YLIP internship leads to a full experience of life in Yangon, Myanmar

  • April 09, 2020

By Zillah Virji

I first heard of the Young Lawyers International Program through a friend back in 2015, when she excitedly told me about a program through the Canadian Bar Association. It matched young lawyers with overseas organizations to gain effective skills in the areas of law reform, human rights and access to justice. Ever since that initial interaction, I knew YLIP was something I wanted to be part of. I just didn't know when.

Fast forward to last year. I was almost finished articling when I knew it was the right time in my legal career to dive into the world of international development. I submitted my YLIP application and soon after accepted a position with an international non-government organization called International Development Law Organization (IDLO), based in Yangon, Myanmar.

I learned that I was not about to embark on this journey alone. I was fortunate enough to be joined by another YLIP intern, Amanda Craig. Throughout the placement, Amanda was my roommate, my friend, my colleague, and most importantly, my travel companion.

IDLO has established several rule-of-law and access-to-justice projects in Myanmar. These projects work to strengthen formal and informal justice for everyday justice seekers and justice providers by bridging the gap between government and the communities. The office in Yangon is a combination of IDLO employees and trainers from the Rule of Law Centres (ROLC). The centres are responsible for training lawyers, law teachers, government officials and civil society representatives on key rule of law and human rights issues and raising awareness of rule of law in communities across the country.

Don’t let the word “intern” fool you -- working as a YLIP intern does not necessarily mean taking coffee orders and making photocopies. Many international human rights organizations operate with limited resources. We were viewed by IDLO as valuable professionals and therefore able to engage in interesting and meaningful work. During my time at IDLO, I worked on a range of legal and project management duties, which included drafting legal analysis on topics such as women's access to justice and child rights. I also traveled to field offices within the country to provide ROLC staff with technical support on data collection and monitoring and evaluation.

Not only was the work at IDLO engaging and complex, but our colleagues were exceptionally welcoming and warm –even so far as to invite us to their weddings! Whenever someone saw us reaching for our boring salads in the fridge at lunchtime, they invited us to join them for a home-cooked, family-style meal and encouraged us to try Burmese style noodles or curries.

Nevertheless, picking up our lives and moving to South East Asia for half a year did not come without challenges. Both of us could have not prepared for the impact of culture shock – and, eventually, reverse culture shock – we faced. However, the CBA has been extremely supportive and provided us with tools and resources to integrate back into Canada and back into the legal workforce.

Now that I’m back in Canada, I already miss the chaotic city I recently called home. I will never forget the unique sounds of Yangon, especially the chanting of monk processions that took place every morning at 4 a.m.

Zillah Virji was called to the Ontario bar in September 2019 and articled with Deloitte Canada in business immigration law. She obtained her LLB at Kingston University in London, England.