Grassroots level development work in Vietnam

This summer, grad student and communications expert, Debora Senger, is experiencing legal empowerment of the poor at the grassroots level in Vietnam.

Reposted with permission from the College of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Saskatchewan

Debora Senger undertakes UNDP internship in Hanoi as part of the UofS UNDP partnership……

This summer, grad student and communications expert, Debora Senger, is experiencing legal empowerment of the poor at the grassroots level in Vietnam. She reports that this has delivered some unanticipated experiences:

“I had the opportunity to spend four nights with twelve law students and instructors from a university in a poor, mountainous village for the purpose of documenting community legal engagement,” says Senger. “There, we slept on the concrete floor of a family home, bathed with water buckets, and used the outhouse, which was strategically located behind the corn field due to the horrific odors emanating from it. It was through experiences like these that I learned what true legal empowerment of the poor at the grassroots level was all about.”

Senger was selected as one of six students to undertake United Nations Development Project (UNDP) internships overseas as part of a new experiential learning program being piloted by the U of S in partnership with the UNDP. The program trains graduate and law students in an exciting initiative set out by the UNDP, which aims to minimize the global burden of poverty through legal empowerment of the poor (LEP).

Senger is completing her four month internship at the UNDP country office in Hanoi, Vietnam. Part of her work has involved helping UNDP Vietnam prepare for the Legal Empowerment Asia Partnership (LEAP) conference in late August. In addition to this, she has undertaken extensive fieldwork to more than 10 provinces to document progress in law schools which are supported by UNDP Clinical Legal Education programmes. Senger is recording achievements, challenges, and producing reports which will be used by the UNDP and their development partners to learn from. While this has been a rewarding experience, it has also served as a reminder of the difficulties associated with achieving these goals amidst a new culture and within a developing nation.

“I have learned that adapting to work styles and environmental challenges, such as pollution and poor living standards, are necessary to truly understand legal empowerment at its essence,” says Senger. “I have been able to observe the impact of legal empowerment at a grassroots level by traveling to destinations and listening to the poor and disadvantaged directly.”

In addition to her passion for helping the underprivileged, Senger brings a long list of credentials and experience to UNDP Vietnam. She graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Communications Studies before attending the Alberta Institute of Technology to obtain her diploma in Photojournalism. She then used her credentials to work as a photojournalist, documenting development projects that the Canadian International Development Agency was supporting in Guatemala. Another opportunity came in 1998, when Senger had the chance to profile humanitarian aid four weeks after Hurricane Mitch tore through Central America.

“Hurricane Mitch was the most powerful and destructive hurricane of the 1998 Atlantic hurricane season. I documented the emergency efforts, which included food drops to villages that were no longer accessible by road, the provision of clean drinking water, and medical assistance,” says Senger.

During her UNDP fieldwork, Senger has continued to develop her communication and photojournalism skills. Her hope is that her documentation of UNDP Vietnam’s LEP work will lead to innovative ways to assist the poor in realizing their social and economic rights through legal empowerment. After her degree, Senger plans to pursue a career with the UNDP and build on the experiences she has gained through her participation in the UCAN-UNDP program.

More information on the UNDP Intern Program at the U of S is available from the College of Graduate Studies and Research (


For more information on Debora Senger and her UNDP internship, please see:

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