2019 Fellowship: Advocates for Community Alternatives

Michelle LaFortune

What year are you in? 

Which organization did you work for, and in which city and country?
Advocates for Community Alternatives (ACA), Accra, Ghana

Cape Coast Castle in GhanaGhana's coastline is dotted with forts and castles, reminders of the country's history and ties to the slave trade. Cape Coast Castle, credit: Michelle LaFortune.

What were the highlights of your fellowship?
My fellowship allowed me to work on novel legal claims, where your background and legal research skills can only take you so far. The team at ACA really relied on each other in the office, collaborating to find innovative approaches to protect communities’ land claims in West Africa. 

What were some of the challenges that you faced this summer?
Initially, my greatest challenge was getting up to speed on the different sources of international human rights law. Later, I was expected to conduct legal research at both the international and domestic level. It was especially difficult finding cases from certain countries in Africa, as the databases and legal research platforms were much less accessible and comprehensive than Westlaw or Quicklaw, if they existed at all. 

Fishing ships along the Volta River in eastern Ghana.Fishing ships along the Volta River in eastern Ghana. Credit: Michelle LaFortune.

What were some of your first impressions of the country/city where you completed your fellowship? How/Did these impressions change over time?
Accra is a vibrant city. It is well known for gorgeous colorful fabrics and a lively arts scene. While there I was able to attend fashion shows, take dance lessons, and see a lot of live music. At first I was a little overwhelmed by all Accra had to offer, but in the end I felt completely immersed in its culture and city life. 

 Trotros, the main form of transportation in Ghana. Trotros, the main form of transportation in Ghana, are shared stopping minivans that fill up quickly. Credit: Michelle LaFortune.

Share anything interesting about your experience (best meal, favourite memory, etc.) 

I was able to make lifelong friends in Accra. Some of us formed a soup club to try all the varieties of soup Ghanaian cuisine has to offer. 

What advice do you have for students hoping to be an IHRP fellow next year?
Find a cause you are interested in and want to learn more about. Reach out to organizations who engage with that issue abroad. The issues we are dealing with here in Canada are also being discussed around the world and the opportunity to travel and see how that cause is approached abroad broadens your perspective making you a more well-rounded advocate. 

IHRP Summer Fellow Michelle LaFortune at a fabric store in Ghana.Fabric shopping at Woodin, a prominent fabric store for African prints where the entire process from design to production takes place in Africa. Credit: Unknown.