Be Humble. You Will Learn More Than You Will Impart. Offer Peace.

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Student Attorneys in the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, January ’23

By: Glenaida Garlock ’24, Student Attorney, Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic

Heidi, a former United States Peace Corps community health volunteer and my cousin, answered questions I sent her to help prepare the student attorneys of the 2023 Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic at the University at Buffalo School of Law on how to approach underserved populations. In her time with the Peace Corps, Heidi over saw a project in Nicaragua, which brought water to several villages via a gravity flow water system. Later in Rwanda, Heidi worked as the manager of community health workers. In Rwanda, humans and gorillas share water and food sources, leading to the transfer of disease. Heidi’s team worked to interrupt this disease process in both species. 

The People of Nicaragua and Rwanda struggle to have potable water, food security, and access to appropriate health care. Despite being a part of the United States, the People of Boriken experience very similar struggles. The clinic student attorneys passionately strive to aid the People to increase access to resources and support. 

However, before any aid can happen, we must acknowledgement of the differences between the reality known by those travelling from Buffalo, New York and the reality that exists in Boriken. 

Buffalo and Boriken have exceedingly different climates. The plants, herbs, and trees which grow in each area are very different, as well as the wild and marine life. The two societies and cultures also differ. For example, Buffalo has seemingly endless databases of statistical information. Multiple sources attempt to track statistics of crime, biodiversity, school attendance, homelessness, hospital visits, and endless other things. Boriken often does not have the same type of centralized data bases. Much of the knowledge of the island truly lies with the People. The People are the experts at surviving societal and natural disasters and protecting the integrity of Boriken cultural values. The People know the island better than we ever could. The only way for the student attorneys to make a helpful difference here is to follow the lead of the People.

One thing both Boriken and Buffalo do have in common is the Power of the People. Buffalonians often express the discomfort leaving home, because other places seemingly lack our sense of community. Similarly, Boriken has a very strong and proud sense of community. Everywhere you look you see the People together, laughing, dancing, enjoying authentic food, and truly thriving. The increase of severity and frequency of hurricanes has undoubtedly caused devastation throughout Boriken. But the People of Boriken constantly exhibit their innate vitality, making the advice Heidi gave student attorneys before they left Buffalo to perform legal and policy service-learning extraordinarily important. In addition to the advice set forth above in the title, my cousin, Heidi, instructed those of use seeking to serve the People of Boriken to, “Listen and build capacity where solicited. Individuals are resilient and capable.” 

To support the continuing work of #UBLawResponds student attorneys, you can find a link here.

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