The Rio Aguarico winds lazily through the sprawling, moist jungles in the Sucumbios province of Ecuador.Flanked by looming trees, with buttress roots and leaves in numerous shades of green, this brown river is the source of life and subsistence for the indigenous tribes that inhabit the forests along its banks. The Secoya are one such tribe, who have lived for several millennia along the river. The influx of petroleum extraction infrastructure and local cash economies has confronted them with previously foreign global processes. Community leadership has found that increasingly, they lack the information necessary to make informed decisions regarding these issues.
In the summer of 2011, I had the opportunity to work with Esperanza International, a non-profit organization that aids indigenous Amazonian tribes, adversely affected by toxic contamination from petroleum extraction activities, through various education and service projects. The story of Ecuador formed one of our study cases. We had to go to the actual; petroleum extraction areas and establish what was actually happening. We wanted to know the kind of life that they were leading. That is why we all needed to visit he settlements and get a glimpse of the kind of challenges that the residents of northern Ecuador were having.
As we made our way down the Aguarico to their settlements, we were able to see the oil wells, which had been deserted. Specifically, the evidence of the spillage was all over for us to see. There was no vegetation on the ground as the oil had affected it all. All we could notice were the contaminated grass that looked like it could grow no longer. The smell that came out of the fields was very awful. However, we were on a mission; a mission to confirm what the local residents were undergoing. The air that we were breathing seemed suffocating. We only did this for one day. My unanswered questions were; how much do the local residents who live here experience daily? Everything had been affected by the oil extraction. The water that was drunk was also toxic. However, the local population had to survive. We were so sympathetic towards them.
The journey was an extraordinary opportunity to visit an indigenous tribe in the deep Ecuadorian Amazon, learn about their spiritual traditions and plant medicines, and commune with the tribal elders and the shaman. It was also thought provoking and heart-wrenching, as we were confronted, along the way, with the devastation caused by over-development and, above all, the pure exploitative greed of the oil companies. The gringos dumped oil-exposed water into streams and pockmarked the land with petroleum-laden pits. Contamination reduced fish and game stocks; those used to subsisting by hunting and gathering found it impossible to survive by those methods any longer. Both interpretations put a tired spin on the dispute. Both stir up emotions that cloud the particular facts of this particular story.
Growing up in India, I was no stranger to the human cost of rapid development; or the vast inequalities perpetuated by unequal access to justice, education and health. In a world of globalized images, every day we come across numerous heart-breaking stories of strife and persecution, the force of which get blunted by the rhythms of our own daily lives. But, in the heart of the Amazon; in an ecosystem teeming with life as it must have since time immemorial; in the midst of an ancient people who the world largely deems dispensable; I was forced to confront the potential savagery of disenfranchisement, in a way that no longer allows my conscience to look away.
In the months that followed and in the years since, I have never felt at peace thinking about the kind of horrendous situations that I left the people of Ecuador in. the memories of the spectacles that I watched keep coming to mind every time I think. The fields, the wells, the unattractive fields; they all come back as if I saw them yesterday. I feel guilty because I could not do much to help those people. What I did seemed like nothing compared to what they were all going through. I recollect how they could not drink water from their local rivers because it had already been contaminated. The air that they breathed was one of those things that I did not want to remember.
I am not trying to be heroic and my life may never allow me to go back to Ecuador but the moments that I experienced there will never get out of mind. The spectacles that I experienced there give more reasons to become a lawyer and a champion for the rights of the residents. I know that by the time complete Law School; there issues will have been sorted. Nevertheless, I am sure that there are more people who need someone to stand up for them, stand with them and champion for the rights and liberties. The current judicial system is very expensive. Therefore I will offer my services for free to the humble citizens who cannot afford. I have anticipated this milestone for many years, and everything Ive learned and attempted so far has been in preparation for the legal education that I consider my true academic gateway into a purposeful and self-fulfilling career.
At this juncture, I am most interested in studying international law, human rights law, trial and appellate advocacy, and alternate dispute resolution. After law school, I would like to work at the district attorneys office or pursue a clerkship for a judge, so I can gain yet another perspective on the legal field. Further down the road, I can see myself working at an international agency, such as the United Nations, or even preparing for a judgeship. My past experiences undoubtedly have shaped my mind and eyes into critical and compassionate instruments of social analysis. I am certain that my passions will find new practical forms of expression as I study jurisprudence, and it is for this reason that I want to attend XYZ Law School.
My intention to become a judge has been confirmed by the length of time that the Ecuadorians took to get justice in the case of Chevron vs. Donziger et al. In this case, the plaintiffs were the residents of Ecuadorian Amazon where the giant company Chevron had contaminated the environment for over thirty decades. The judgment that was delivered in Oct 2015 took 17 years since the case was filed in the environmental court. For over three decades, the residents of the Ecuadorian Amazon had lived a very unhealthy life. This is because the soils, rivers and underground waters had been contaminated for over three decades. When I look at the years that this case took, I recall the dicta that justice delayed is justice denied. This is because; the damage that those residents have incurred cannot be compensated monetarily. Although the company has been fined $18.5 billion as well as to offer a public apology that would not salvage the health status of those people.
The other concept that gives me more desire to become an advocate is the cost that was incurred in the in paying the Amazon Defense Coalition that brought the case. Specifically, 10% of the total award that was made in the judgment will be given to the coalition. Despite the fact that these people suffered for so long, they still have to pay so much for the legal services. Being an advocate will enable me represent them without any legal fees at all. My desire is not to enrich myself but to give service to people. I know my mission is a very noble one but it is achievable. After attending the XYZ Law School my wish is that I will fight for the rights of the humble, which have been compromised by the power of the mighty in the society. My desire is to bring equality and justice to the vulnerable. Being either on the bench or on the bar will provide me with that opportunity of defending the defenseless.
In conclusion, my stay in Ecuador in the summer of 2011 was a very decisive moment in my life. Coming into contact with the experiences of the indigenous people was a cause for sympathy. Specifically, the effects of the petroleum extraction sites on the human life and environment were devastating. Additionally, the human costs of rapid development in the areas surrounding the oil wells were evident. Although the people of Ecuadorian Amazon sued for the damages that were orchestrated by Amazon, it took 17 years for them to get justice. That is why I want to study law in XYZ Law School. My intention is to help the defenseless get justice as soon as possible. In any case, justice delayed is justice denied. Although my aim will not be specific towards the residents of Ecuador, I will seek to help other people who have been tortured by these oil companies get justice. This way, I will attain life fulfillment.
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