Graduate takes Street Law to Zambia

May 08, 2013

When Nathan Nanfelt asked Zambian middle schoolers to role play a scenario in which one or two police officers incarcerate a suspect, he quickly discovered just how much they already knew.

Nathan Nanfelt '12 teaches Street Law to students in Zambia."Without much prompting at all, they would really play up the abuse by law enforcement — beatings, lack of water, unsanitary conditions," he said. "It was abundantly clear from the role playing that these kids had seen stuff beyond their years."

A 2012 graduate of Seattle University School of Law, Nanfelt received an $18,000 grant from The World Justice Project (WJP) to create a pilot program of legal education in Zambia. He was one of just 12 winners selected for the WJP's Roderick B. Matthews Opportunity Fund, which is designed to help launch practical programs that strengthen the rule of law.

It's a continuation of work he started in that country last summer, using lesson plans based on the educational principles of Street Law, a nonprofit organization that aims to teach people about law, democracy and human rights worldwide.

By reaching out to the country's youth and teaching them about their legal rights through skits, role playing, and other interactive teaching methods, he hopes to help the country confront problems of police brutality and gender-based violence.

The pilot program will develop curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds that focuses on police brutality and gender-based violence, implement those lessons for 400 youth at four different middle schools (16 classrooms), and gather input for a full-blown curriculum project.

"The purpose is to do Street Law well on a small scale to strengthen credibility for a longer-term project," said Nanfelt, who took the Street Law class at the law school.

Nanfelt's program "identified a deficiency in legal education as a critical piece of the delivery of justice, and is working to change this by educating Zambia's youngest citizens to become a generation of informed, responsible citizens," said Radha Friedman, Director of Programs for WJP.

Distinguished Practitioner in Residence Margaret Fisher, who leads the Street Law program at the law school and established programs in South Africa and Lesotho, helped guide Nanfelt when he was a law student. She also connected him with former Street Law director Ed O'Brien, who is helping to develop the program in Zambia.

Fisher applauded Nanfelt's recent award, particularly because it will establish ongoing support from a human rights attorney in Zambia. "Through Nathan's hard work and perseverance, he has succeeded in funding a substantial Street Law effort in Zambia," she said.

Pamela Mumbi, former Director of International Justice Mission, has been advising Nanfelt on Zambian laws and will help develop the program's curriculum. Much of the WJP grant will go toward a part-time salary for her to visit classrooms, he said. Nanfelt himself will visit Zambia for a week next March to help lead teacher-training sessions, and the classroom instruction will begin in May.

Nanfelt is a Deputy Prosecuting Attorney with the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. As an undergraduate at Wheaton College majoring in sociology, he spent six months studying abroad in Zambia as part of program to build and implement community improvement projects. It was this experience that inspired him to go to law school, in hopes of one day working on international aid policy issues.

Friedman said she hopes Street Law Zambia is just the beginning. "If the project is successful, it has great possibility for replication, creating a ripple effect of positive benefits throughout Zambia and beyond," she said.