The kind of work the UN has done in Nairobi has been bearing fruit in helping with the river pollution and with the forest rehabilitation.”
Intern, Department of Political Affairs, United Nations.
On Brian Makokha's commute to the University of Nairobi, the stench of a murky, polluted river from one Kenya's largest slums seeped through the train's windows. His passion for protecting the environment originated from what he witnessed on those daily trips: garbage strewn across the land, rivers treated as open sewers, and women balancing containers on their heads in their daily hunt for clean drinking water.
Brian, 31, who earned his LLM degree in May, said his experiences in his native Kenya, coupled with the rigorous courses at VLS, helped him attain a coveted internship at the United Nations in New York. He was one of about 500 people selected for internships at the UN this summer.
"The UN has global reach and I want to have a global impact," he said. "So many of the current problems are global in nature and no single country can solve the problems and find solutions by itself. It needs a concerted diplomatic approach."
For six months, Brian is working in the Department of Political Affairs in the African division on the policies and impacts of climate change, including air, water, and global warming. When his wife told him a UN representative had called, he thought she was joking.
"For me, it is a dream come true and one that I've had for a long time," he said. "The kind of work the UN has done in Nairobi has been bearing fruit in helping with the river pollution and with the forest rehabilitation. I want to be part of such of an organization."
Brian's work at the UN includes tracking political developments in the Great Lakes region of Africa and writing analytical research on complex issues such as the humanitarian crisis in Berundi and the conflict in the Great Lakes region. That conflict has environmental impacts as the forest is exploited by rebels for its timber. "A political solution to the war will have the added benefit of conserving the environment," Brian says.
Brian, who received his bachelor of law degree from the University of Nairobi in 2005 and certificate from the Kenya School of Law in 2006, practiced environmental litigation and consultancy for a Nairobi firm before attending VLS. He hopes to eventually return to the firm or work on climate change for the Kenyan government.
"At the firm, the owner helped by allowing me to draft protocols and do environmental impact assessments on projects where he was the lead consultant," he said. "I realized that was my forte and I loved dealing with environmental matters."
Wanting to improve his knowledge and skills, he Googled top law schools in the United States and VLS ranked the highest in environmental programs. The school "surpassed my expectations" in its scope of classes, broad analysis of legal issues, and challenging professors, especially Pat Parenteau and John Echeverria.
"My approach and knowledge of climate change increased in leaps and bounds at VLS," he said. "I learned to see the nuances in many environmental agreements and how to apply them in an African context. The professors were very accessible and went above and beyond in encouraging me to be an agent of change once I go back home."