This semester 11 Mitchell students are doing work that will have an impact five thousand miles away. They’re part of Professor Chris Ver Ploeg’s seminar, “Advising the International and Humanitarian NGO,” in which they gain experience serving as legal advisers to a major international non-profit organization.
The organization, Mano a Mano, helps the people of Bolivia by building clinics, providing surplus medical supplies, and improving infrastructure. Ver Ploeg has been on Mano a Mano’s board since she helped get it started in the early 1990s.
A few years ago it occurred to her that the non-profit could provide a great learning opportunity for eager law students, so she went through the necessary process to create a seminar. It had its debut last spring with seven students and returns this spring with 11.
“It’s a wonderful blend of my passion for the charity and my passion for Mitchell,” says Ver Ploeg. “There are gaping holes no one in Mano a Mano has had time to fill, and the students are a huge help there. It’s fabulous to have these essential components addressed.”
Ver Ploeg describes the weekly class as a combination seminar/independent study/clinic experience. Students take on Mano a Mano as a client, interviewing people to locate those gaping holes, going through documents, determining where the organization is at risk, looking into international banking and currency issues, and more.
“We have very motivated, dedicated students who have been yearning for something like this.” says Ver Ploeg. “They try to find out if there are things the organization needs to be aware of and end up dealing with a wide range of needs, some of which we identify for them, others which we have not identified.”
The students work in small groups on specific issues and report to Mano a Mano’s board at its annual meeting. They also get to attend the organization’s big fundraiser in the spring.
“It’s a nice grand finale to the semester’s work,” says Ver Ploeg.
And what does she get out of her dual role as professor/volunteer?
As the only attorney on the board, she can turn to her students for additional legal perspectives because as she puts it, “they have a broader range of knowledge than I do.
“And I get to use my training and skills in a meaningful way,” she adds. “In the board meetings, I come up with suggestions that are obvious to me that haven’t occurred to anyone else. Then other people will come up with things I never would have thought of. It really stirs the creative juices.”