In September, more than 20 recipients of the 2010 Chayes International Public Service Fellowship gathered at the home of Antonia Chayes, widow of HLS Professor Abram Chayes ’49, to share stories of their fellowship experience. An international public service program founded in memory of Chayes, the Chayes Fellowships allow HLS students to spend eight weeks working with governments of developing nations and those making difficult transitions to peace, stability, and democracy, and with inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations that support them. Transcribed excerpts from three students’ testimonies are included here.
Laura-Kate Denny ’12
International Justice Mission, South Asia
I was in Kolkata, India, this summer. I worked for a human rights agency that’s combating child-sex trafficking and I absolutely loved my work. It was a fantastic combination of substance and procedure. Every few days we’d have pending criminal cases that required court petitions. We’d need petitions for 12 victim girls, and we’d need them in three hours, so I’d be working on petitions all day. I had a lot of time-sensitive projects plus long-term structural transformation research—figuring out how we might be able to use impact litigation to work through the Indian court system to plug the holes that child trafficking cases are slipping through. Criminals are going free because the court system can’t handle the backlog of cases. My research related to establishing special anti-trafficking courts. This experience definitely affected my ideas of what my career could be like. When I arrived, I was thrown into reading girls’ case files—they were very nitty-gritty and heartbreaking. After reading case after case, I had the opportunity to go to one of the after-care homes and meet the girls that I’d read about. I thought meeting the girls would be great; I knew their names, and now I’d be able to put a face with the name. But then I went and I realized: knowing someone’s name and seeing someone’s face are equally anonymous—but really relating to the girls, that was different. I was able to spend time with them, and discovered that Priya likes to braid hair, and Sharmila covers her mouth when she giggles, and they all love to dance, and they were doing things that little girls should do. They were gossiping, making fun of each other, laughing and drawing henna tattoos on my hand. These young women, who have experienced the worst that humanity has to offer, have a sparkle back in their eye and a hope for the future. It’s unbelievable, and this fundamental change in possibilities for beautiful young women is the result of dedicated and passionate investigators, administrative staff, and lawyers. If being a lawyer means contributing to this almost miraculous transformation for victims of human rights abuses, then sign me up. This is absolutely the right choice for my life. In Kolkata I experienced the ‘human’ in ‘human rights,’ and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.
Teel Lidow ’12
World Food Programme, Italy
I spent last summer working for the United Nations World Food Programme in Rome. WFP occupies a gray area in the U.N. political structure; it’s not actually an agency, but it’s more independent than most U.N. programs. The organization is responsible for most of the food aid that the U.N. undertakes. It’s an enormous operation that in some ways resembles a very large shipping company that purchases and distributes food; from other angles it looks like a development bank that implements food stamp-esque programs in Zimbabwe or job training programs for women in the Democratic Republic of Congo. My Chayes placement was in WFP’s legal office, in the contractual and constitutional law branch, which was a really spectacular vantage point from which to see how enormously complex the big machines that run international development are. Many of the agreements that the organization entered into were passed through my division, and I was able to see how WFP interacted with everyone from the government of Haiti to local deliverymen in the Palestinian territories. Many of these agreements were also governing interactions with large numbers of people in countries that may not have strong, or any, legal infrastructure. But the most interesting aspect of my job, and really the summer, was seeing agreements formed in which the major counterparty, the U.N., doesn’t consider itself to be subject to national laws, and isn’t subject to legal process in any country. In that sort of environment, you’re more or less building agreements in a state of anarchy. It forces you to have a very good sense of the interests of all of the parties involved so that you can build an agreement that’s in everyone’s best interest to adhere to. That perspective was just really fascinating.
Petko Peev ’12
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, England
I was in London this summer working for the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. It focuses on Eastern Europe, which is especially interesting to me because I’m originally from Bulgaria. The bank lends money to clients such as municipalities and small businesses. The bank was founded in the early ’90s, and the goal is to help ex-communist countries transition to a market economy. I was working in their legal department on a small team of about 10 lawyers. We looked at the commercial laws of countries in Eastern Europe in areas like secured transactions and corporate governance. We compared them to each other and to international best standards, and we encouraged these countries to improve their laws so they can attract foreign investments. My role was to take input from our lawyers and draft reports that evaluated these laws. I also did some research on special projects on which the governments asked my team for help. For example, a government asked us to work on the petroleum law, so I was researching petroleum facility decommissioning international best practices. I learned about a great many things that I had no exposure to during my first year of law school. I think the most challenging part was working with materials in a lot of different languages. I also had to learn how the Bosnian court system works—a lot of different levels—in order to describe it in a report. Luckily I had colleagues from all over the region. This was probably the most rewarding part, just learning how to work with lawyers from different countries. That was really stimulating for me, and I think that it’s definitely something I want to do in my career later on. In terms of how this experience changed my career plans besides increasing my enthusiasm for work in an international environment, it made me realize that I would really enjoy one day working at a big development organization. I think that a lot of the work such organizations do is really valuable, and the way they can concentrate really high-caliber people and international political support to effect change in these countries is just astonishing.