Day in the Life of a VLA- Elizabeth Sandoval

Name: Elizabeth Sandoval

Office: Ecuador

Age: 31

Hometown: Quito, Ecuador

What made you volunteer as a VLA?

My passion for human rights — refugee issues are interconnected with human rights and it is my goal to work within the human rights field because you’re always at the service of others. Law serves as an instrument through which all individuals can assert their rights and regain their dignity.

What was your greatest accomplishment as a VLA?

When I was able to speak with a judge on a gender-based violence case and obtained a favorable outcome. The case was before the provincial court, which has 3 judges. One judge is responsible for making a preliminary decision and presenting it to the other two judges for their approval. The judge had already made up his mind regarding our case but had yet to present it to the other judges. I was able to speak with him and communicate our arguments clearly and effectively. He said he would review his initial decision and when the resolution was later announced, it was in our client’s favor!

What was the greatest professional challenge you faced as a VLA?

My biggest professional challenge remains being unable to graduate and receive my Doctorate in Law title which would allow me to work as a lawyer. Shortly before I was supposed to graduate from my law studies and after completing all the requirements, the government passed educational reforms which affected the graduation of a select group. There are supposed plans to fix this problem to help the group of students who have not been able to graduate, like me, but they have yet to be passed.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to asserting refugee rights in Ecuador?

I think the greatest challenge is the lack of public policies addressing and resolving refugee issues. Due to the complex nature of problems refugees face, including psychological trauma, there is a great need for multidisciplinary teams to provide free legal, social and psychological services.

Describe a typical workday in Ecuador.

05:30 – 06:15 Wake up, have breakfast and get dressed
06:15 – 07:00 Head out to the university
07:00 – 10:00 Teach a class on Public Contract Law
10:30 – 11:00 Head to Asylum Access Ecuador office
11:00 – 13:00 Work on my cases and written submissions
13:00 – 14:00 Lunch
14:00 – 16:00 Run work errands such as submitting written petitions to the Constitutional Court and Judicial Court
16:00 – 18:00 Return to the office to scan petitions that were submitted, revise documents, continue to work on petitions, and prepare my agenda for the following day.
18:00 – 19:00 Travel home

19:00 – 20:00 Cook dinner
20:00 – 22:30 Prepare and organize materials for my Public Contract Law class for the following day

Tell a story about a language barrier or cultural difference.

One day, when I had first started working at Asylum Access Ecuador, a client came in speaking English. Most of our refugees are Colombian so he was an exception. I was the only VLA in the office at the moment and I felt so frustrated and desperate because I couldn’t understand a word of what he was saying! I felt so sad I couldn’t communicate with him but then remembered that Miguel, another employee, was also in the office and I asked him for help.

What was one resource you needed that Asylum Access didn’t have?

A multi-disciplinary team. Along with a refugee case comes a heavy emotional burden. I feel that as a legal advisor, one is professionally limited in the kind of assistance we can offer and the services of a psychologist would be useful in the office. Additionally, refugees need accompaniment and assistance in other areas of their day-to-day life such as with health, education, and work issues that extend beyond the legal realm, for which a social worker’s guidance would be very useful.

What is your best memory of your experience in Ecuador?

I love traveling throughout Ecuador, especially when it’s for work! El Oriente (the Amazon) is one of my favorite places; I love how rustic it is and that is also where my dad lives.

Describe a typical weekend off in Ecuador.

On the weekends, I love to spend time with my family. I usually visit my brother and sister and we go out to eat, play sports, and go dancing at night. We also enjoy biking through the city on the Sundays that Quito has Ciclopaseo, an event where many streets are closed off to car traffic and only bikes are allowed on the roads.

What is your favourite way to de-stress while in Ecuador?

My favorite de-stressor is going out with my friends. It doesn’t really matter where we go, it’s the company you’re with that makes all the difference! I have two good friends with whom I could spend hours just hanging out talking about anything and everything — politics, mythology, history — and forget about the stresses of the day. We always laugh and remember our fun times together.

How will this experience shape your future career plans/goals?

Working with refugees has allowed me to see the reality of who a refugee is — understanding their human nature and the immense difficulties they have overcome in fleeing persecution to find safety and looking past the stereotypes of refugees. Moving onward, I’d like to continue to work towards protecting human rights with a focus on refugees.

What type of law did you practice before volunteering with Asylum Access?

I worked in the area of gender-based violence for four years with the Centro de Equitad y Justicia del Municipio here in Quito. My interest in human rights developed during this time.

Schools Attended and Degrees Conferred:

Universidad Central del Ecuador, Licensed in Political and Social Science

Interview by Christina Asencio, Volunteer Legal Advocate and Communications Liaison, Asylum Access Ecuador.