reading by skippyjon@flickr

Author: Anastazija Mladenovska

In 1972, a small group of law students of Georgetown University, united by one interesting idea – the idea not just to buy knowledge but also to transfer it. This kind of altruistic behavior towards education didn’t take much time to spread all over the continents and be practiced by many law students.

There is one principle in the International Law called “do ut des” which means “give so you can receive”. I have been hearing that quote throughout my childhood and adolescence, of course, said in a more colloquial manner. I thought that I knew the right meaning of it but after joining the “Street law Program” I realized that material things are not the only things that fall into that definition, even more, they are the easiest thing to give.

In Macedonia this program is settled as a branch of the NGO “Youth Educational Forum” and has been functioning perfectly well for 12 years together with the other two branches “Debate and Higher Education Program”. The initial idea sprouted in 1998, as a project coordinated by the Foundation Open Society Institute – Macedonia (FIOM), and ABA CEELI (Bar Association of the USA). The long-term feature of this project was proved very quickly – in the period from 1999 to 2003 the Program was implemented  in more than 30 secondary schools and during those 6 academic years the lectures were visited from approximately 2000 students at age between 15 to 18 years. Because of the great enthusiasm and the necessity to have this kind of non-formal education in the high schools, in 2003 the Program took a new form and became a part of the project “Creative teaching and learning”. The number of high schools became bigger, the number of students more numerous – the chain called “transfer of knowledge” increased its length. Today Street Law, as a part of Youth Educational Forum, is successfully implemented in 5 secondary schools in Skopje, as well as in youth clubs in Skopje and other cities in Macedonia and the last reports show that more than 6000 high school students have visited the trainings.

My experience with the “Street Law Program” began when I was in my second year at Law University. After passing few days’ training for becoming a trainer, I became a new fresh beginner in the “giving knowledge process”. Every year the number of the “freshers” has been rising due to the rising of the awareness among young students about the great experience and the “reaction effect” that comes out from participating in this Program.

Visiting high schools all over the country and holding lectures for the high school students, as the most interested target group, is one of the main activities in this Program. During our work as “Street lawyers”, we have been facing the difficulties arising from the scepticism that young high school students nurture towards the word “Lecture”- “Aahhh, not another one, we have enough of them”. But, that initial position fades away at the very moment they find out that “Street Law Program” is not only reading and repeating long law definitions but a creative means that helps the young people to fully understand their role as social beings with all their obligations and rights. When I was a high school student, one day two “Street lawyers” came and they started the first workshop with one very interesting game: One student had to stand up and tell everyone about his everyday life while the others had to interrupt him every time he mentioned something that is regulated by law. So, he started: I wake up at 6 o’clock (stop-time zones!), I turn on the water to wash myself (stop-standards for using water for drinking!), I have breakfast (stop-law for food import, standards for food quality!), I travel by bus (stop-traffic signs, driving license!) , stop, stop, stop…With those kinds of games, Street Law Program helped us to fully see the law network we live in, to read the cold law definitions through different eyes, i. e. the workshops made all the theory more vivid and tangible for us. Before “Street Law” the word “institution” was just another term heard during the traditional classroom lectures – after “Street Law’s workshops in nature”, i. e. visits to institutions of our justice system and law professionals (judges, prosecutors, lawyers, notaries, social workers…) …well, it can be easily understood why we got the best grades in that subject.

Through think-tanks, simulations, debates, discussions on current problems and topics, “Street Law” builds “urban savages” – people who think critically about the way they live – and broadens their outlook in the way of destroying the tunnel vision they have on lots of issues. But students are not the only one who are subjected to that illuminating effect – I must admit that during the preparations for the lectures and while holding the debates, we – as the lecturers – have been also influenced and motivated to broaden our knowledge. In the past, the famous philosopher Socrates named that as “a dialectic or dialectical method” or a form of reasoning based on the exchange of arguments and counter-arguments and the outcome of that, except agreement or disagreement with your position, might be also discovering something new, something that was lost in you through the process of formal education, which is the effect of real enlightenment and mind-deblocking.

Once I spoke to one “Street lawyer” and I asked him: “Well, is it worth? I mean, tell me, except that we do one kind of a social service, what do you think about everything , about the effect of our work – is it really useful for society?” He stood quiet for a minute and then he said with a serene tone: “Not every seed you plant in the ground has a successful result, Anastazija, but the one that has – oh, it can grow into such a beautiful plant. And the society can’t live without plants, don’t you agree?”

This is one of the winning articles of the Mladiinfo Article Writing Contest. The content of the articles does not necessarily represent the view or the position of Mladiinfo.

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