In celebration of National Volunteer Week (April 23 – April 29, 2017), we spoke to an exceptional Rise volunteer, Nermin Karim, to discuss why she volunteers with Rise and how her work at the clinic helps improve women’s access to legal services.
Why I Volunteer With Rise: Volunteer Lawyer, Nermin Karim
Q. What is your profession and the area of expertise you predominately practice in?
I am a family law lawyer and I practice mostly with women who can’t access justice because of poverty and with women who are facing abuse.
Q. How did the nature of your profession and your area of expertise influence your decision to get involved with Rise?
Rise is a wonderful addition to the services that are available to help women who are disadvantaged. I feel so privileged to be a part of the solution.
Q. What motivates you to continue to volunteer?
I believe inherently that we all come from the same soul. Once you believe that, it obliges you to help those in need.
Q. How long have you been involved with Rise? What is your volunteer role?
I began with Rise in January 2017, conducting summary advice appointments with women. Rise has such a long waitlist and my role is to help chip away at that list. Where appropriate, clients on the waitlist for service are offered the option of a summary advice appointment with a volunteer lawyer instead of going into the student program. This helps decrease the wait time for other women on the waitlist who are hoping to receive services from Rise.
Q. What skills and experience do you put to use in your volunteer position at Rise?
As well as being a family law lawyer, I’m trained as a Restorative Justice Practitioner. That training made me a more active listener, able to make space for my clients’ stories. Women who have experienced trauma need a cautious and sensitized ear.
My work in the Downtown Eastside has exposed me to women facing financial crisis amongst other multiple barriers that impede their access to justice. I’ve learnt through that work to be aware of my own biases and keep them in check.
I also know that no one comes to family law with a happy story. The women are sometimes quite fragile.
Q. What skills and experience do you think are of value for volunteer lawyers who are thinking of getting involved at Rise to have?
You have to be able to see things through a gendered lens and through a violence against women lens. Some of the women coming in don’t themselves realize that their experiences are not acceptable. One client’s partner locked up the family’s financial information so that she had no access. Another woman’s partner charged her for assault when she finally defended herself from his abuse. You tell them their rights and let them make an informed choice in their next steps.
You also have to know that when you’re hearing about signs of ex-partners being financially controlling that’s just one level of abuse and there’s probably another level of abuse she’s not telling you.
Q. How does your experience volunteering at Rise differ from other volunteer positions you’ve held?
I love how well organized and efficient Rise is. I really appreciate all the support structures in place for me when I volunteer there. Sheila feeds me soup just about every time I go, and everyone there is amazing. I’m surrounded by rockstars! It’s the coolest thing. Because the support structures are there and it is so well organized I feel as though Rise maximizes the use of my time.
Q. How does the work Rise is doing differ from other community services and legal clinics in BC?
Rise is filling a gap which unfortunately should not rest on the shoulders of non-profits. This should have been a government funded resource but the huge funding cuts to legal aid have left a gaping hole and women are more disproportionately affected by that gap in services.
Rise has been a shining star in trying to fill that gap. While they don’t have all the resources they need, they are doing it and it’s awesome. It is a step to filling a huge need.
One of the large gaps is that person who doesn’t qualify for legal aid but can’t afford a lawyer. And, there are so many people who fit into that category.
Q. What is one of the most rewarding parts about being involved with Rise?
Did I mention Sheila’s soup? It has built a community of mentors around me. When I’m in a situation and I’m stuck, I know I can reach out to Kim, Vandana or Raji and ask a question and they’ll help. There is just a ridiculous amount of knowledge in that place. I have people I can turn to and this is an amazing resource.
Thank you for your continued dedication and support Nermin! Rise also recognizes the hard work and hundreds of hours donated by all our volunteers during our first year open.
If you are interested in getting involved with Rise in a volunteer position, please visit our website for more details.