Wirdan Fauzi is a public interest lawyer with the Jakarta Legal Aid Institute. His job is to improve the lives of workers by building their understanding of their rights and advocating for changes to labor policies. But for Wirdan, it is much more than just a job, it’s a way to fulfill his personal goal of bringing about social change in Indonesia. As Wirdan puts it, “ . . . I considered the development of awareness, organizing and empowerment for the community [to be] the answer to building a collective social movement that will encourage social change”.
Despite his best intentions, Wirdan struggled to develop a paralegal program that effectively empowered the workers to bring about significant change to the degree he had envisioned. So when he heard that the Global Legal Empowerment Network and Alternative Law Groups (ALG) would be organizing a learning exchange in the Philippines, he decided to attend.
The exchange brought together participants from Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Myanmar to share their experiences and brainstorm innovative ways for improving how they help their communities. Participants were also assigned to ALG member organizations throughout the country to meet with communities and paralegals and examine their different methods of legal empowerment.
Wirdan worked with Kaisahan, an organization focused on empowering famers nationwide to advocate for pro-farmer laws and policies. Wirdan was impressed by their legislative victories. He noted that in addition to their impressive government lobbying efforts, national advocacy meetings with the farmers were also an integral component to their success. These meetings, Wirdan explains, helped “identify the injustice [farmers] experienced” and “succeeded in raising awareness of farmers to boldly fight for their rights. Farmers were able to strategize their advocacy.”
During the exchange, Wirdan was also able to work with Saligan, the largest legal aid and advocacy organization in the Philippines. He met with hotel and restaurant workers to discuss labor cases, community strategies, and how paralegals help advocate for their rights in Manila. He also met with women workers to learn more about gender perspectives in labor and legal empowerment. Saligan, he noted, were “consistent” in their empowerment of workers, and “provided training so that workers had enough knowledge to fight for their rights.”
Wirdan was inspired by what he saw and heard. In the year since the exchange, he has organized extended trainings on advocacy and minimum wage policies with 14 labor unions. He has conducted further trainings on social justice, human rights, and strategic litigation, and has established a network on how to quash corruption through trainings with union and local communities. He has also led his team to adopt strategies on agrarian reform similar to those he witnessed in the Philippines. The progress they have made in the year since the exchange is impressive. As Wirdan’s experience shows, the best way to empower others is often to first empower yourself.