LET STATION (North Macedonia) – Brief Story
Association for legal education and transparency LET STATION was formed in 2018 and is located in Prilep, North Macedonia. We are a grass-root organization with a mission to meet the legal needs of the citizens by encouraging openness and cooperation of the institutions. We work on legal empowerment and access to justice for the marginalized communities with particular focus on Roma community and people living in rural areas, supporting realization of their rights in general and specifically health and social rights of these communities. We believe that if justice is not accessible for all that it is not a right, but a privilege and thus our work is strongly focused on bringing justice closer to everyone.
Our team that works on legal empowerment consists of lawyers, paralegals and community health promoters. Lawyers are the main providers of legal aid, and they are offering their services directly (in our main office and the three mobile offices in the rural communities) but also indirectly through the paralegals who consult and communicate with them each time there is a more complex case to be solved.
Then there are the paralegals which are the main carriers of the community work. They are members of the communities that do not have law degrees, and whom we train to recognize and be able to properly address the administrative and legal issues of the people. We often organize field actions, info caravans and other field activities and these are mainly the places where we identify potential paralegals, people that know and enjoy the community trust. There are in communication with the lawyers and whenever there is a case that is more complex and requires professional legal aid, they refer these cases to the office of the association. The paralegals are also included in our mobile office Where they provide services together with the lawyers of the association.
Finally, we have the community health promoters, which are activists engaged in informal education and community organizing related to health rights. These people are particularly important during the time of pandemic and are constantly engaged in sharing information, education on protective measures and immunization, distribution of hygienic products and disinfectants and so on. Again, these are members from the community, coming from different ages and backgrounds, that we train on realization of health rights, identification of systemic obstacles and community organizing for advocacy.
In our work we mainly communicate and cooperate with the institutions on a local level, such as local government, center for social work, local offices of the ministry of interior and ministry of justice. In the legal empowerment work we are strongly advocating for development and advancement of the formal free legal aid system, governed by the ministry of justice and the local offices. They are the main state carriers of the formal tools for access to justice. However, although Macedonia has a Law on free legal aid, a lot of things are yet to be developed and introduced in this formal system. Starting from the capacities of the ministry and local offices, the terms under which a CSO can become an authorized provider of free legal aid, all the way to the legal recognition of paralegals, we have a long way to go in our efforts to advocate for a more accessible and available justice system for all.
The challenges of civic space are such that require constant adjustment on our site. We continuously work on improving our services and introducing alternative ways of communication. We introduced telephone and online service Call emergency paralegal aid which is a 24/7 available service via phone and website, in order to ease the communication with beneficiaries in the time of pandemic. Furthermore, since we work with rural communities that are very remote and lack access to legal services, we initiated mobile offices for legal aid that travel in three different locations during the week, providing direct services. The mobile offices are located in municipal spaces in three different villages that are provided for free by the local self-governments of the three municipalities.
When it comes to financial sustainability, having in mind the restriction of donor support, last year we started with an economic activity of our own, in order to self-generate a part of our income and make sure that at least the most critical services we provide are secured and obtainable. In that way LET Cub was formed, a social enterprise managed by LET STATION, that provides event organizing and individual co-working space. The money earned by this activity are relocated to further development and sustainability of the legal and paralegal aid we provide.
If you are a justice worker or a grass-root justice organization, when it comes to challenges, it is double the trouble. You have to fight your own organizational challenges, at the same time struggling with challenges your beneficiaries face. Sometimes it is impossible to decide which one of these should be given a priority and be urgent in dealing with. In order to do that, you have to build a strong team that will share responsibilities as well as successes. For us, especially in times of pandemic, it’s crucial that we have different members of the team with different responsibilities regarding coping with challenges – while some of them deal with the beneficiaries, others are focused on organizational ones. In that way, the actions taken are more comprehensive and sustainable and are bringing better solutions and benefits for all. It does not necessarily mean that the team included has to be a huge one, it only means clear division of obligations.
There is not a single solution that can solve the injustices marginalized people face. Civil society organizations worldwide are doing their best to help people realize their rights and have equal access to justice. However, the environment and conditions in which they work are often insecure and changing. Therefore, we have to make sure that while helping the communities we empower them to be able to help themselves in the future even without our intervention. We believe the empowerment of communities and people is the most sustainable tool for securing long term changes and improvements in the field of access to justice. When people are aware and empowered to know their rights and how to fight when these rights are violated they will turn to proactive citizens that are holding their governments responsible and are using the right tools for initiating progressive systemic changes.
The importance of our work is many times acknowledged by the community members as well as some of the institutions particularly on a local level. However, there are sometimes situations and reactions that even after so many years can positively surprise us and strengthen the faith in what we do.
“Finally, someone came to us and it isn’t a political party before elections. Nobody was coming here previously, neither for a bad nor for a good reason.” was said by community members from a remote rural area part of our Municipality, welcoming our Mobile office for paralegal aid in their village.
“You opened my eyes, I wasn’t even able to get my children to the health center previously, but after you helped me I now know how to realize my health rights” was a reaction of a young uneducated Roma woman, whom we assisted with the realization of hers and her children’s health rights.
“Nobody was explaining to me how to get my personal documentation, I was not existing for the system for the whole 8 years. Thanks to your help now I know the procedures and can continue getting all the documentation for me and my family” stated a 27-year-old Roma man whom we helped to get his ID for the first time since he turned 18 years of age.
These are just a few of the most remarkable statements of the importance of what we do but also the significance of the empowerment we provide for the people and how it changes their lives.
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