox
Associate Director

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

7 News Belize photo of Caye

7 News Belize photo of Caye

Belize television 7 News Belize reports that mangrove forests at Fisherman’s Caye are being dredged and filled for resort development. This caye is one of many tiny islands in the South Water Caye Marine Reserve, named a UN World Heritage Site in 1996. Following a recent visit, UNESCO’s Francesco Bandarin sent a stinging letter to Belize’s Minister of Natural Resources, complaining about “massive removal of mangrove forests”.

ELAW is working with partners in Belize to protect this and other valuable marine areas from destruction at the hands of developers. ELAW partner Candy Gonzalez, an attorney with the Belize Institute for Environmental Law and Policy, says that representatives from the UNESCO World Heritage Committee have visited the area in the past, but never addressed her organization’s concerns about the Reef. “This time, with a concerted effort, they did listen,” says Candy. “Though they refused to address the impact that climate change has had on the Reef, as raised in petitions we submitted in November 2004, they did admit that climate change must be a concern for all World Heritage sites.”

The World Heritage Committee meets in June. The hope is that the Committee will bring international attention to the destruction of Belize’s Barrier Reef System by moving this World Heritage site to the “in danger” list, rather than “red flagging” it.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) is a network of more than 300 environmental advocates in 70 countries who are working to protect the environment and their communities’ right to live in a healthy environment.

The ELAW network was built on the premise that grassroots advocates working in their home countries know best how to protect the environment and promote human rights. ELAW works to give them the tools they need, such as legal research, scientific testing and support, and materials for educating communities about their rights.

ELAW’s office is in Eugene, Oregon but our staff attorneys and scientists work with our partners all over the world.

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