Financial aid is helping those who will help others

When Nasredeen Abdulbari LL.M. ’08 came to Harvard Law School in the fall of 2006 as a visiting researcher focused on human rights issues in the Darfur region of Sudan, he was pleasantly surprised to find research materials that were barely two months old.

A member of the Fur tribe from Darfur, Abdulbari had used 30-year-old books from the United Kingdom when studying for LL.B. and LL.M. degrees at the University of Khartoum. Abdulbari, who was subsequently admitted to the HLS Graduate Program, could not have attended without a generous financial aid package.

“Harvard has made me a different person,” he says. “It has prepared me academically to face any intellectual or professional challenge.”

Because Harvard Law School offers need-based aid to all admitted J.D. candidates as well as graduate students, the school is able to enroll students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries.

Around the time he received his HLS degree, Abdulbari was also awarded the Human Rights Program’s Satter Fellowship, and he is currently working at the Sudan Social Development Organization, an NGO in Khartoum. There, he is monitoring human rights programs and working to familiarize Sudanese people with the concept of human rights, especially in war-torn areas, which he has experienced firsthand. His uncle was killed in Darfur in 2004, and many other relatives have suffered abuses.

“Human rights protection is important not just to my tribe or to my country,” the soft-spoken Abdulbari says. “It has the ability to unite all people. I plan to make Harvard Law School proud of me by reflecting the values and principles it stands for.”

Patrick Morales-Doyle ’09 has studied and practiced public interest lawyering.

Credit: Leah Fasten Patrick Morales-Doyle ’09 has studied and practiced public interest lawyering.

On the other side of the world, in the college town of Urbana, Ill., Patrick Morales-Doyle ’09 grew up the third of four sons born to a preschool teacher and a community organizer. Summer Public Interest Funding allowed Morales-Doyle to work this July and August for the National Consumer Law Center. He’s also been a research assistant to Professor Lani Guinier, and he held an internship his 1L summer at the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, representing clients on housing and benefits matters at the student-run legal services center, where he’s since put in many hours during the school year.

“Working at the Legal Aid Bureau has given me experience working in low-income communities and the opportunity to develop hands-on lawyering skills. At the same time, I’ve been able to focus my studies on issues that affect public interest lawyers, learning from both renowned legal scholars like Professor Guinier and my fellow students.”

Morales-Doyle feels it is “absolutely essential” that Harvard Law School offer financial aid to students who need it so that “the resources and opportunities that HLS offers are not just available to the wealthy and financially secure.”

Particularly critical is HLS’s support of students who pursue public interest, says Morales-Doyle. “It’s important that financial aid recipients are not only able to attend Harvard Law School, but that they are able to use what they learn here to pursue public interest work and give back to their communities.”

Jessica Corsi ’10

Jessica Corsi ’10 has worked for international justice organizations around the world.

Another recipient of Harvard’s Summer Public Interest Funding, Jessica Corsi ’10 says financial aid has made her education possible. Corsi has made the most of that education, simultaneously pursuing a J.D. at Harvard and an LL.M. at the University of Cambridge in England.

“When your family doesn’t earn as much money as it costs to attend a school like Harvard each year, the idea of taking on that much debt or of figuring out some way to manage that amount without the aid of the school can be quite daunting. The offer of an aid package and support from financial services provides the bridge between dreaming of attending and actually attending.”

Corsi’s education has included paid stints working for international justice around the world. This summer she interned at the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, providing legal research and writing for the Rule of Law and Democracy Unit. In January 2008, she interned at the Human Rights Law Network in Delhi, India, researching the aftermath of a ruling by the Supreme Court of India that found a constitutional right to food. Last summer it was the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, an NGO that aims, in part, to record the history of the genocide under the Khmer Rouge.

After graduation, Corsi plans to seek a clerkship at an international court that deals extensively with human rights law. Eventually she would like to work for the United Nations and in academia as well as for civil society organizations.

“Harvard Law School is allowing me to enter the competitive international human rights job market with cutting-edge experience and training and a network of well-connected professors and alumni. I can’t imagine being in a better position to start my law career.”

Veena Iyer ’05

Credit: Chris Lake Veena Iyer ’05 has fulfilled her dream of using law to make a difference in low-income people’s lives.

Generous financial aid also made a Harvard education possible for Veena Iyer ’05. The child of immigrant parents from India, Iyer describes herself as “one of those kids who always knew they wanted to be a lawyer.” A college internship at a women’s rights organization in India cemented her desire to use law as a tool to make a difference in people’s lives.

“When I got into Harvard, I was torn because I felt like I would thrive in that community, but I was afraid that I would end up having to give up my dreams.” But financial aid officers explained that Iyer would be able to rely on the Low Income Protection Plan after she graduated and “not be stifled by [her] debt.”

Iyer now does the kind of work she once dreamed of, as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. She also started a legal clinic for low-income students in the adult education program at a local community college. She provides representation in immigration, family, and housing law and helps her clients “navigate the intersections between these areas of law,” she says.

“What a program like LIPP does is allow you to do work you really believe in without worrying so much if you can support yourself and your family at the same time.”

For Iyer and others, receiving need-based financial aid from Harvard Law School changes not just their own lives, but also the lives they, in turn, affect. Providing students and alums like Abdulbari, Morales-Doyle, Corsi and Iyer with the means to pursue public interest work was one of the principal goals of the campaign and continues to be an area of ongoing need. New generations of students will continue to rely on programs like LIPP and Summer Public Interest Funding to pursue work that they hope will change the world, one life at a time.