Grad students may soon be able to work in Tanzanian clinics

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Master’s degree candidates in the College of Professional Studies’ paralegal studies program may have the opportunity to work in clinics in Tanzania next year.

The proposal to send students abroad for a semester is in the final stages of approval in the Office of Academic Affairs. If passed, it will add the option for students to spend a year studying the Tanzanian legal system.

Students will spend the first semester in D.C. studying Swahili and familiarizing themselves with Tanzanian culture. After the preparatory semester, students will spend a semester working with local paralegals in Dar es Salaam, the country’s working capital.

The preparatory semester is anticipated to begin in the fall of 2010 with the first cohort of students going abroad in the spring of 2011.

“We are seeking to educate paralegals who can think independently and really operate as contributing members to legal teams which they belong to. These are people who can go into a law practice, identify legal problems, find solutions, and implement them,” said Toni Marsh, director of the paralegal studies and graduate certificate programs. “This program will give them the opportunity to do that everyday.”

The program came about when the executive director of the Legal and Human Rights Center in Dar es Salaam, Helen Kijo-Bisimba, came to the United States for the International Women of Courage awards as a guest of then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She met with Marsh in hopes of establishing a partnership with GW to increase the presence of paralegals in Tanzania.

“We were looking for a model that would serve the people of Tanzania but also our students, and help our students acquire skills to help them in their professions,” Marsh said.

While the program is designed for paralegal studies and law students, other members of the GW community may have an opportunity to get involved as well.

“If somebody was to come to me from one of the other schools, and they had the educational background to succeed, I would absolutely allow them to participate,” Marsh said.

While students will have to pay for their credits, the program’s founders are working to develop corporate and foundation sponsorship to cover travel and living expenses.

Also in the works is a partnership with the University of Dar el Salaam. Marsh said the College of Professional Studies would like to anchor an educational institution to keep an academic and scholarly focus. A partnership would also allow GW students to use the university’s facilities, share practices with local students and learn from them. “We’re hoping to use this as an opportunity to conduct research. Not only will they be learning practical skills and assisting people in Tanzania, but they will also be conducting on the ground research,” Marsh said.

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