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P1080368.group.grass.2Last week I had the pleasure of joining 45 lawyers from East Africa to discuss how to defend the rights of communities threatened by the push for land and resources throughout the region.

With generous support from the Ford Foundation, ELAW partnered with Greenwatch in Uganda to host a workshop for lawyers from Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania.  The aim was to help young lawyers gain the skills they need to defend the rights of communities threatened by extractive industries.

More experienced lawyers came to give presentations and share their expertise.  But they also came to forge ties with the next generation of lawyers and mentor lawyers just starting out.  They depended on experienced lawyers to help them as they got started, and now they are happy to help the next generation of lawyers.

We are also helping build relationships between young lawyers within each country and across borders, so they know they are not alone taking on powerful interests.

In addition to Greenwatch, ELAW partners at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya and the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania helped organize the workshop.

I left the workshop inspired and full of hope and I believe that we all went away better prepared to defend the rights of communities threatened by unsustainable development.

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

In 1994, I had the pleasure of traveling to Africa for ELAW for the first time.  ELAW was looking for lawyers working to protect people’s right to live in a healthy environment.  We wanted to learn how we could support their efforts and help them connect with their colleagues around the world. During that trip, I met inspiring young lawyers in Kenya and Tanzania who, like me, had recently graduated from law school and were passionate about protecting communities and the environment.

Young advocates Harriet Bibangambah and Lourdel Twinomugisha from Greenwatch in Uganda

Young advocates Harriet Bibangambah and Lourdel Twinomugisha from Greenwatch in Uganda

Nearly 20 years later, I returned to work with those pioneering lawyers, now the experienced generation, to connect with the next generation of advocates representing the public interest through law. In the face of massive investments by extractive industries in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, these advocates are needed now more than ever.

Communities in Turkana County are among the most marginalized in Kenya. Hydropower projects in the Lake Turkana watershed have displaced communities and threatened the region’s already limited water supplies. Now, multinational corporations are beginning to pursue oil in this remote region, threatening to displace more communities and pollute water supplies. Communities in Kitui County, Kenya are facing eviction from their lands so companies can extract coal.  As demand for resources grows and the price for resources increase, the pressure to extract resources intensifies, and stories like these become more common.

That’s why ELAW is working with partners in these three East African countries to support lawyers working to help  communities understand their rights and defend and protect those rights.

Just over a week ago, ELAW and partners at the Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG) in Kenya, the Lawyers’ Environmental Action Team (LEAT) in Tanzania, and Greenwatch in Uganda hosted a workshop to help lawyers in the region meet the challenge of protecting communities impacted by natural resource extraction. We hoped 20 lawyers would attend the meeting. We were thrilled when 50 lawyers asked to join us:  Through this work we are building a global corps of grassroots advocates who will protect communities and the environment for years to come.

ELAW thanks the Ford Foundation for making it possible for us to reconnect with partners in the region and reach out to new lawyers.

Jennifer Gleason
Staff Attorney

Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay (PHOTO: the_tahoe_guy)

My wife, seven year-old son Aidan and I recently returned from a vacation to Lake Tahoe.  On the border between California and Nevada in the Western United States, Lake Tahoe is in the middle of U.S.  Forest Service land and bordered by numerous ski resorts.  Lake Tahoe is one of the clearest lakes in the world and, at about 1900 m above sea level, is the largest alpine lake in North America.  The freshwater lake is 500 m at its deepest point, second deepest in the United States after Oregon’s Crater Lake.

Lake Tahoe storm drain pipe transporting polluted road runoff into Lake Tahoe (PHOTO: Tahoepipeclub (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons])

I relished the opportunity to share my love of the Pacific Northwest’s wild places with my son.  The city in which we live, Eugene, Oregon is very progressive in terms of environmental sensitivity.  Aidan has already learned about the importance of conserving our natural resources in school.  He regularly points out things that are “wasting water” or “hurting the planet.”

Upon arriving, our first stop was the lakeshore to dip our feet in the icy-cold snowmelt-fed water and marvel at the spectacular sunset over the mountains to the west.  Along the water’s edge we could see a steady decrease in the remarkable clarity of the water – a result of lakeside development and urban stormwater runoff.  On submerged rocks we could see algae, which was not there ten years ago.  Aidan and I talked about how, even with efforts to export sewage and garbage generated in the Tahoe basin, the lake could someday lose its legendary purity because of human impacts.

I like to think that my work at ELAW has had an impact on the way he sees the world.  It was gratifying to see Aidan interact with nature and develop an appreciation for clean water and a healthy planet.

Glenn Gillis
Information Technology Manager

ELAW Fellow María and Ems Player Luis Felipe De La Cruz

Last Thursday, ELAW was the Featured Nonprofit at the Eugene Emeralds baseball game against the Tri-City Dust Devils.

The game was special to all of us at ELAW for a number of reasons: ELAW Executive Director Bern Johnson threw out the first pitch, our current ELAW Fellow María is a big baseball fan from the Dominican Republic, and lots of local ELAW fans and families came out to show their support.

The best part for me was sharing the game with  my 6 year-old son, Aidan. It was easy to get Aidan to go to an Ems game. He has been playing baseball since he was about 3. He loves going to Ems games, which we do regularly, and we’ve even been to see a Giants game in San Francisco.

Aidan and I at the game

Taking Aidan to the game was another way to share my passion for the environment and for ELAW with him. Part of the reason I work at ELAW is that I want to ensure Aidan inherits a planet free of oil spills, clear cut forests, and toxic nuclear waste.

When he is older, I hope Aidan will choose to support the environment as many other ELAW children have done: Samantha Atukunada, daughter of Uganda’s Kenneth Kakuru at Greenwatch; Pedro Leon Gutierrez, son of Raquel Gutierrez of Mexico’s Instituto de Derecho Ambiental (IDEA); and Harper Johnson, daughter of ELAW’s Executive Director Bern Johnson. It’s only with the help of the next generation that we can ensure that the more just, sustainable world we are working to create will remain intact.

Go Ems!  Go ELAW!

Glenn Gillis
Information Technology Manager

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