Claire Hammerton is part of a vanguard of young lawyers who are seeking hands-on ways to engage with human rights and social justice issues, writes Laura MacIntyre
|Deacons lawyer Claire Hammerton|
As one of only two Australians chosen to take part in the PRIA International Internship Program, Hammerton packed her bags and set off for India to take part in an eight-week crash course in participatory development. This involved a week of theoretical training at PRIA's Centre for Participatory Research headquarters in Delhi and six weeks working on a field project studying ways to improve elementary education in the country.
"My motivation for applying for the internship was mainly because I felt that I had a strong theoretical background when it came to development issues and human rights, but I was really lacking grassroots exposure," Hammerton says.
"I was able to see the incredible value in running these workshops before you go ahead and make assumptions about what the community wants. It's vital that, from the outset, you engage with the people that you are attempting to help."
Nothing, however, could have prepared her for the level of poverty encountered among the communities she spent time with.
"I have travelled to some developing countries in the past, but the poverty in India is really far more prolific than any other developing country I've been to. It really just engulfs you from the moment you step foot into the country.
"From the minute you step foot in the country the poverty is everywhere, and you are immediately talking to people who are in really dire circumstances ... [but] through the various discussions that we had with the local communities I feel I gained a lot in terms of my knowledge and skills in participatory development and community engagement."
Now that she's back in Sydney, is it a challenge to combine her passion for human rights with a career in commercial law? Not at all, Hammerton says, because of the supportive approach of management and the involvement of her colleagues.
"I really feel that there's a culture here of social conscience, and being aware and having a perspective of what else is out there, and [an understanding] that you don't have to focus all your time and energy on the work you do with the firm.
"Everyone I work with is aware of my interest in this area - my supervising partner in particular has been very supportive, and has said to me that I should never feel that there's a conflict there."