Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Paralegal Profile: Eye Opener to Justice

In late March, Megan Chapman spent a short week with Global Rights’ three local partner organizations in Bundibugyo, Uganda – Child Concerns Initiatives Organisation (CCIO), Bundibugyo NGO/CBO Forum, and Bundibugyo Women’s Federation (BUWOFE) – and met a number of paralegals and program beneficiaries in their communities. Earlier blog posts have highlighted success stories from Bundibugyo. This post is the first in a series focused on the paralegals themselves, aiming to give a fuller picture of just a few of these volunteers working on the front lines of justice and legal empowerment in their communities.

Just five days after completing his initial training with 14 other new paralegals working with BUWOFE, Tibamwenda John had already helped to resolve two incidents of domestic violence in his parish within Nyahuka Town Council. John is six years retired from a long career in government service with the Ugandan Prisons Service and nearly a decade as the parish chief.

Although he protests he is too old to ride the bicycle that BUWOFE gave him to assist with his paralegal work, it is evident that retirement is not slowing him down.

With a broad grin and a chuckle, John agrees that we can “foot” to his home once I assure him I can handle the kilometer distance and, yes, even the mud. We exit the one-room Nyahuka Town Council office, where he serves as the Chairman of the Local Council III (LC3) Court, and head up the rutted road toward the DRC border. He points out the main hospital in town where one of his wives works and he serves as a volunteer board member. Up another hillside, he points to a house in a grove of cacao trees and explains with quiet pride how he and one wife have used money earned from cacao – a major local cash crop – to build a permanent structure (made from bricks rather than the more common mud and sticks), complete with a zinc roof and real metal doors, even while managing to send all their children to university.

Along the way, we take a detour via the house of a woman who chairs the 20-person BUWOFE “self-help group” of which John is one of just three male members. The group originally formed a savings and credit cooperative with support from BUWOFE during Bundibugyo’s recovery from years of insurgency and now raises awareness in the community on issues like domestic violence and girl-child education. It is this group that elected John to be trained as a paralegal.

It only takes a few moments of conversation to understand the reasons that John was given this vote of confidence. Hard work and volunteerism seem to run at his core. Sitting under a picture of Barack Obama in the small house that belonged to his first wife (now of late) from which he plans to do his paralegal work, John explains his motivations.

John's paralegal log book where he records the cases
he handles
As the LC3 Chairperson, he is already involved in local dispute resolution (the third level of appeals in the local court system recognized by the Ugandan state the operates side-by-side with judiciary). But, he explains, the LC3 is required to charge fees; as a paralegal, he can help people closer to home and without court fees. Moreover, he hopes to be able to prevent disputes.

In this regard, he is most keen to receive a follow-up training promised by BUWOFE on will-writing: “Once I have received that training, I will be able to help so many to stop fighting in their families!”

Just before we leave John's home, Joshua, the BUWOFE coordinator, takes out a bag of  t-shirts that have just been printed for all the newly trained paralegals. John holds up the shirt that will identify him, although I suspect little identification is needed around here, as “Paralegal – eye opener to justice.” 

- Megan

P.S. Click here to view a photo album from my trip to Uganda!

Posted by Megan Chapman

1 comment: