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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

At this point, I have completed two-thirds of my summer internship with ELAW.  I have to say, it took me a couple weeks to adjust to Eugene, but I think I have finally found my niche. I am not ready to think about leaving in another couple of weeks.

Since my first day in the office, I have learned a great deal.  Growing up in coastal California, my exposure to environmental issues was often limited to wetlands, water and air pollution, and rolling blackouts.  It wasn’t until college that my world opened up and I began to understand the vast differences and similarities of environmental issues faced around the world. Working at ELAW has provided me an opportunity to research global environmental concerns I never would have been exposed to in my legal education.

Bern and Harper Johnson

I truly value the knowledge I have gained about environmental law on an international scale. Yet, if I had to pick the one thing that has made the greatest impression on me, it would have to be something that took place inside the very walls in which I work, just across the hall.  A couple of weeks ago, I overheard our Executive Director, Bern Johnson, helping his daughter write about her interest in the environment.  When I was a little girl I wanted to save the tigers.  I didn’t know how, but I was determined to save the tigers and the black panthers.  My focus has shifted since then, but as I listened to Bern’s daughter compose her thoughts and carefully choose her words, the message was clear: she wants to protect and clean the oceans.  Obviously, the work her father does is not confined to his office, and when he goes home in the evening he takes his knowledge and passion home with him.

This, to me, is the best part about working at ELAW.  It isn’t a job – it’s a passion.  The people I work with, whether in person, via Skype, or via email, all understand the importance of the work they do, and they care.  I will probably never meet, or even speak with, most of the partners I drafts memos for, but I understand the value of their work and am grateful for the chance to contribute.

When I arrived at ELAW I knew I wanted to commit my career to environmental law, but that’s fairly non-specific.  It only took a few weeks, and I now have a much better idea of how I plan to do that:  by working to protect human rights and the environment.  Protecting the environment is not just preserving endangered species or ecosystems; it is also protecting and improving the lives of people.  The two often appear to be in conflict, but as I work, I learn that is not the case at all.

The knowledge ELAW has provided me, and the passion it has instilled in me, are two things I will carry with me throughout the rest of my career.







Rachel Rivers
Legal Intern

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

“Being members of these coalitions, we act in solidarity with the other groups, who have similar philosophy, share information and knowledge and support each other in our local efforts.”

This excerpt is taken from one of my all time favorite books, David Pellow’s Resisting Global Toxics. It highlights the great power in forming transnational networks for communities working towards environmental justice. As Pellow shows, and as those working with the ELAW network know, sharing knowledge, resources, and legal tools are all parts of an effective response to environmental injustices around the world.

In his book, Pellow examines the global waste trade and the movement of toxic substances from one community to another.  It is a problem that has emerged in light of the production of new types of waste, namely that from technologies created post World War II. A recent example, the waste produced from computers, cell phones, and mp3 players, is one that we can all relate to, as we read this post using those very devices. What happens to our computers when we no longer use them? It is an answer shaped by a multitude of factors, which include both legal and economic systems. While many countries have passed legislation to ensure that e-waste is recycled in a safe and responsible manner, these laws can often be circumvented by finding countries with less stringent laws or enforcement. Because proper waste disposal can be expensive,  e-waste often ends up being forced on communities across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where it is unsafely disassembled and resold for spare parts or sits discarded in heaps of e-waste.

The danger of such a system, above and beyond the obvious ecological harm caused by polluting vast areas of land with waste, is that these technologies are often produced using highly toxic materials. This creates a public health problem because substances such as lead, mercury, and polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVCs) come to contaminate groundwater supplies and bio-accumulate in plants, animals, and microorganisms. As Pellow illustrates, the 315 million computers that were discarded between 1997 and 2004 contained more than 1.2 billion pounds of lead. When disposed of improperly, the humans exposed to lead suffer damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, the blood system, and kidneys.

What is an effective response to this extraordinarily unfair environmental burden? Groups around the world have mobilized to find safe ways to harvest materials from these devices for recycling, to push for production of electronics using safer materials, and to pass legislation to ensure that recycling facilities are properly situated and operated to have the smallest ecological impact possible. This type of work is much more easily done with the assistance of an international network of people who have experiences to share about passing legislation and enforcing laws, and who have scientific knowledge about these hazardous materials and their effects.

Pellow does an excellent job making visible the connections between technologies and their toxic waste, between those who use these technologies and those who bear the environmental burden, and between communities around the world experiencing similar situations despite vast differences.  It is our job to use those connections to aid our transnational response to the problem of e-waste. That’s what the ELAW network aims to do. It creates interpersonal connections that facilitate knowledge and resource sharing, which allow an effective response to the problem.

Ship-breaking in Bangladesh, PHOTO: ©Brendan Corr,

The use of this network has already achieved great victories against global dumping of toxic substances.  By collaborating with ELAW partners working in their communities, we have effectively fought against ship breaking in Bangladesh and promoted the clean up of pesticide dumps in Nepal, Ukraine and South Africa. We look forward to using the ELAW network  for even more victories against the dumping of toxic substances in 2011.

For more information about e-waste check out our recent posts.

Michele Kuhnle
ELAW Donor Liaison

ELAW has the privilege of working with amazing people all over the world who take on corporations and governments to secure environmental justice for their communities. Many of our partners are fighting classic “David v. Goliath” battles — they are taking on the giants.

Pablo Fajardo  photo by John Antonellism

Pablo Fajardo --- photo by John Antonelli

ELAW partner Pablo Fajardo is a David among Davids. He has taken on one of the largest corporations in the world – and he is winning. Of course, he is not doing it alone, but Pablo’s interminable will and work ethic has turned a case brought by a group of indigenous people in Ecuador into one of the most watched environmental cases in the world. (The lawsuit seeks to hold Texaco/Chevron accountable for oil extraction operations that destroyed portions of the Ecuadorian rain forest and created myriad health problems for the people living in the area.)

Pablo explained his philosophy to a Vanity Fair writer:
One of the problems with modern society is that it places more importance on things that have a price than on things that have a value. Breathing clean air, for instance, or having clean water in the rivers, or having legal rights—these are things that don’t have a price but have a huge value. Oil does have a price, but its value is much less.” (read the whole Vanity Fair profile here. )

For his work, Pablo won the prestigious environmental Goldman Prize in 2008. He will travel to Eugene for the 2009 ELAW Annual Meeting. He will also give a keynote address at the 27th Annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon.

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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