A moment of reflection: My work and why human rights work matters

Gillespie TaylorBy Taylor Gillespie

Now that I’ve been home for a few weeks, I’ve had a chance to really reflect on my experience in South America. At the Institute, I had a hand in 5 main projects.

First, a team of us wrote two separate amicus curiae briefs for the Corte Suprema de Justicia de Colombia (the Supreme Court of Columbia). I’m unable to comment on the specifics of each case, but they dealt broadly with issues on legal capacity and the rights of children with disabilities to have access to inclusive education and reasonable accommodations. These briefs were a good taste of how a legal system operates on a day-to-day basis, and how much reading and effort goes into anything that is submitted to a Court.

Second, I was given the task of translating a speech about Latin American Perspectives on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) from Spanish to English that my boss presented at a conference in Galway, Ireland (I’ll add an hyperlink to the translated speech when it is published later this year.) Specifically, the speech provided commentary on how Latin American legislation should be/is being interpreted in light of the CRPD and how the issues faced by persons with disabilities may be better understood through a human rights framework, a shift that was embraced by the Argentine legal system following the 2015 Civil and Commercial Code reform.

Third, myself and a few others wrote the policy handbook for students with disabilities for the University we were working out of. The policy was approved by the University’s administration, which was a huge step forward since students with any kind of disability were not previously guaranteed access to accommodations that we might take for granted at post-secondary institutions in Canada.

Finally, I was able to take a weekly seminar-style course on inclusive education offered by the Institute intended for University faculty members. This was a neat program which gave me the opportunity to network with professors from various faculties and hear about their experiences and strategies to help accommodate students.

Like many students I’ve met at McGill, my ambitions to pursue a career in law are rooted in an interest in human rights. This internship gave me the unique opportunity to explore the field on the ground rather than in a classroom setting, and I made a few key realizations about the human rights work during my time in Argentina. For instance, in my experience, human rights work is not exactly how I pictured it before starting the internship—there is lots of paperwork and administrative processes and the fruits of the hard work by countless individuals take plenty of time to ripen. That said, I found satisfaction in the fact that most of my work and research was geared towards laying a foundation for real human rights related progress. With this in mind, I found that my perspective on what human rights really means shifted from a focus on the macro to an emphasis on the micro—with the individual rather than the collective as the focal point. On the aggregate, individual gains translate to social gains and this type of work (even if the results are not immediately visible) is what I now understand as human rights, and gives meaningfulness to my internship in Argentina.

On the beach for my last evening in Mar Del Plata

 

¡Buenos días desde Argentina!

Gillespie TaylorBy Taylor Gillespie

Since I’m the first McGill student to intern in Mar Del Plata, I think it’s appropriate to use my first blog post to describe what life is like here in Argentina.

Mar Del Plata is a city of about 1 million some 400km south of Buenos Aires. The city is known within Argentina as a summer resort spot owing to its beautiful coastline, which stretches for 47km along the Atlantic Ocean (and makes for a spectacular view on morning runs).

One interesting thing about Mardel is that unlike Buenos Aires, which is an international tourist hub, very few tourists come from outside of Argentina. In fact, I’m the first Canadian that most people I know here have ever met. Similarly, English is not widely spoken here, and the only way to learn it is by attending costly private institutes.

The food here is nothing short of incredible—milanesas, empanadas, locros, alfajores, and of course a steak with chimichurri sauce and a bottle of red wine from the Mendoza region of Argentina are must-haves for anybody visiting the country. One thing to know, however, is that supper in Argentina is not normally served until around 9 or 10pm, and trust me, you will be laughed at if you go to a restaurant at 6pm and ask for the dinner menu. Another thing to get used to is that most stores, offices, and buildings close between 1 and 4pm for siesta. Personally, I think a 3-hour naptime is something we should bring to McGill.

MDP offers some of the best nightlife in the country, but a Saturday night out in Argentina is very different from a night out in Canada. An average night on the town consists of meeting up with friends around 1am to catch-up and enjoy a few drinks together. Then, around 3 or 4am, head to the bar, which will only be beginning to get busy. Stay and dance to the hottest Latin-American music until the bar closes at 630am—by the time you get home the sun will be rising, and you’ll probably hungry enough to eat breakfast before going to bed.

Parque Nacional Tierra Del Fuego

Climbing Monte Olivia in Ushuaia

 

Argentina is incredibly geographically diverse. Two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to visit Ushuaia, the capital of the Tierra Del Fuego Province of Argentina, and the southernmost city on the planet. It is the middle of winter there and the temperature hovered around -5 to -10 degrees.

On the other hand, last week I went on a two-day trip to Las Cataratas del Iguazú, breathtaking waterfalls in the north-eastern part of the country along the border of Paraguay and Brazil. The climate in Iguazú was tropical and the temperature reached nearly 35 degrees with the humidity. The distance between Ushuaia and Iguazú is roughly 4,500km. In perspective, this is double the distance from Winnipeg (my beloved hometown) to Montreal.

Iguazú Falls

 

A view from the Brazilian side of the falls

Between Mardel and Iguazú lies Buenos Aires, the largest city in Argentina and one of the largest on the continent. During my 2 day layover between Iguazú and Mar Del Plata, I had the chance to tour some key landmarks of the city: Boca Stadium, the old sea port, and the Recoleta cemetery. Likewise, I made a day trip to Uruguay in order to see Colonia Del Sacramento, which is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

When I returned to Buenos Aires that same evening (July 1st), I went to a Canada Day party organized by the Canadian Embassy where there were over 100 Canadian travellers and expats. At the bar, I got the chance to sit down and have a beer with Robert Fry, the Canadian Ambassador to Argentina and Paraguay. We had some very interesting conversations about my internship, his daily life as an ambassador, and of course argued about which NHL team was the best (go Jets).

Hanging out with some lobos marinos on the beach

Argentine lifestyle, in most respects, is not all that different from life in Canada, but there are a few quirks. One thing that I have noticed is that people here are much more affectionate. For instance, every time you meet someone or see someone you know, instead of shaking their hand, you give them one kiss on the left cheek…Needless to say the first time I met a group of 5 male coworkers, the greeting caught me off guard.

All in all, my experience here in Argentina has been absolutely amazing so far and I’m looking forward to the last few weeks of my internship.

Stay tuned for my next post, where I’ll be providing an update on some of the human rights work I’ve been up to.

¡Nos vemos!

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