blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
By: Maja Pecanac (Bosnian delegate to Rwanda)
Staying in Rwanda and working for INALAS shook something inside me and forced me to spend nights and nights thinking about what I have seen, what I have learned and what I have shared with other program participants as well as about how I have changed.
Being a lawyer myself and being passionate about human rights for a very long time, I asked the GYC program organizers if I could volunteer for Inara Legal Aid Services (INALAS). I thought that Inalas would be yet another for profit or nonprofit organization financed by foreign or domestic capital that provides legal assistance and whose employees receive regular pay and other contributions. But this was not the case. It was completely different. There was one desk, one bookshelf, and three chairs.
Which begs the questions:
How much office space, materials, chairs is needed to establish an organization that provides free legal assistance to vulnerable groups in the capital city of one country? How many bus tickets, free time, refreshments is needed to start a mobile legal unit that travels through the country’s villages offering free legal advice and assistance to those who can’t even afford the transport to the capital?
What I learned is that the people who are doing it must have their heart in it without any desire for compensation other than satisfaction of being able to assist someone in need. INALAS is a nonprofit and non-political organization based in the capital city of Rwanda – Kigali operates based on this principle providing legal aid services to indigent populations and vulnerable communities.
During the Turikumwe Human Rights Learning and Action Program, organized by Global Youth Connect and INALAS, I had the honor to volunteer for a few days for INALAS and its noble mission.
Jean-Claude Rwibasira, founder and chief legal representative of INALAS, told us a story of the organization beginnings and his desire to, as a young student, use his knowledge for something that other people can benefit from. He explained to me that the purpose of legal science was to be in service to others just like medicine and that you should do it free of charge. Corporate lawyers would laugh at this just like his fellow students laughed at Claude when he first presented his “utopian” idea to them years ago, in a university atrium packed with students – future lawyers. Only four of them applauded to this idea. Now, this team of five people is still the initial INALAS’s team. I salute you! I also salute my new friends and fellow participants of the GYC program with whom I volunteered at INALAS – Jaxson, Eleanor, Jean-Marie, Patrick and Vincent — we all had the honor to be hosted by INALAS’ amazing team in their modest office in Nyarugenge District, Kimisagara Sector and work with them for a few days.
I was shaken.
Perhaps I can “blame” it on time spent in a country that strikingly resembles my own to the extent that at one point I thought these were the two sides of the same country (see my other blog post about that). Or perhaps it was because of the children’s smiles at the Gisimba orphanage (where INALAS protects children’s rights through legal services) when they tightly held my hands asking me to play with them. Or, perhaps it was the discovery of my new friends – Danielle and Jiahui whom I got to know better it seemed than I know some of my longtime friends.
What is this connection that I instantly felt in relation to other program participants? What is this connection that makes me want to revisit my own mission, my path, my future? I think it is all because now I can see myself standing and applauding Claude that day with the four others, in the university atrium. I was there as well.
This journey is not just a short-term inspiration that I felt coming back from some previous programs, trips, youth gatherings. This inspiration is life changing. I know this. It is for me and for those who I want to serve from now on, those who need my help.
They call Rwanda “a country of a thousand hills” and I say that is the country of a thousand hearts. Well, actually, now it is a thousand and one, mine included. And this is largely thanks to INALAS.
If we were more willing to share our knowledge, experience, resources that we have, this world would have a lot more smiling children. Children such as a little girl called Chance from the orphanage Gisimba whose smile filled my soul and showed me that this is my chance.
To view another blog post about volunteering at INALAS, see Jaxson Khan’s post on INALAS’ Tumblr Page, which Maja and Jaxson helped to set-up during their volunteer service with INALAS.