Week 1: Greetings from Cape Town

Two flights, 24 hours later, and I finally arrived in Cape Town, South Africa! When I initially arrived in Cape Town, I did not know what to expect; I didn’t want to judge the City based off of media interpretation or ostensibly realistic movies. I wanted to gain an appreciation for the country and the City independent of preconceived notions. However, for the short time I have been in Cape Town, it has been a truly magical experience. The culture, the people, and the ambiance are all remarkable.

During my first full day in Cape Town I explored the city, finding small trinket stores, dozens of restaurants with diverse cuisines, and began familiarizing myself with the area. As I walked around, I was greeted with open arms, continuously meeting new people who were extremely hospitable, interested in PASSOP’s work, and provided me with lists of fun places to visit. Nevertheless, one of the hardest aspects to adjust to in Cape Town, as any country except the U.S., is the conversion of the metric system, especially when receiving directions. All in all, my first day of exploring was eventful.

When I began work the next day, I must admit, I was more nervous than I initially assumed. I understood the gravity of the job I was entrusted to do, and I did not want to jeopardize someone’s livelihood on my behalf. Nevertheless, I confidently entered People Against Suffering, Oppression, and Poverty (PASSOP) ready to complete any challenges that I may face. When I first entered, I was greeted and introduced to the dedicated PASSOP staff which consists of about five people and one additional intern. First, I met with the director, Bernard, who instructed me on the duties of a legal intern, and provided me with a Constitutional Law casebook comparable size manual on the South African Constitution, Refugee and Asylum Seeker Rights, and South African Property Law. However, soon after I began reading, one of the lawyers in the office, Sylva, handed me a stack of papers, told me to become familiar with the case, and be prepared to go to a settlement negotiation with opposing counsel in one-hour. All I could say was wow; I was in awe and in shock. Within two hours of beginning work, I was tasked with assisting and defending a client whom I had never met, yet I felt an obligation to represent him as if I had been working with him for months. As we met with opposing council and his client, negotiations became heated and intense; and the other attorney kept aggressively reiterating his years of experience and how his does not have time to deal with this matter, yet I was not sure if this is a common tactic used to hurry clients to make a decision, or he simply had other matters, but none the less, we were not intimidated by his self-inflicted urgency. As Sylva, another intern, and myself sat around the table, our client constantly asked my opinion, “how much should I pay,” “should we take the offer,” or “do you think we’re giving in too quickly?” Instantly, I began to think to myself, this is just my first day, how in the world am I supposed to know what is in the best interest for this man I just met twenty minutes ago? But that’s when it hit me. This client doesn’t care that I arrived in Cape Town two days prior, he doesn’t care if I memorized the bluebook verbatim, yet he is depending on me to represent him to the best of my ability because he entrusted our team with this matter. I appreciated this experience as I believe it prepared me for what was yet to come.

During the first week, I also assisted in planning a Saturday empowerment workshop for parents who have children with disabilities. Many of the attendees are refugees or asylum seekers and find it difficult to find stable and steady income to support their family, consistently have trouble with the Department of Home Affairs and boarder control, and often do not have family in South Africa to rely on.  Throughout the meeting, parents discussed long and short term goals that would assist them financially by being able to support their children while not having to be separated from them for an extended period of time. Conversely, some parents suggested it would be beneficial to create a learning center for children with disabilities and parents could teach the children while charging a nominal fee. Overall, the most important need expressed by parents is their need of physical and emotional support. Many of the parents with disabled children do not have family and very few friends to lean on in their time of need and are often alone during long hospital stays. The first week was eventful, eye-opening, and at times challenging, but I am excited to continue learning and growing from this experience.

Robben Island