Law & You Workshop

This semester Students for Migrants ( S4M ) sub-project , Law & You has been busy conducting workshop for Foreign domestic workers ( FDWs) to allow them to learn about salary matters and employment issues. This is to ensure that they are not exploited when they are working in Singapore and are informed of their rights. During these workshops, the students present on issues such as employment contract, illegal deductions, transfer of employment and repatriation.

This is a reflection of the workshop from one of the members of Law & You, Mark Lim.

“Having heard quite a lot about the difficulties faced by the previous week’s workshop particularly with effectively communicating with the very diverse audience, I have to admit that I headed to the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (“FAST”) Lifelong Learning Center with some serious reservations. However, the diversity proved to be much more of a benefit than a detriment.

For one, the diversity in both ethnicity and seniority of the participants allowed for a more dynamic and diverse discussion. This is perhaps the first workshop I had been to where so many of the participants were new to Singapore, and their eagerness to preemptively learn more about their legal rights was both inspiring and exciting. At the same time, the more senior FDWs who had worked in Singapore for a while exhibited a generous and almost maternal propensity to care for their younger friends, and some even took the initiative to quietly translate portions of the slides that were slightly more technical or difficult. It was a heartwarming sight. Moreover, rather than inhibiting the teaching of the workshop material, I think that the audience’s lower proficiency in English actually improved our presentations because it forced us to critically assess which parts of the presentation could be cut when time was running short, and also forced us as presenters to be deliberate in engaging the audience at a pace that was comfortable for them.

I am confident that given the diversity of FDWs we were blessed to be able to reach today, each and every participant had the potential to be a force multiplier by sharing what they learnt with their community of friends. As I reiterated repeatedly during the session, each of the FDWs has the potential to be powerful and important in spreading this knowledge, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to facilitate this process.

I always believe that these workshops, although targeted at FDWs, are excellent opportunities for facilitators to grow. This growth is not just in honing our presentation skills in general, but also as students interacting with a community of FDWs whose positivity, joy and excitement to learn never ceases to awe and inspire.

I am convinced that every workshop is an opportunity to improve our presentations, and I am excited to see how much more effective we can become over time!”

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PBG Cohesion AY 16/17

On the 28th of August 2016, PBG held its annual Cohesion, our first major event to kick-start the academic year! This year, PBG has 198 members over the various 8 projects! Traditionally, Cohesion has always been regarded as an invaluable opportunity for members of the project to interact with each other and get to know each other better. Cohesion, as always, a fun-filled day with meaningful and thought-engaging activities.

The day begun with the introduction of the PBG EXCO Team and a warm-welcome from our president, Hairul Siddeeq. This followed on with some intra-project activities, where the PBG members got the opportunity to bond with their Project Directors and learn the essence of the various projects.

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Siddeeq engaging PBG members in a PBG Pop Quiz

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Members of Student 4 Migrants (S4M) setting goals for the year

The afternoon was followed with a talk from Fortis Law about the evolving pro-bono landscape in Singapore.  In this talk, the members were introduced to the idea of ‘low-bono’ and how sometimes a little help goes a long way. To finish off the day, our members participated in various different games, each one symbolising a beneficiary that PBG works with. From these various stations, the students learned the difficulties and challenges that many of these individuals have to overcome on a daily basis – elderly, migrant worker, domestic worker, disabled and youth.

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Mr Tan Shen Kiat from Fortis Law engaging students in a talk about community law

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Game time!

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Students manoeuvre through an obstacle course game, designed to provide them with greater insight as to the challenges faced by the disabled community

We hope that everyone who attended the Cohesion was provided with a deeper understanding of the importance of Pro Bono and the vast impact in has in our community. We welcome all our new members into Pro Bono Group this year and hope they have a fulfilling and meaningful experience in the projects.

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PBG Family AY 2016/2017!

PBG 10th Anniversary: Celebrating a work in progress

 

In 2005, a group of seven law students at the National University of Singapore (NUS) came together with a shared desire to do more for the local pro bono scene. Fast forward a little more than ten years later and the NUS Pro Bono Group (PBG) has grown to a membership of close to 200 with 9 projects under its wing. On Friday, 4 March 2016, PBG celebrated its tenth anniversary at the Moot Court at the NUS Bukit Timah campus. Attended by over 70 people comprising PBG members, alumni and partners, the celebrations were organised along the narrative of Beginning, Development and Future. The celebrations were graced by four prominent individuals – Professor Simon Chesterman, Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law; Professor Tan Cheng Han, from the NUS Faculty of Law; Mr Lim Tanguy, Director of the Pro Bono Services Office at the Law Society; and Mr Thio Shen Yi, President of the Law Society – who each spoke about a slice of their experience with PBG and pro bono. A series of videos, comprising interviews of PBG’s alumni and partners, tracked PBG’s growth since its founding days.

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PBG’s celebrations were graced by Mr Thio Shen Yi, Mr Lim Tanguy, Professor Tan Cheng Han and Professor Simon Chesterman (L-R)

Professor Tan Cheng Han, who was Dean of the NUS Faculty of Law at the time when PBG was born, acknowledged that building a pro bono culture had not been at the top of his priorities when he first began his term, as the focus was on internationalising the outlook of the law school following the turn of the century. However, when Joseph Wong, then a fourth-year student, approached him with the idea of starting a group focusing on pro bono, the question was ‘Why not?’.

Over the course of the evening, two common threads emerged. First off, the growth of PBG over the years has been a collaborative effort, involving both PBG members and partners, comprising both legal practitioners and organisations, many of whom have formed a long-term working relationship with the group. Mr Lim Tanguy, Director of the Pro Bono Services Office, shared that his experience working with numerous batches of PBG leadership had never failed to disappoint, as the handover process between batches was smooth and the quality of leadership was consistently reliable.

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PBG alumni were invited to stand and shown appreciation for their work in building PBG over the years

This sentiment was echoed by Ms Rachel Hines, a HOME volunteer who works with the Students 4 Migrants team on the project Law & You.

“I have been truly impressed with the dedication, poise, and compassion of the students working on Law & You and have great expectations for an ever-expanding Law & You programme in the future. For next semester, I hope to see the students continue to think creatively about how to reach and empower more foreign domestic workers with the know-how and the skills to speak up for themselves.”

– Ms Rachel Hines, Home Law & You Programme volunteer

 

In his speech, Dean Chesterman also recognised Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge, who has been the Faculty Advisor of PBG since its founding, for her vision and dedication in advising successive batches of PBG members in their quest to do good in the community.

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Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge, PBG’s faculty advisor since its founding in 2005

Secondly, PBG’s trajectory as an organisation working to grow the pro bono landscape in Singapore is a constant work in progress. As shared by Mr Kevin Ebert Tjoa, an alumnus who served in the AY12/13 Exco, the partnership with Project X, an advocacy group for sex workers’ rights in Singapore, had begun as a once-off collaboration during his term. Today, the Legal Research team in PBG continues to work with Project X to examine the legal issues that sex workers face, and the inaugural Pro Bono Awareness Week featured sex workers as one of the target group of beneficiaries whose challenges PBG members helped to raise awareness for. It is heartening that seeds that were planted in the earlier years have grown into full-fledged projects. Successive Excos have sought to expand the range of projects as well as improve the quality of existing projects.

“It was very heartening to see that PBG has grown from strength to strength ever since I left the Exco 3 years ago. Much has changed in the pro bono landscape, in school and in the industry, and it is very encouraging to see that our juniors have kept the pro bono spirit and culture alive and well. It is this same spirit that I hope will continue to grow and make your time in law school a more meaningful and memorable experience that you’ll carry with you long after you’ve left and gone into practice.”

– Mr Adriel Chioh, PBG Exco AY12/13

The final speaker of the evening, Mr Thio Shen Yi, President of the Law Society of Singapore, advised that one’s involvement in pro bono did not have to cease after graduating from law school. He recommended that students take the initiative to learn about the various law firms’ approach to pro bono and also consider taking up public interest litigation cases in order to earn the opportunity to shape the law for a vulnerable group they are keen to help.

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PBG’s 10th anniversary celebrations was attended by partners, alumni and members

Indeed, many former PBG members have continued engaging in pro bono long after they have left law school. Ms Foo Yuet Min, one of the founding members of PBG, is a practising lawyer who has volunteered with the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme (CLAS) and serves as a director of Bridges Across Borders Southeast Asia Community Legal Education Initiative (BABSEA CLE).

“The key to continuing pro bono involvement lies ‎in finding something manageable which you can commit to long term, and always understanding that balance and sustainability are crucial. When you are doing well at your paying work, you will have more ability and latitude to do pro bono work. Potentially, you will also have more standing to make impactful changes as you progress in your career. Further, it may be a good idea to look for pro bono activities where your skill set and inclinations can truly value add; do things others may not be able to easily do. That gives you more satisfaction and will motivate you to continue the good work!”

– Ms Foo Yuet Min, founding member of PBG

 

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Pro Bono in Singapore: The PBG Story chronicles the developments in PBG over the years

The event concluded on a celebratory mood, with the launch of a booklet titled Pro Bono in Singapore: The PBG Story chronicling developments within PBG over the years. PBG alumni also came on stage for the cake cutting ceremony, led by PBG founder Mr Joseph Wong and current PBG President Cheryl Lim.

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PBG alumni on stage for the cake cutting ceremony, led by PBG founder Mr Joseph Wong and current PBG President Cheryl Lim

Ten years since its founding, PBG’s narrative is an unfinished one. While the group has much to be proud of, there is much more to reach towards – community needs to be met, beneficiaries to be served, opportunities to be explored. Nonetheless, for an evening, the NUS Pro Bono Group was able to pause, take stock of its progress, and appreciate the efforts of the people who have grown the pro bono landscape in Singapore. To quote an oft-cited refrain over the years, ‘[never] doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’ (Margaret Mead).

 

 

For the videos screened at the event, check out our YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuMfR7GqIjlsQMqgHVc3ujA). The series of videos in celebration of PBG’s 10th anniversary was put together by PBG members Delphine Goh ’19, Siddeeq ’19, Glen Ting ’19 and Anmol Kaur Gill ’19

 

Thai-Ed With Love 2016

A collaboration between National University of Singapore Pro Bono Group, Prince of Songkla University and Thammasat University

Supported by the Community Engagement Fund and National Youth Council Youth Expedition Fund

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On the 2nd to 10th of January 2015, a team of 18 NUS Law students, alongside two NUS Lecturers -Ms. Sheila N. Hayre from NUS Law and Ms Rungnapa Kitiarsa from the NUS Centre of Language Studies (known affectionally as Ajarn Tukta) – embarked on a 9-day trip to two vastly different regions in Thailand (Hat Yai and Bangkok) to learn and promote the pro bono culture and spirit.

ABOUT THAI-ED WITH LOVE 2016

Thai-ed with Love 2016, now in its second instalment, is an overseas Pro Bono project organised by the NUS Pro Bono Group in collaboration with Prince of Songkla University in Hat Yai and Thammasat University in Bangkok. Students from Chulalongkorn University were also invited to join us during the Bangkok leg of the trip. Over the span of 9 days, over 100 participants from 4 different institutions and professors from the various universities joined us. In order to promote the objectives of the trip – to promote pro bono culture and facilitate exchanges between participants about various pro bono projects – we adopted a Thinking-Learning-Reflecting- Acting (TLRA) pedagogy. Students were encouraged to think about the social issues that they were interested in as well as the issues that were relevant to their communities. Next, each school presented the different types of projects that they were engaged in so they everyone could learn from each others’ experiences and see how pro bono work was done in a different environment. We also had field trips to potential beneficiaries and communities to learn more about the social issues first-hand. Everyone was constantly made to reflect on the daily programmes and made to share what they have learnt as we wanted students to take away something more than just enjoying the programmes. From here, we hope that each student had taken away something from the project and would act on what they have learnt to initiate their own projects in their communities.  We hope that the students from the different universities will be made aware about the various problems within their society, learn about these problems through real-life experiences, then reflect on how they can act upon these knowledge to help the people. The trip was split into two segments – the Hat Yai leg and the Bangkok leg. With two vastly different locations and different backdrops, we hope that participants can get an insight to the different problems that these societies face and understand that there is no one-size-fit-all solution to any problem.

HAT YAI LEG: PRINCE OF SONGKLA UNIVERSITY (PSU)

The activities at the Hat Yai leg of Thai-ed with Love were centred on three core questions: (a) what is pro bono; (b) why is pro bono important / necessary and (c) how can pro bono work be done. These questions, which were the foci of the activities, were meant to create a foundation for all the participations in their learning process.

Our programmes kicked off with an ice-breaking game called Name Tag Switch. The participants had to introduce themselves to each other and had to include what kind of social issues interested them. Everyone then had to switch their name tags and take on the role of the person with whom they swapped their name tag! Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely and also got to know more about the different kinds of issues that everyone was interested in. We realised that many of the NUS students were interested in migrant workers issues while the PSU students were interested in issues pertaining to human rights.

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Ajarn Tukta translating the goals as set by the students

After a short session of Goal Setting for the subsequent days of the programmes, NUS Pro Bono Group held a sharing session of the types of pro bono activities that we conducted back home in Singapore. The PSU students were particularly attentive as they were interested in forming their own pro bono club.

One of the most popular programmes that we conducted was Been There, Done That. All the participants were made to take a stand on certain statements that were read out relating to social issues and to explain why they enjoyed or would not have enjoyed doing the activity described in the statement. The students were very interested to hear some of the anecdotes and experiences that their peers had gone through and many were inspired by the stories of why their peers tirelessly engaged in pro bono activities. We’d even learnt from some of them the initiatives that their university has, or the advocacy work that they’ve done outside! Despite the language barrier, everyone had a meaningful time learning from each other what they’ve done, and to hear views about various social issues in the different countries.

The first day of programmes concluded with Poverty Banquet. An idea that PBG has used before (which has proven to be rather effective), participants were made to play the game while adopting the role of a certain class in society (“putting them into the shoes of others”) so that they will understand the problems faced by the different groups of people. Participants definitely had fun, but amidst the fun, they learnt about the problems plaguing the underprivileged in their societies – how they are exploited by unscrupulous employers, how they can only find low-paying jobs etc and why they should start to be concerned about the people in their communities living in such conditions.

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Shawn, Joan and Alvin assuming different roles in Poverty Banquet (the Police does look scarier than the Gangster!)

After learning about what pro bono is all about, and understanding why pro bono work is important, we did a field trip to Samila Beach to learn more about one of their projects, Beach4Life. The students from the Prince of Songkla University working on this project explained to us the problems that the beach was facing. As a result of the installation of power plants, breakwaters and sea walls, the coast was being eroded and the shoreline was had receded significantly. This had significant impact on the communities living near the shore and also impacted the tourism industry. The PSU students worked with the various stakeholders in an attempt to get the government to stop creating man-made structures on the beach as these were the major perpetrators for the erosion. The students shared about how they assembled all the evidence and even went to Court to explain to the Judge about the problem! It was truly very inspiring for all the participants!

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Samila Beach and its slowly receding shoreline due to coastal erosion

Following the site visit, we went to Songkla Forum, which is an organisation that aims to make youths from the area more cognisant of the problems in the community. Beach4Life was one of the projects administered by Songkhla Forum. Advocates from Beach4Life and Songkla Forum shared with the participants their experiences and their motivations for commencing the project. It was a great opportunity for everyone to learn – one of the Profs from Prince of Songkla also shared his experiences as well!

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The team at Songkia Forum

On our last day at Hat Yai, the students put up a Cultural Performance from the Prince of Songkla University – we were touched by their gestures and particularly amused when they attempted to teach some of the participants from NUS how to dance! (They are definitely a lot more talented than the participants from NUS!)

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Participants from NUS attempting to learn a cultural dance

The Client Interview programme was next – in a simulated environment, the participants attempted to interview clients from different backgrounds. Through this activity, we hope that the participants will be able to understand how to use their knowledge and skills towards pro bono work, and through the simulations, we hope that they can get a controlled taste of how some pro bono projects are conducted.

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Aimi and Pukwan attempting to interview Weixuan during the Client Interview

Participants were also given an opportunity to think about some of the projects that they wish to do, and how they would go about doing it in the segment – How to do pro bono work. This was adapted from a programme conducted by students from the University of Queensland, Australia at the BABSEA Conference, which was held in Myanmar in 2015.

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Sharing what they’ve learnt and the pro bono activity they intend to establish

Other than passion and enthusiasm, participants need to weigh the resources that they have – time, money, manpower and professional assistance – to determine whether the project is feasible or not. This often-overlooked part aims to give participants a more realistic view of the constraints of pro bono work and what they can and should do to overcome the challenges they have. Many a times, projects have to come to a halt because of several constraints that are faced by students, and this could have been resolved should they think about the potential problems they may face in the course of their work.

Our stay in PSU was truly amazing, with many thanks to the hospitality from the Faculty and the support of the Dean of the Law Faculty. With the conclusion of the activities in Hat Yai, we made preparations to leave what had become our home for the past 4 days, and set off towards Bangkok.

BANGKOK LEG: THAMMASAT UNIVERSITY

The first day of Bangkok started after a long 14-hour bus ride from Hat Yai to Bangkok – it’s over 1000 kilometres! However, what greeted us was a full day of exciting activities. We had the opportunity to visit two non-governmental organisations – theMercy Relief Centre and Duang Prateep Foundation and to learn about the good work they have been doing at the Khlong Toei slums. One of the activist at Duang Prateep Foundation has been working with the people in the slums for over 25 years and by luck we met the founder of the Foundation!

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Ajarn Tukta and a member of the Duang Prateep Foundation using a topographical map to share about the Khlong Toei slums situation

Some of their staff members also brought us around Khlong Toei slums, and it was an eye-opening experience for some of the participants. A lot of the participants had never dared to set foot into a slum because of their preconceived notions of what a slum would be like. They thought it would be extremely filthy and frequented by delinquents and gangs. However, the staff explained to everyone that many of these notions are a result of sensationalisation by the media and that the problems in the slums are often blown out of proportion. This experience has definitely eliminated some of the psychological barriers of the participants, which may potentially hinder them from wanting to do any pro bono work in the slums. Ironically, it’s the people living in the slums who face a lot of legal problems – from forceful evictions to unfair treatment – and law students are in a good position to educate them on their rights from what we’ve learnt in school!

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Members of Mercy Relief sharing their experiences with the participants

The participants also got to learn from the legal representative of Mercy Relief Centre on how to apply their legal skills should they want to do work in non-governmental organisations. The work that Mercy Relief does is remarkable – one of the group they help is street children. They interview these children and understand more about the problems they face, and take action whenever necessary!

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A professor from Thammasat University sharing more about the Saphan-Mail community

Participants from Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University then joined us for another three days of activities. Planned in collaboration with Thammasat University Pro Bono Society, this was an opportunity for the Thammasat University participants who joined us last year to plan the activities! They can put what they’ve learnt and gathered from last year’s trip! One of the main activities planned was the visits to three different beneficiaries – each site provided a different experience for the participants. One of the sites was the Saphan-Mai Community. The participants were brought around a slum. Dissimilar to Khlong Toei, the government has launched a program to upgrade the slums. However, they technically remain illegal residents and can be evicted at the will of the government. This is where the students can come in to educate the locals on the legal implications.

Another activity planned was the Social Issues Conference. 2 speakers were invited – one was a student from the Thammasat Pro Bono Society; the other was a Judge (Mr Watchara Neitivanich) that was involved in Intellectual Property law! The participants were then given an opportunity to engage these speakers in a robust debate – asking them about the scope of their work and how they have started pro bono work and what motivates them.

FINAL THOUGHTS

After more than one year of preparation, Thai-ed with Love 2016 has come to an end. Thai-ed with Love has come a long way, even receiving recognition at the 11th NUS Student Achievement Awards for Projects (New Initiative). From the Reflections Journal this year, we have seen a lot of thinking and reflections and we are optimistic that the participants will make positive changes to their community. In fact, you can read about the experience from one of the Prince of Songkla University participant at this link:https://mieeeeeeeeeeee.wordpress.com/2016/01/25/skip-thelessons- for-a-weekwhat-ive-got/. Thai-ed with Love 2016 is a step forward towards fruition of a cogent pro bono scene in Thailand, and a small step towards promoting pro bono regionally. Prince of Songkla University has already pledged monies and students for next year’s project, and all of us are definitely excited about what is to come. We hope that a collaborative, sustainable pro bono conversation will continue, which will eventually lead to the growth of pro bono work across the region.

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Written by:

Shawn Teo | Project Director, Thai-ed with Love 2016 | Vice President, NUS Pro Bono Group

Wesley Aw | Vice Project Director, Thai-ed with Love 2016

PBG’s Law & You Workshops

In order to empower foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Singapore with an understanding about the law and their rights, the Students4Migrants (S4M) team organises workshops titled ‘Law & You’. S4M Project Director, Phoebe Tan (Year 2), provides us a progress report on how the S4M team has engaged its target group in the past semester!

Over two weeks, students from the Students4Migrants group conducted two sessions of workshops for Foreign Domestic Workers (FDWs) from the HOME Shelter. The FDWs who live at the shelter are those who have experienced abuse, exploitation or suffered injuries at their workplace. Each session covered two topics which were designed specifically to cater to the issues Foreign Domestic Workers face, and that the topics covered were “Money Matters”, “Ending Work”, “Well-Being” and “Criminal Law”. For example, we taught the FDWs what they can do if their employer has not paid their salaries, or what happens if their employer wants to repatriate them. Or what basic needs they are entitled by law to be provided with, or what they should do if they find themselves victims of crimes, or what happens if they find themselves on the wrong side of the law?

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Madeleine Poh (Year 1) enlivens the session with a short puppet scene

The underlying theme connecting all the topics is the idea of “Empowerment”. From the start, we knew we did not want our workshops to be just like a lecture, simply inundating the FDWs with information. We wanted to let the women be empowered and feel that they are capable of seeking solutions to their problems. At the time, we were careful to always remind the FDWs to try and seek the best solutions that would benefit both themselves and their employers. Thus our approach was to encourage the FDWs to try and negotiate with their employers and come to a compromise where possible.

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The FDWs participate in a hands-on activity that tests their knowledge of what they have learnt so far

We wanted to make our workshops as engaging as possible, so we tried to have interactive activities that would get our message across. There was lots of time for discussions, skits, games and even an appearance by a Minion sock puppet. We were helped by the FDWs themselves, who were very responsive. They participated in the activities enthusiastically and were willing to share their experiences and stories – some sombre, others happy and funny.

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During the workshops, it is often the FDWs who eagerly offer up insights and advice on the problems that they face, providing a conducive environment for sharing

In fact, we often got new insights and ideas from the FDWs through their sharing. Sometimes, they were able to come up with novel and interesting solutions that have not even occured to us. Through their sharing of real life experiences, we also learned a lot of the other possible unpleasant situations FDWs find themselves in. For example, we heard a story of a FDW who had to clean a 3-storey house and 3 cars, and take care of the children every day. As a result of the many chores assigned to her every day, she could only afford 4 hours of sleep a day. Listening to such stories also reminded us that these issues FDWs face are very real. I think this helps us to remember that there is a purpose to conducting such workshops as they could potentially help some FDWs.

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The Law & You team providing manicures for the participants as a fun add-on service!

After the second session, there was surprise for the FDWs. They were treated to a manicure done by Ruelia and Xue Kun. This was an idea by Prof Sheila – just to do something nice for the FDWs who came. The FDWs were very excited about it as they chose the colours and designs they wanted for their nails.

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Group photo

All in all, the first set of legal education workshops went well. We will continue to improve on our presentations, and we are looking forward to conducting more of the workshops to more FDWs by working the various embassies in the next semester! J

Pro Bono Awareness Week 2015

 

In the week following recess week this semester, the inhabitants of the NUS Bukit Timah campus might have noticed a series of posters lining the exterior of the fitness gym. These posters were part of the inaugural Pro Bono Awareness Week organised by the NUS Pro Bono Group at the NUS Faculty of Law from 26 September to 1 October 2015. With the aim of raising awareness among law students about the needs of various groups of individuals within society and providing students with an avenue to be involved in advocacy work which is a key part of pro bono, Pro Bono Awareness Week saw a slew of activities focused on three main groups: migrant workers, sex workers and youth-at-risk.

PBAW 2015 was kickstarted by a migrant workers’ tour, led by Geylang Adventures, a group that aims to provide a platform for bottom-up initiatives in changing social norms and perception. Participants had the opportunity to visit spaces in Singapore where migrant workers live and gain insight into a migrant worker’s life and the problems – legal and social – that they are vulnerable to.

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The students who participated in the migrant workers’ tour led by Geylang Adventures

Apart from bringing law students out of BTC, PBG also sought to bring groups into the Bukit Timah campus. Inspired by the Humans of New York project which raised funds for the children in the bleakest parts of Brooklyn to visit Harvard University, PBG invited students from Crest Secondary School to visit the NUS Faculty of Law for an afternoon. The students were welcomed by members of the Legal Education and Awareness Programme (LEAP), one of the PBG’s key projects which spreads legal awareness and knowledge among youth by conducting workshops focusing on youth-related legal issues including bullying, domestic violence and gambling. They also had the opportunity to hear from pro bono luminary Mr Josephus Tan.

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Alvin from PBG conducting the quiz on the sex workers industry in Singapore

 

In the middle of the week, members of the Legal Research team at PBG descended on the Summit armed with questions about the sex worker industry in Singapore. Unsuspecing students were quizzed with questions such as: What is the term used in Singapore for areas where brothels are allowed to operate? (Designated Red Areas (DRA)) and Are sex workers all victims of human trafficking or coercion? (No, conflating consenting sex work with sex trafficking undermines the work of sex workers and detracts from the other serious issues which require tackling). Despite having their lunch interrupted, it was heartening to hear that many students found the quiz illuminating and went away with a better understanding of the sex worker industry in Singapore as well as the hurdles many of these workers face.

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The panel discussion on the legal issues sex workers featured a diverse panel

PBAW was rounded off with Stripping It Down: the truth about the legal issues sex workers face, a panel discussion featuring Mr Vikram Nair, Member of Parliament (MP) and partner at Rajah & Tann; Ms Nadia Yeo, Assistant Chief Counsel of the Personal Data Protection Committee and avid pro bono lawyer who conducted the pilot legal clinic for sex workers; as well as Ms Vanessa Ho and Ms Lisa, case workers from Project X, a community-based organisation which advocates for the end of legal oppression of sex workers.

It was truly an eye-opening experience to hear first-hand from sex workers about the discrimination they encounter on a daily basis and the struggle they face to be treated with dignity. Normally, most of us only read about them in newspaper articles or see fictionalised portrayals of them in the media. Hardly anyone present had actually interacted with sex workers face-to-face as individuals. It was heart-wrenching to hear anecdotes of how sex workers are treated with contempt by the public and even law enforcement, something that most of us from privileged backgrounds have never personally encountered. The overall take-away from the session was that sex work is work too, and the workers in this line are human beings with emotions, aspirations and worries just like the rest of us. They are a group that faces unique legal challenges that we as law students can help with, either directly through volunteering our time and skills, or indirectly by slowly changing society’s attitudes towards them.

Even though the posters outside the gym have come down, the needs of these groups in society persist. It is hoped that Pro Bono Awareness Week has helped to bring to the consciousness of law school students a deeper understanding of the needs of the groups of individuals in society, and perhaps spur them to go and find out more about the issues they face. Legal pro bono work is but one angle from which we can approach the issues that these groups face. In our daily lives, there are many small ways we can make a positive difference in the lives of these individuals, for instance by helping to change perceptions and raising awareness of these issues within our own social circles. Big changes can come from an accumulation of small ones.

 

NUS PBG EXCO 2015/2016

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Two batches of PBG Exco members as well as PBG’s external partners and faculty advisors gathered for the annual general meeting on 2 May

On 2 May 2015, after the Year 1s had rounded off their first year of law school with their final exams, two batches of PBG Executive Committee members gathered for PBG’s annual general meeting (AGM). The meeting brought together the people who had worked tirelessly over the past year to build PBG’s programmes and outreach – the incoming Exco, the outgoing Exco, external partners, as well as our faculty advisors Professor Helena Whalen-Bridge and Professor Sheila Hayre.

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Outgoing PBG President, Lim Wei Zhen, reflected on her experience and expressed her appreciation for our partners’ support

Outgoing PBG President, Lim Wei Zhen, reflected on her term in office and presented PBG’s partners, including representatives from the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Justice Without Borders, with a token of appreciation – a cactus – in recognition of their contribution towards growing the local pro bono landscape. The AY14/15 Exco also provided updates and outlined key developments in their respective projects. Notably, there have been new initiatives, such as Syariah Court Friends (SCF), which give volunteers the opportunity to facilitate processes at the Syariah Courts, and Thai-ed With Love, where PBG members tied up with Khon Kaen University in Thailand to exchange ideas on pro bono. Following that, incoming President Cheryl Lim expressed her appreciation for the work the outgoing Exco had done and shared her hope that the incoming Exco would be able to build upon these strong foundations to strengthen PBG as an organisation and better serve the community.

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PBG is thankful for the support of its partners and faculty advisors in the years since its inception

We are glad to announce the PBG Executive Committee for AY2015/16, as follows:-

EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

President: Cheryl Lim

Vice-President (External): Douglas Leow

Vice-President (Internal): Shawn Teo

Secretary: Alvin Chua

Treasurer: Claudia Lee

Publicity Directors: Amelia Chew & Samuel Ling

PROJECT DIRECTORS 

University Court Friends (UCF)

Co-Head: Estella Low

Co-Head: Sandra Lye

Syariah Court Friends (SCF)

Head: Ijechi Nazirah Nwaozuzu

Legal Education and Awareness Programme (LEAP)

Head: Sarah Thaker

Vice-Head: Asher Chin

Vice-Head: Charmaine Saw

Legal Clinics

Co-Head: Chester Yan

Co-Head: Lavinya Arun Velu

Project Law Help (PLH)

Head: Chua Jia Ying

Vice-Head: Jess Cheong

Legal Research

Head: Chong Shi Cheng

Moot Parliament Programme

Head: Bertrice Hsu

Students 4 Migrants (S4M)

Co-Head: Cai Xiaohan

Co-Head: Phoebe Tan

International Affairs Division (IAD)

Head: Josephine Yip

Vice-Head: Rebecca Koh

After consultation with the PBG Exco of AY14/15, several changes were made to the PBG Exco structure. The PBG Executive Committee has been streamlined and now comprise seven members who will focus on developing PBG as an organization while the Project Directors manage their individual projects. Several roles, such as that of the Events Directors and the Project Development Directors, have been subsumed into existing roles. The Executive Committee will be responsible for helming key PBG events, such as Cohesion, with the support of the Project Directors. Project development will also be led by the Project Directors in collaboration with their respective partners.

The new PBG Exco and Project Directors welcome the challenge they face in the upcoming year and have identified key areas of focus, including fostering a more cohesive PBG identity, strengthening existing projects and providing a more significant value-add to PBG members. Key developments are already underway, including the development of an application process to select new PBG members. Several projects such as University Court Friends (UCF) and the Legal Education and Awareness Programme (LEAP) have kickstarted their summer runs.

The next time PBG convenes will be during Cohesion on Saturday, 29 August, where we welcome new members. The PBG Exco and Project Directors for AY15/16 look forward to serving you and continuing the good work of our seniors in contributing to the pro bono scene in Singapore.

NUS PBG EXCO 2014/2015

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Members of the Pro Bono Group were gathered at the Staff Lounge for the elections

It was the annual Pro Bono Group Elections on Wednesday, 19 March 2014.

First, congratulations are in order. A big congratulations to Wei Zhen, the newly elected President, and Vu Lan, the newly elected Vice-President.

Hopefuls

Our President and Vice President Candidates, Vu Lan, Ashley, Ting Fang, Wei Zhen and Sneha (Left to Right)

The afternoon saw many heart felt speeches by the candidates. Many of the candidates shared their motivations behind their passion and enthusiasm for pro bono and community work. We really had a stellar bunch of candidates that applied this year.

It is no surprise that all the candidates were elected into the Executive Committee eventually.

So with no further ado, the NUS Pro Bono Group would like to introduce the Executive Committee of the NUS Pro Bono Group for Academic year 2014/2015.

President: Lim Wei Zhen
Vice-President: Nguyen Vu Lan
Secretary: Lee Shu Qing
Treasurer: Matthew Poh
Project Development Director (Overseas): Swathi Bhat
Project Development Director (Local): Clara Lim
Events Director: Ashley Loh
Events Director: Ashley Tan
Publicity Director: Angela Ang
Student for Migrants Director: Sneha Gupta
Student for Migrants Director: Josephine Yip
LEAP Director: Joey Ng
LEAP Director: Jethro Leong
Legal Research Director: Chan Jia Sheng
Legal Clinics Director: Wang Yufei
Legal Clinics Director: Loh Tiankai
MPP Director: David Crawshaw
Project Law Help Director: Joshua Kow
UCF Director: Chua Cheng Aik
UCF Director: Chua Ting Fang
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The EXCO is noticeably larger in numbers this coming academic year
In light of the Mandatory Pro Bono Scheme, we have expanded our executive committee to a total of 20 members and 3 ICs, to provide a stronger infrastructure to support more students when the mandatory hours start counting.
Alongside the 20 exco members listed below, we have been blessed with the support of Jayaraman Sanjana who will be exploring the development of a Coroporate Pro Bono project, Jerrold Au who will be spearheading a project with a focus on children as the beneficiaries, and Jolynn Lim who will be sitting on the Local Organising Committee of the 3rd Southeast Asia Pro Bono Conference.
It is hoped that with a larger team, the Pro Bono Group would be able to provide for more opportunities for the students to pursue a myriad of pro bono activities.
Do give the new EXCO all the support and love!
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The new EXCO 
Warmest Regards,
NUS Pro Bono Group
Executive Committee 2013/2014.

 

Volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic

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Editor’s Note: 
Issues relating to migrant workers have recently come under the spotlight. Read about how it was like volunteering at the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic for Vanessa, Charmaine and Wei Zhen. 
What is the Migrant Worker Legal Clinic?
Migrant Worker Legal Clinic is an initiative jointly organised by the Law Society of Singapore’s Pro Bono Services Office and Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC), providing free legal counselling services for work permit and S pass holders. The help-centre is strategically located in Geylang next to the Aljunied MRT, which is where many worker dormitories are situated. MWC staff who are fluent in the native languages of the migrant workers will be present to provide interpretation services if needed.

The legal clinic helps to ameliorate the power imbalance between employers and workers, because of the workers’ lack of knowledge of their legal rights and our legal procedures, by providing a simple and free avenue for workers to obtain legal advice and information. Workers typically do not have access to such information because of language barriers and high costs involved in seeking legal help, which can leave them vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous employers.

Meritorious cases may be channeled to the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme through the legal clinic, where Pro Bono Services Office will assign a defence counsel to represent the workers for free in court.

Surprises

Coming to MWC’s inaugural legal clinic session, we were surprised to find that our first case involved not an individual worker, but 4 workers facing the same salary dispute with the same company.  In response to this new situation, besides going through the usual procedure of interviewing each individual worker, we also deviated slightly by addressing and advising the 4 workers collectively as a whole afterwards. This proved to be very helpful as we later learnt that this problem was much more widespread and that a good number of other workers were similarly in the same predicament, arising out of the employer’s bad practices.

Our second surprise came when the second case involved not a migrant worker per se, but a migrant social worker bringing a case for the sakes of migrant workers. This was a really heartening twist to the typical salary and injury claims workers bring, and it was encouraging to witness how even Malaysians were so willing to help out migrant workers.

We can only say the experience was a humbling one.

Having volunteered with migrant worker NGOs previously, we were humbled as these two cases were so complex and so different from our past experiences. It was humbling, because the cases were not just diverse, but exhibited various shades of complexity, opening our eyes a little wider to seeing and comprehending the enormity of issues that could besiege workers simply due to their status as being in transit between Singapore and their home country. It was humbling, because it showed us how there were limits to what lawyers and the law could do. It was humbling, because it showed us how much more work there needs to be done in this area.

As the workers walked off with a clearer idea of the solutions available to them, we too walked away with a clearer idea of how we could be part of the solution. This legal clinic session did not just add to our understanding of the common problems that besiege workers. It also showed us how we, in our personal capacities as law students, could fit in the framework of helping to resolve those specific legal issues.

Article Contributed By:

Vanessa Chiam, Charmaine Yap, Lim Wei Zhen (NUS Law Year 1s)

Elections & AGM

Hi Everyone!

With the academic year coming towards an end, it’s time for the Pro Bono Group Annual Elections.

Come on down to support your friends, and receive a mystery token of appreciation for your hard work and contributions in your individual projects over the year!

The Elections & AGM will take place on the 19th March 2014 (Wednesday), 1-4PM at the Staff Lounge!

See you there!