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I'm going to Rattanikiri!

I’m hanging out in JFK, waiting until it’s time to board my Singapore Air flight to Bangkok and say goodbye to America. This was a whirlwind month, and I can't believe I'm finally here. After three brutal weeks of exams and the week-long journal write-on competition, I (barely) survived my 1L year. Now, I’m off to Cambodia to work for International Bridges to Justice (www.ibj.org).

IBJ is a non-profit with an extraordinary mission. It has offices throughout the world, and its main goals are to promote the right to competent legal representation, the right to be free from torture and cruel treatment, and the right to a fair trial. In Cambodia, IBJ has eight Defender Resource Centers (DRCs) that help the country recover from the past. During the Khmer Rouge regime, most legal professionals were killed, and survivors fled to other countries. Cambodia also continues to suffer from “brain drain,” professionals that leave the country to work elsewhere.[1] As a result, there is a significant shortage of lawyers in the country and access to adequate legal representation is scarce. IBJ’s DRCs help mitigate this problem, support local defenders, represent criminal defendants and other marginalized citizens, and conduct street law campaigns that raise legal rights awareness.[2]

I’ll work in Rattanikiri province, one of the most rural, isolated areas of Cambodia. I’ll interview clients, write articles, assist attorneys, and help organize street law campaigns. Because many Rattanikiri residents are members of hill tribes, they are very vulnerable to rights violations such as illegal land redistribution and infringement of criminal legal rights, so the work in this region is especially important.

As you can guess, my excitement for this internship made it really easy to focus during exam season (not). I really am so excited, because (1)  this job is going to be awesome, but also because (2) I love Cambodia. My affair with the country started last year on a study abroad trip. Leading up to the trip, I studied Cambodia for an entire year. Despite my academic knowledge though, I didn’t fully understand the impacts of the Khmer Rouge and the long-lasting effects of the war. At least, not until the trip, where the Cambodian people taught me so much more than my books could have. I'm excited to gain more of a true understanding of the country and its problems this summer by working for IBJ, and hopefully I can make some sort of difference for the people that showed me how lucky I am to be here, sitting in JFK airport, typing a blog on my fancy computer, with a nice heavy backpack sitting at my feet and a new adventure in the near future.

Goodbye, America. Sorry there’s no room in the bag for you. I’ll be sure to bring you back some souvenirs.

[1] Things might be getting better though: Plugging the Brain Drain, PHNOM PENH POST (May 4, 2011) http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2011050448881/LIFT/plugging-the-brain-drain.html.

[2] For more information about Cambodia’s messed up legal system and IBJ’s work: http://www.ibj.org/our-work/asia/cambodia/ and http://www.ibj.org/1997/02/11/new-york-times-rebuilding-cambodias-shattered-legal-system/. Also, continue to read my blog!