When I finished law school in Sydney, Australia earlier this year, I signed a graduate training contract with a leading commercial firm. Excited as I was to begin working as a lawyer, I decided to take six months off to see a world outside my own and to experience human rights law.
I chose South Africa and SECTION27, at the strong recommendation of a former Australian High Court judge who mentored me through my transition from academics into the workspace. I came to this organization hoping to gain practical experience of using the law to assist the realization of fundamental socio-economic rights such as access to health, education and food.
From day one of my 10-week internship, I was involved in real and meaningful legal work. Broadly speaking, I sat in on meetings to discuss health policies, drafted correspondence to government officials, met with clients, collected affidavits, drafted court papers, attended and spoke at conferences and seminars with civil society organizations, medical experts and government representatives on issues surrounding health, education and food. The highlights of my work were when I helped to secure healthcare services for a refugee, ensure access to essential anti-retroviral medication for HIV-positive inmates at a correctional facility, and ensure the provision of food required under the National School Nutrition Program for learners at a secondary school. My continuous involvement in these matters meant that my work was never isolated – I could always see where it fit in the bigger picture. In this way, I contributed to not only securing a real difference in our clients’ lives, but also within the broader affected community. This had a profound impact on me.
Everyday I was given challenging and diverse work that tested my ability to not only apply the law, but to think critically about the role of government, especially in the practice of ensuring accountability and transparency. I learned about the responsibilities of protecting and promoting human rights, not just that of government departments or civil society organizations, but that of ordinary citizens whose power lies in active participation. It was an eye-opening experience both professionally and personally.
Apart from the work being hands-on and fulfilling, the team at SECTION27 is one of the most brilliant and results-driven teams I have ever had the chance to work with. Everyone – be it researchers, SLSJ fellows, attorneys, administrative staff or management – is open, down to earth, intelligent and inspired. They are a group of people who genuinely love what they do, and their achievements reflect that they give their work their absolute all.
I left SECTION27, sad to leave some truly wonderful friends, but grateful that I had been given resonating insight into human rights law. By the end of my time in Johannesburg, I resolved to continue striving for real change in social justice, beyond the internship, and throughout my career. I have no doubt that my experience with SECTION27 will shape my future career choices and lead me down a path that I might otherwise never have considered.
For law graduates and all other students who want to make a difference and who have a passion for social justice, there is no better place than SECTION27 to begin your journey to effect change.