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Human Rights Fellow Anna Veit-Carter: Saligan, an NGO in Quezon City, Philippines
Last summer, Anna Veit-Carter received an Heins/Mills Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship that enabled her to go to the Philippines. She worked with an organization called Saligan on women’s health issues, agrarian reform, and with the urban poor, her area of primary interest.
Anna’s interest in working with the urban poor stemmed from past experience. After graduating from Grinnell College in Iowa, Anna worked with Teach for America in Newark, New Jersey. Through Teach for America, Anna became interested in the problems facing underprivileged people living in cities, but decided that she did not want to be a teacher. She is now a law student at the University of Minnesota, and wants to use the law to help those living in poverty. Thanks to her fellowship, Anna was exposed to the diverse and serious problems facing urban people in the Philippines today, and through her work at Saligan she participated in seeking creative solutions to those problems.
Saligan is an organization based in Quezon City, which is the former capital of the Philippines and its most populous city. Saligan has nine attorneys and three support staff. The organization advocates and litigates for the social and economic rights of underprivileged Filipinos including urban poor women, workers and farmers. They also do educational outreach.
While working at Saligan, Anna primarily helped the organization with legal research and writing. Through her research and writing, she helped Saligan advocate for a women’s health bill and agrarian reform. Saligan greatly appreciated Anna’s access to LexisNexis, the legal database, which was useful because Philippine law is based on the American system, and Philippine judges often defer to American jurisprudence.
Anna researched American and international environmental law with the goal of prohibiting banana plantation owners from spraying pesticides from planes. This aerial spraying has resulted in illnesses for people who live around the plantations. With regard to women’s rights, Anna helped to advocate for a much needed reproductive health bill that would implement sex education and natal care in the Philippines, and which is unfortunately opposed by powerful groups.
In the future, Anna wants to work with the urban poor in the United States, perhaps in the Twin Cities, though she says that she can also imagine returning to Newark. Anna’s experience exposed her to the difference between the political organization of the urban poor in the Philippines and the United States. She was glad to have met some of the people who are responsible for organizing and going to city council meetings on behalf of their people. What she saw in the Philippines will be an asset to Anna as she pursues her vocation.
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