Posted by: vanessalamborn | March 6, 2011

Finishing up at Lawyers for Human Rights

By Vanessa Lamborn

My six weeks at Lawyers for Human Rights on the Refugee and Migrant Rights Project in South Africa has come to a close and I’m already on my way back home (via Cape Town and Zimbabwe!). It’s difficult to make conclusions about my experiences at LHR as it really was such a short placement and only an introduction into refugee law and life in South Africa. Everyday refugees explained to me why they left their country of origin and these stories of brutalization by their own neighbors confronted me with mans ability to dehumanize and destroy.

I was also challenged to consider what the role of ‘foreigners’ is in development aid. Could I come into this environment with my own inherent bias and really affect any change? Should change be on a macro or micro level? By attempting to help are we simultaneously supporting the current system? Or as my supervisor suggested, did change need to come from the people, who had to ‘own’ their past and make their own future?

During my placement at LHR I did not find the answers to these questions but I was frequently encouraged to debate these issues and exposed to many different views. Although I see no solutions to the problems facing South Africa, which has an official unemployment rate of 24% (the unofficial is said to be more like 55%) and with almost 40% of people in the province I worked in affected by HIV, I am far from disheartened. The experience has allowed me to work with inspiring and dedicated people and to work for strong and resilient clients. Then central character of our office book club, a Nigerian refugee, explained that she was “carrying two cargoes. Yes, one of them was horror, but the other one was hope.”


  1. Wow, Vanessa – that quote will really stay with me. It sounds like you had an incredible time in South Africa!

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