holistic development

Programs / Human Rights / Methodology «

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Human Rights Mission

To empower rural communities in Panama to overcome the obstacles that often impede the fundamental human right of access to justice through legal counsel and educational workshops. 


Program Description

The Human Rights program aims to empower rural communities of Panama Este and the Darien Province of Panama to overcome obstacles that impede access to justice through legal counsel and educational workshops. By mobilizing student volunteers to connect with these communities on a family-by-family basis, the team intends to develop a sustainable legal support system in the region to decrease the number of unresolved legal cases over time.


Currently, the region suffers from a lack of familiarity of legal procedures, an over-reliance on verbal agreements and poor record keeping; this results in a high number of unresolved legal cases in Global Brigades communities. In order to mitigate the effects of these barriers to justice, the Human Rights program has four main brigade activities: pro-bono legal clinics, family law cases, educational workshops, and mooting.


These components respond to the communities' need for accessible legal resources, knowledge of legal procedures, and a bridge between customary practices and state legal procedures. By addressing these needs, the program will arm the communities with the tools to overcome barriers to justice and leave them with a culture of legal consciousness.


Human Rights Components

Community Organization

The Human Rights program manager and technician are in regular contact with communities before, between, and after brigades in order to find cases that need to be resolved.  They are in communication with community leaders to organize and spread the word about upcoming pro-bono legal clinics, to maximize the number of clients. Also, through partnering with the Panamanian governmental organization MIDES, the Human Rights team is able to organize educational workshops presented to a large audience. Community attendance is a mandatory component of the governmental program Red de Oportunidades ("Network of Opportunities") that deals with economic and social development in rural communities. With this partnership, Human Rights Brigades deliver educational workshops on a variety of Human Rights issues, while simultaneously working towards the overall development of the community.


The GB Human Rights team has strong relationships with Panamanian lawyers.  These lawyers give their time to help solve the legal cases in our communities and provide guidance through legal clinics.

Human Rights Project Development

In Panama, three types of Human Rights initiatives have been developed to combat the barriers of justice that exist in rural eastern Panama.


Legal Clinics

Access to knowledge of one’s legal rights is often a luxury that escapes many in rural communities, despite its universality as a human right. Many, if not most, have never consulted a lawyer nor understand the benefit of doing so. This issue stems from a notorious history of lawyers in Panama coming to rural communities offering their services for a price, to then never return.


Family Law Cases

A consequence of limited access to basic legal rights is expressed in the Panamanian judicial system, where institutional inefficiencies and complications can result in cases going unresolved for years at a time. This results in a highly expensive and time consuming process, which leaves low resourced families unable to cover the costs of a lawyer. Besides the cost barrier, there is a severe lack of legal awareness and nearby professional resources in these communities leaving community members.


Educational Workshops

The educational workshops, or charlas, are one of the most important and most sustainable aspects of a Human Rights brigade. Many, if not most, have little understanding of basic legal rights granted under Panamanian law, let alone complex issues of universal human rights. While it may seem that human rights issues only belong on the floor of the United Nations, in reality, issues such as gender-based stereotypes, domestic violence, education, reproductive rights, and women’s empowerment and leadership impact and affect the daily lives of all members of society.

Human Rights Project Implementation (Human Rights Brigades)

Human Rights resources and services and provided to community members through the utilization of student volunteers participating in 7 day programs called "Human Rights Brigades"


Human Rights Brigades are typically made up of 15 or more university student volunteers and other members of the Global Brigades team. Depending on the duration, each volunteer fundraises between $1,400-$1,700 which covers legal costs, airfare for the participants, and the follow-up. Some of the specific costs are: supplies, travel insurance, meals, lodging, interpreters, coordinators, ground transportation, and program staff salaries to make evaluation and improve sustainability.


Legal Clinics

Legal clinics offered by Global Brigades combat the issue of distrust in lawyers by providing free legal clinics.  Volunteers, with the help of Panamanian lawyers, offer legal advice to communities, families, and individuals with unresolved disputes or questions. These clinics are meant to provide no-cost access to legal services that were previously denied or unavailable.                                


Family Law Cases

Global Brigades’ Program Lead and technicians find and select family law cases to present to volunteers, such as child custody, alimony, divorce, domestic violence, and criminal cases. Volunteers then perform interviews and intake procedures that can be used by the Human Rights staff to resolve the cases that would have been unattended completely or otherwise unresolved for many more years.


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Education Workshops

One of the main resources that drives empowerment is education. Using the educational guide developed by Global Brigades, volunteers will learn how to explain complex issues such as gender vs. sex, legal methodologies to protect and prevent violence and discrimination, why children stop pursuing education, sexual rights in Panama, and many others. In providing these workshops to women’s groups, students, families, and all community members who decide to attend, you will be playing an active role in expanding the understanding and attitudes of rural Panamanians on complex issues that impact their lives on a daily basis.



Despite its odd sounding name, Mooting is in fact a widely established and popular human rights and law school activity, with international competitions taking place every year all around the world. Looking to build upon Global Brigades’ role in the development of student leaders, and to provide a hands-on activity to specific human rights issues and violations, the Human Rights Program is bringing Mooting to Panama! Prior to and on-brigade, volunteers will research alleged human rights violations and debate head-to-head for the proper decision in Global Brigades’ moot- court based on codified and signed international treaties and human rights conventions.

Education and Training

Community members receive training in order to maintain their projects through workshops and activities planned and executed by Brigade volunteers throughout the year. The educational workshop is an integral part to not only the project itself, but also to community development in the long-term. Educational topics on human rights issues (such as right to education, right to a life free from violence, women's rights and empowerment, reproductive health, etc.) provide community members with knowledge that can be used as tools for years to come, improving the awareness of their rights and their knowledge.


Furthermore, GB Panama's partnership with the Panamanian governmental organization, MIDES (Ministry of Development), supports national efforts for development in rural areas of the country, where a lack of resources and man-power limits the scope, reach, and effectiveness of governmental endeavors.

Follow-up and Monitoring Impact

A Human Rights Technician works on behalf of Human Rights Brigades to continually promote the mission and vision of the program in the community. Their role is to explain the program’s scope and utility to the community members in order to select new beneficiaries. Simultaneously, the Human Rights Technician follows up on past Brigade cases for the community members.


The Human Rights Brigades Program Manager is a Panamanian lawyer that personally files all of the cases with community members.  He specializes in Panamanian civil law, holds a private practice in Panama City and is in charge of all case follow up in Human Rights Brigades.

Human Rights Brigades evaluates the program through quantitative and qualitative measures through a monitoring process in Global Brigades Panama Research and Evaluation team. Qualitative measures include surveying community members for testimonials on how they viewed and participated in the program with Global Brigades. The quantitative statistics track how many cases the Human Rights program takes on and the percentage of these that are resolved.  

Role in Sustainable Transition Strategy

The work that Human Rights Brigades complete is perpetuated once GB is gone through the establishment of community action groups, which continue to educate and raise awareness for social justice issues.  The educational workshops given by Human Rights Brigades allows community members to take justice into their own hands.  Providing access to legal services and professionals is essential to a community’s overall economic development.  Eventually, community members can utilize the community bank set up by Microfinance and Business Brigades to access capital that can be used to cover the costs of necessary legal services. This example of the holistic model highlights why Global Brigades works with multiple programs in rural communities.

Greatest Funding Needs
Additional Technicians

Ideally, there will be one technician in each community who would follow up with the GB lawyer while brigades are not present.  The technician will also be in charge of finding cases, prepping community for the brigade, and discussing with community members which topics they would like covered in educational workshops.  


Costs Associated With Legal Services

While Global Brigades provides legal services free of charge to rural community members, bringing Panamanian lawyers to hold legal clinics and resolve legal cases, there still exists the costs associated with bringing cases through the Panamanian legal system.