Shannon Fyfe, Class of 2010, wins Helton Fellowship for work in Tanzania
Release Date: Mar 23, 2010
Shannon Fyfe, Class of 2010, has been awarded a Helton Fellowship by the American Society of International Law (ASIL).
Applicants for the prestigious program submit proposals for pro bono projects to ASIL. Fyfe will work at the Public International Law and Policy Group’s field office in Tanzania to develop law and policy recommendations regarding the treatment of albino citizens.
“Shannon has an outstanding passion to hone her already formidable human rights expertise in a field environment,” Professor Michael A. Newton said. “Her award is based on the selection committee’s confidence that she will do ‘high-quality international humanitarian legal work’ in Tanzania.”
Professor Newton encouraged Fyfe to propose a project working with the PILPG’s field office in Tanzania because of her previous experiences working there, both during a summer internship secured through Vanderbilt’s International Legal Studies Program and as an undergraduate.
Fyfe became aware of human rights issues relating to albino citizens in Tanzania during summer 2008, which she spent working as a legal intern with the Internal Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian city of Arusha. While she was there, a friend emailed Fyfe a New York Times article which reported that albinos in Tanzania face the “deadly threat” of murder or mutilation because of a growing criminal trade in their body parts, used by witch doctors as ingredients in potions. "In rural communities, when families have albino children, they go into hiding,” Fyfe said. “Their children don’t leave the house.”
Albinism, a genetic condition that impairs normal skin pigmentation, is more common in sub-Saharan Africa than in much of the rest of the world, affecting one in 3,000 people in Tanzania as opposed to one in 20,000 people in the U.S.
Fyfe will be working at a new field office established by the Public International Law and Policy Group to advise the Tanzanian government as it develops legislation to protect the human rights of the country’s albino population.
Fyfe earned her undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she double-majored in political science and music and minored in women’s studies. "I always knew I wanted to pursue public interest law with an international focus," she said. “I’ve been interested in international human rights since I was 20. I participated in a peace-and-conflict studies program in Uganda and Rwanda through UNC, studying genocide and gendered violence, and I attended a youth conference dealing with post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Uganda. While I was there, I fell in love with the people, culture and communities in the Lake Victoria basin.” Fyfe also learned to speak “a little Swahili” during her previous stints in Africa.
Fyfe will graduate this May with a J.D. from Vanderbilt Law School and a certificate in women’s and gender studies from Vanderbilt University’s Graduate School, which she earned concurrently. She is the 2009-10 executive director of Vanderbilt’s Legal Aid Society and has also served on the boards of Law Students for Social Justice and the Women Law Students Association.