What’s the difference between a lawyer and a herd of buffalo? The lawyer charges more. Who hasn’t heard a lawyer joke like this one? While yes, most lawyers tend to have lucrative careers, but there are lawyers who also genuinely want to help people. Saving the world’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it! You could end up volunteering as a legal aid at a charity clinic in Vietnam or you can learn how to write a fundraising proposal for an elementary school in Peru; as a legal aid volunteer abroad, your options are endless.
Why Volunteer Abroad
A legal aid volunteer’s official job is to help people who can’t afford legal representation and access to the court system. They should, therefore, be passionate about ensuring justice and access to equal opportunities. However, there’s so much more to being a legal aid volunteer than dealing with court systems!
Legal aid volunteer projects abroad are valuable because they pull volunteers into another country’s culture, giving them the chance to see life from another perspective. That way, they can more closely identify people’s hopes and needs, and then meet them, which is a much better approach than assuming you know what people need. Thinking critically from other people’s perspective is a valuable skill that translates well into the field of law, whether you want to be a lawyer or legal assistant. Volunteering abroad as a legal aid will look great on your resume, especially to those law school admissions officers you aim to please!
There are legal aid volunteer opportunities on all continents around the globe, so the hardest part will be choosing one! However, the majority of legal aid volunteer placements are offered in developing countries. Cost, language barriers, vaccinations, and visa requirements are all things to consider before setting your heart on a legal aid volunteer program.
Africa is an exciting place to fight for justice, even if you don’t speak fluent Swahili, French, or Xhosa. Help girls stay in school in Cameroon or dip your toes in human rights work in Morocco or Sierra Leone. In your down time, you’ll have so much to explore, whether you’re in the mood for an Ostrich egg omelette or you’re dreaming of a camel ride in the desert.
Asia is another top legal aid volunteer destination, hosting countless legal aid volunteer opportunities for you to see what it’s like to delve into a law career. In Nepal, for example, you could help organizations fight for disability rights or delve into environmental advocacy work, then go hiking in the Himalayas. Or, you could step outside your comfort zone as a legal aid in Cambodia, where the fight for human rights and women’s empowerment lives on. Before work, watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument.
South America is the place to put your Spanish to use empowering communities to improve schools near the Inca trail in Peru. Delight in this country’s independence day festivals, where citizens take time off to dance in the streets and drink chicha morada, a sweet purple corn drink. If adventure travel is your jam, head to Chile to support grassroots organizations and finish your service with an epic white water rafting trip.
Legal Aid Volunteer Opportunities
There are so many different legal aid volunteer projects you can dive into, whether you are passionate about the environment, human rights, or education; it all depends on the goals you have for volunteer abroad. Legal aid volunteer work can last for a week all the way up to two years! The longer you stay, the more integrated you will be and the more sustainable your legal aid work will be. However, you may only have the time and money to volunteer abroad as a legal aid for a week, and that’s fine.
For hands-on law and human rights experience, legal aid volunteer programs that place you with an NGO that supports people who have faced discrimination are a great option. Working with NGOs will help equip you with the skills to empower people who have suffered from domestic violence and evictions. If you’re working with an NGO that does legal work, you will most likely be required to bring a year or two of professional experience, while other legal aid volunteer placements may not require previous experience.
For international women’s rights experience, working internationally is a great resume beautifier. Legal aid volunteer opportunities in countries like India and Costa Rica are a great start if you haven’t set your heart on a location yet. In terms of gendered violence, a crime against a woman in India happens every three minutes! Even if a woman has the right to report a crime, she may not be aware of her rights, or she may be too ashamed. You could work with an NGO that educates women on their rights, and could help them file a report-something they may have never had the support to do before.
Last, volunteers can mix a passion for communications with human rights. You could work in a radio or TV station to inform people about their legal rights. Some NGOs have their own radio stations. You’d raise awareness about health issues like HIV/AIDS, women’s and human rights, and democracy. This of course depends on how much control of the press your control has. You could proofread English program transcript, write reports and articles, produce radio shows, and fundraise for the organization. Programs like these would most likely require you to bring your own laptop and have prior communications experience.
Benefits & Challenges
Legal aid volunteer work is intensely rewarding, since you will be able to help equip people with a greater knowledge of their rights. Something as simple as writing a grant for a school to get books can impact a town’s education and literacy level! You’ll learn a lot about the kind of work you’d like to continue when-and-if you come back to your home country.
Volunteering abroad as a legal aid will give you insight into how other people’s values and new cultures. Thinking critically is a huge skill to to have in school and at work! Seeing problems from different angles will make you better at solving them.
One difficulty that comes with volunteering as a legal aid abroad is realizing that you can’t solve everyone’s problems. It can be overwhelming to realize that people don’t know the few rights they have, or that women face much more violence at home than you thought. It will be an enlightening experience for you to realize how you can use your privileges to help others. You won’t be able to solve everyone’s problems, but your work will be incredibly appreciated. It’s all about the small victories.
Once you have set foot in another country and experienced life from other underprivileged people’s point of view, you will begin to understand what their needs are. Only once you understand their needs can you begin to help them. As a legal aid volunteer abroad, you will grow so much while helping others and learning more about your passions!