When Lindsey Greising (’12) arrived at Ba Futuru in Timor-Leste in October 2012, she was, in a way, coming home. She had done conflict-resolution research at the human rights and peace-building organization a few years earlier. Now she is back as a full-time, paid staff member.
Ba Futuru (which means "for the future") was founded in 2004 to help stop human rights violations and abuse in Timor-Leste by building protection networks for women and children at the community level. More than 40 full-time staff members, employed through grants and donations, work with Timorese and international volunteers, interns, and part-time staff to promote gender equality, develop educational programs, and implement measures to protect women and children. To date, the group has trained and educated more than 25,000 teachers, community leaders, and children.
Greising's work is also being supported by the Law School's new Robina Public Interest Scholars Program. One facet of the program is year-long graduate fellowships to help launch graduates into their public interest careers. Greising was able to personally design her fellowship in partnership with Ba Futuru.
How it all started
Greising grew up in a small town in Colorado, where pitching in and helping out was the norm, not even given a label like "community service." That foundation paired with a desire to see worlds beyond her small town sparked an interest that has grown into her intended life’s work: advancing human rights.
A unique opportunity on that path opened up for Greising during her freshman year at the University of Denver. She volunteered at a peace summit conducted by Timor-Leste’s then-foreign minister José Ramos-Horta, who concluded the conference with a lighthearted invitation to visit his country. The next year, Greising and two similarly inspired friends did just that, after securing support from the university for a three-week research and volunteer trip over winter break.
When she graduated in 2008 with an B.A. in international studies, Greising returned to Timor-Leste as a volunteer at Ba Futuru. Before long she was an employee and, later, a member of its board of directors (a post she held throughout law school). But she wanted to do more, to offer meaningful help to the Timorese and others in need of human rights protection. For that, she needed a law degree.
An education in advocacy
After attending Case Western Reserve University School of Law for her 1L year, Greising transferred to the Law School for the remainder of her J.D. work to take advantage of its human rights program and expert faculty. The Law School's human rights concentration was a perfect fit, and she filled her schedule with law and interdisciplinary courses geared to preparing herself to work in human rights anywhere in the world.
The summer after her 1L year, she interned for the judges at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania. The next summer, on an Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship, she was a legal research intern for Amnesty International-USA in New York City, aiding its human rights advocacy campaigns and researching immigration and economic, social, and cultural rights.
Another educational experience, one that Greising says she'll never forget, was working at the Law School's Immigration and Human Rights Law Clinic, as a student attorney in her 2L year and as a student director supervising student attorneys as a 3L. She supervised a clinic team that in August 2012 helped an Ethiopian man gain asylum in the United States after he had suffered years of beatings and torture because of his political and ethnic affiliations. Helping dramatically improve someone’s life is an experience "you can't get out of your system," she says.
When she graduated in the spring of 2012, with a concentration in human rights, she was awarded the Clinical Legal Education Association Outstanding Student Director Award for her excellence in course and field work and her contribution to the clinical community.
"My experience in the clinic helped combine my passion for working with human rights victims with practical and lasting legal skills. I saw how legal skills and knowledge can sincerely assist people in need," says Greising. "Now, in the work I am doing in Timor-Leste, I know I am bringing practical skills I gained through the Law School, the Clinic, and my work at Amnesty International and the ICTR."
Putting training to work
At Ba Futuru, Greising is working on the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP). Organized in the fall of 2011, EWP aims to develop protection systems for women and children, particularly vulnerable populations in remote and high-conflict locations, by involving local women.
Timor-Leste has a long history of oppression and violence: Portuguese colonization for 400 years, Japanese occupation during World War II, and Indonesian occupation from 1975-99. "Through my previous work in Timor-Leste, I met women who had been systematically raped in the Indonesian occupation," Greising says. "I also saw numerous mothers eager to keep their communities at peace to avoid losing other family members. Unfortunately, the country is still patriarchal and plagued by its violent history, which we've seen translated into domestic violence that hinders women's (and thereby the country's) advancement."
Traditionally, domestic violence and sexual and child abuse in Timor-Leste have been treated as private issues, and victims have had little opportunity or knowledge of how to find protection or legal assistance. "Timorese women have borne much of the weight of the country's trials and yet many of them are eager to take part in moving the country forward," Greising says. "The women in Timor-Leste, and throughout the world, are inspiring to me."
The EWP's major goals, and the focus of Greising's work, are:
"I look forward to working with women to build their skills as leaders and advocates for themselves," Greising says. "I worked with inspiring, bright, hard-working, dedicated and kind girls eager to learn and ready to make an impact if given the opportunity."
Making a lasting difference
Greising is well aware of the challenges in motivating social change. Significant and sustained public policy advocacy is needed at the local and national levels to awaken the Timor-Leste government to the ongoing violence and its impact on the lives of women and children. "I am not only eager to ensure women's rights are protected, I am eager to foster a culture that values these amazing women," she says.
Ba Futuru hopes, by training networks of local women, to make systems of protection available not only locally but across the country, to advance women's and children's rights and access to justice, and to provide the education and training the Timorese need to build peaceful communities. "Because I know women truly are the best agents of change, I look forward to helping give Timorese women their voice," Greising says.
Many of the Ba Futuru employees Greising met during her earlier work are still there, so her arrival generated something of a reunion. "It feels incredible to be returning to a place which has had such an impact on shaping my career with skills I know will make a more widespread and lasting impact," Greising says. For now, she is staying with one of those friends, but she intends to find housing and roommates soon. As for how long she plans to work at Ba Futuru: "As long as I feel like I'm doing some good."