I have to be honest. I was puzzled and more than slightly annoyed by the effort on the part of several American institutions to encourage “international pro bono.” Why, I wondered, are we expending precious resources jetting off to South America, Europe and other parts of the world to extol the value of pro bono legal services? Had we become bored with the work to ensure access to justice within our own borders? Had we realized we could do no more to help our own citizens with their critical legal needs?
In February, I began a Twitter and Facebook effort to help locate family members after an 8.8 earthquake in Chile. The earthquake moved the entire city of Concepcion over 10 feet to the west. The capital and several large cities were heavily damaged. In our search for family members in the affected cities, I made several new Twitter acquaintances and “friended” some Chileans on Facebook. After four days of scouring message boards, Facebook pages and Tweets, we received word that everyone was safe and sound.
I was also moved by the quake and the Chileans’ response. I have been involved in disaster legal services efforts here in Georgia for some years. Within days of the terrifying quake, lawyers in Chile mobilized to provide help to people who had legal problems arising from the quake. Fundacion Pro Bono Chile appeared on the scene, organizing lawyers and providing information to the public.
I’m now a believer.