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Christian Leadership to Change the World

A Voice for the Voiceless; Hope for the Broken

CBN.comKara Cooper traveled over 8,000 miles and three continents—totaling 26 hours—to her summer internship in Pune, India. Working with Freedom Firm, an organization dedicated to eliminating child prostitution in India, Cooper had signed on to organize the firm’s case law and create reference summaries of nearly 70 cases dealing with trafficking crimes.

Last year, as in most years, Regent University sent many of its law students into internship positions during the summer break from classes. But for Cooper and fellow students Joanna Cannone, Ernie Walton and Ashleigh Chapman, an internship was a chance to work on the front lines with organizations championing critical human rights issues, such as human trafficking, religious freedom and adoption.

An internship is a traditional way for students to gain experience in the workplace before they graduate. For law students, internships provide critical exposure in a highly competitive field. Some are paid; some are not. Some are intensive work experiences; others become the source of jokes about coffee runs and copy machines. Far from the traditional internship stereotype, these students worked hard drafting one-sheets and legal protocols, arranging gatherings of nongovernment organizations (NGOs), writing reports for congressional use and watching the proceedings in the European Court of Human Rights.

For Cooper, the internship was about more than the documents she wrote—it was about the rescued girls she met in India. While there, Cooper attended the trial of an accused trafficker. “I had the opportunity to go to court one day and observe a young girl testify,” she says. “Not only was her own trafficker in the room, but others who came to support the trafficker on trial. Looking into their faces was like looking into the face of pure evil. It feels so overwhelming sometimes thinking about all of the girls who are in the red light areas and in need of rescuing. It can seem so hopeless.”

UNICEF reports that “trafficking in human beings is one of the most lucrative and fastest-growing transnational crimes,” and the International Justice Mission estimates that human trafficking “generates profits in excess of $12 billion a year” for those who sell people into slavery. Figures such as these are one of the driving forces behind the choices Cooper and Cannone made to accept their internships.

Like Cooper, Cannone quickly realized the hardship that came from working with victims of sex trafficking. “I like to solve problems, and I don’t like feeling that there is something I can’t do,” she says. Cannone spent three months in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, working for Transitions Global, an organization that also provides aftercare to children rescued from sex trafficking. From the beginning, Cannone’s desire to find solutions was tested. “It’s already happened to them,” she explains about the forced prostitution the girls had experienced. “It’s not preventive.”

Like Cooper, Cannone also spent a lot of time working on documents and protocols that would help the staff at their organizations provide more effective services for the victims. But for both women their role within their organizations went far beyond courtrooms and legal documents. Both also spent time with rescued girls living in nearby aftercare facilities. “These girls are beautiful, full of life, and also riddled with emotional, physical and spiritual challenges,” Cooper recalls. “Despite these challenges, they are all growing daily and learning to live without fear.” Cannone excitedly recalls the hours spent playing games, giving makeovers and attending yoga classes with the group of teenage girls living there. It was those times that she saw both the deep need and the hope that existed in the midst of their tragedy. “They’re all just so beautiful and resilient,” Cannone says of the girls.

Ernie Walton’s goal throughout law school also has been to use his degree to represent Christ to the destitute. When his work with the American Center for Law and Justice opened the door for a summer internship in Strasbourg, France, with its counterpart—the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ)—he saw the chance to continue working on human rights issues that are important to him.

Similar to its American counterpart, the ECLJ is dedicated to the protection and defense of religious freedom in Europe. Last summer, Walton was pulled into several active cases coming out of Spain that required him to apply his knowledge of the law and of the Spanish language. Walton was tasked with writing a major memo, report and appeal dealing with several cases going through the courts system in that country. He also attended arguments at the European Court of Human Rights, gaining a greater perspective for his role as both an attorney and a Christian within the legal system.

“My work was valuable to the people for whom I worked for a few reasons,” he says. “First, because I gave them much-needed research help. Second, because I was able to speak Spanish and many of the cases on which I worked required some proficiency in the Spanish language. It was valuable to the people, the clients I was fighting for, because it gave them hope.”

Like her classmates, Ashleigh Chapman is passionate about providing a voice for the voiceless. While she stayed closer to home—Washington, D.C.—Chapman’s internship gave her the opportunity to learn more about effecting change for orphans.

Working with the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI), she hosted a convening of 48 NGOs with several congressional offices and members of the Haitian government concerning the post-earthquake status of Haiti’s child welfare system. Chapman also wrote 18 country reports for the congressional resource website, a follow-up document to the convening and articles for the congressional newsletter.

“My internship at CCAI was an opportunity to learn how to affect change in legislation, in particular laws concerning foster care reform, and it also enabled me to educate lawmakers and NGOs about the plight and possible solutions for orphans and vulnerable children around the globe,” she says.

These four students represent Regent Law’s dedication to preparing lawyers to treat their profession as a calling. “I am very encouraged by Regent Law’s progress in reaching out globally to serve the poor and oppressed,” says Dean Jeffrey Brauch. “I am hopeful that these are the first of many students who will play a meaningful role in promoting international justice through the Center for Global Justice, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law.”

Regent Law is giving these four students the encouragement to pursue the fight for human rights. “When I look back, I was always passionate about these severe wrongs against women, and then I came to Regent, and I have these amazing mentors here who are very passionate about the things that I am,” says Cannone.

Cooper, Cannone and Walton will graduate in May 2011; Chapman follows in 2012. While they aren’t sure where they’re headed after that, one thing is certain: each has a passion for protecting and serving those less fortunate. Whether their work sends them back to Southeast Asia or to a courtroom in the United States, these students are determined to have a positive impact on a broken world.

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