By Mary Orsini, Law & Policy
From July 26-28, 2012, the IJP traveled to Northeast Philadelphia for a mission trip to meet with members of the Darfurian community and other marginalized populations from Sudan, inform them about victims’ rights at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and conduct a needs assessment of the women and their families to gain knowledge about the challenges faced in the U.S. IJP Co-Founders Wanda Akin and Raymond Brown, Program Director Kristin Rosella, and Program Officer Carine Bonduelle led this three-day mission, which consisted of a series of workshops for the Darfurian community members and which provided the IJP interns with a unique opportunity to gain valuable legal experience in international criminal law and human rights law and work face-to-face with victims of the Darfur genocide.
Sam Carty, the summer 2012 LaTonio Hyatt Memorial Administrative Intern, assisted Kristin and Carine in planning this mission. She noted that “the inner workings of a non-profit organization have always been of interest to me and to watch the hard work in planning and organizing come to fruition during the mission was definitely a goal met…As the Administrative Intern, I was able to watch my peers build trust with the community.”
Over the three-day period, the interns were divided into teams based on the IJP’s current programs but were expected to remain flexible and assist others at a moment’s notice. The IJP Health and Reparations Project (“HARP”) and Emergency Response Network for Darfuri Women at Risk (“Network”) team concentrated on assessing the difficulties faced by the Darfurian Diaspora in adapting to their new environment here in the U.S. Gina Ruggieri, a rising 2L at the Charlotte School of Law, Djoye Mendy, a fourth-year student at the International Humanitarian Action at Université Paris-Est Créteil, and Kristin interviewed almost fifteen individuals regarding their health and other needs and informed them of how the IJP’s Network could assist them in connecting with resources in the area. This mission was IJP’s first opportunity to conduct a needs assessment involving male members of the community, allowing the organization to diversify the issues being addressed and gain new perspectives on the Network’s work.
Gina, who is also a former social worker, noted that many of the Darfurian families were struggling with basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and housing, as well as choices for health care and education. During these challenging economic times, families lacked housing options and were facing possible situations of foreclosure or unaffordable rent. Inspired and motivated by the mission and her interactions with the community, Gina immediately returned to the IJP offices on Monday and began searching for partners to help meet the needs of the Philadelphia community. Despite finishing her internship this week, Gina intends on continuing her work with the IJP and the Philadelphia Darfurian community as much as her law school schedule will permit.
In addition to conducting the needs assessment, the IJP coordinated a workshop for the Darfurian children, ages 5-18, regarding preparation for higher education. This particular workshop was a hit among the children, who soaked up the new information and were full of questions. The workshop was led by Dr. Deborah Bowles, President of the Raymond A. Brown Center for Education and Public Policy. Dr. Bowles, who has extensive experience in higher education, guided the more than twenty Darfurian children through the college process, stressing the skills that they must gain now to apply to college and providing sound advice on how best to manage their education. The Raymond A. Brown Center provides students, especially those underrepresented in higher education, with the skills and information needed to continue their education beyond high school. The conversation even sparked many of the adults to inquire about how they might return to school and receive scholarships. Seeing the bright faces of the children as they spoke about what they wanted to become when they grow up and hearing them describe their dreams of medical school, law school, and other careers were true signs of hope for a community that has suffered countless acts of violence and other trauma in Darfur.
Another IJP team—the legal team—focused on assisting and supporting those members of the Darfurian community interested in completing an application to participate in the proceedings at the ICC, including in the case against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. Gregory Haynes, a rising 2L at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law, described his positive experience working with the Philadelphia community but noted some of the challenges faced. He explained that “[o]ne of the most difficult parts of the mission from a professional standpoint…was explaining how the court proceedings are relevant to their lives…I [had] completely immersed myself in legal research and had to switch from explaining a concept in technical legalese to wording that could be understood by a non-lawyer.”
Kerlin Hyppolite, a rising 2L at Rutgers-Camden School of Law, explained that “nothing is as vivid and impactful as hearing the stories from the refugees themselves…Regardless of the different demeanor of the refugees, one thing that was commonplace amongst them was the desire to have their story heard before the court.”
Finally, each day, the IJP and the interns had the opportunity to “break fast” with the Darfurian community at sun down, as part of the Ramadan celebration during the months of July and August. (And, no, we were not required to fast as part of the job, but it was great to taste the delicious Arabic food at the end of the day!). Kerlin noted, “At the end of each day, we all had a chance to ‘break fast’ with the community members as a part of their custom during the Ramadan. We were able to interact with each other on a very casual level, and it seemed that all the sorrow that brought us together earlier in the day dissipated…The children were always smiling and playing like any other children would be expected to do.”
Despite the three long, successful days in Philadelphia, the IJP’s work there is not yet finished. It will take several more trips to complete applications, coordinate with Network partners, and build our programs, and we look forward to each one and seeing all of the community members again.