Outside the comfort zone: Getting to know Guyana

Free Legal Clinic

By Tyson Burke

The Guyana Legal Aid Clinic is an NGO that offers legal assistance to low-income residents of Guyana. Because it is the only source of legal aid the country, the clinic accepts a wide variety of cases in many different areas of law, from the more standard family law matters, civil suits and landlord-and-tenant cases, to trials for serious criminal charges including murder.

The day-to-day work of the clinic consists largely of meeting with clients, drafting documents, doing legal research and appearing in court. As an intern, I was able to take on my own clients and perform or assist with all of these tasks under the supervision of lawyers licensed in Guyana. On top of this, I was also assigned research projects from clinic lawyers who need assistance with particular points of law. It was great to delve into a legal topic and then see my work be used to benefit someone in need.

While the breadth of the work could sometimes be daunting, the friendly guidance and support of the staff lawyers really put me at ease.

The aspect of the internship that has made the biggest impression on me personally is definitely the direct contact with my clients. Assisting clients in this context often involves talking to them about the daily struggles and difficulties they face. This interaction has taught me a lot about the hardships that many people in Guyana live with and given me a greater appreciation for the resourcefulness and determination of people who face these challenges.

Outside of the clinic, exploring Guyana and the surrounding countries has been a great way to get new experiences and expand my comfort zone. Guyana is known for its vibrant, hospitable culture which I gotten to experience first-hand. As soon as I arrived, I was welcomed into a community of both local Guyanese and ex-patriates who helped me settle in and find my way around. Guyana also has a wide variety of foods, customs and cultural celebrations with roots in Indian, African and European cultures. As a result, I got to celebrated Diwali, Old Years, Phagwah, and a celebration for Indigenous Heritage month, among many others. Guyana also has a largely undeveloped interior region, and I’ve had many opportunities to explore rainforests, savannas and river islands. Seeing the breathtaking beauty and variety of this small country has been an experience I'll always remember.

Tyson Burke was called to the bar in Ontario in 2017.