Just Like My Child Foundation’s (JLMC) Project Justice has trained nearly 2,000 community members in local law, who are known as Community Legal Volunteers (CLVs) in their home villages. Another component of JLMC’s Project Justice is a savings group, aptly named Save For Justice (SFJ), which consists of community members who raise money for legal cases in their community.
In Namumira (nah-moo-mira), the SFJ group has about 80 members (up from 56 members when it started in July 2014) and each member contributes 500 Ugandan shillings per month (the equivalent of $0.15 US cents). In the event of a legal emergency like rape, theft, or domestic violence, members can draw on the funds to cover any costs incurred by their case (like medical care and transportation).
We recently sat down with Mpoza, one of two CLVs in Namumira, to discuss two recent cases that illustrate the benefits his community is experiencing from these two components of Project Justice.
Case 1 – Dispute with the Landlord
One day while a tenant was away at a funeral in another village, her landlord came and confiscated some of the harvest which was being grown on the land. There was a physical altercation between the landlord and the children of the tenant, and one of the children was seriously injured. The neighbors had Mpoza’s phone number, because he is their CLV, and called him immediately upon discovering the boy, whose arm had been cut. Since the boy’s parents were away, Mpoza took the boy to the hospital. The boy bled a lot and was unconscious when they reached the hospital.
Mpoza had police come out and take photos of the damage caused by the landlord, and later took the case to the Bombo Police Post, 37 kilometers from Namumira. SFJ funds were used to pay to transport the boy to the hospital, purchase medicine and cover all medical costs. SFJ funds were also used to pay for police transport on multiple occasions in connection to this case. Police came out to investigate the damage that was caused by the landlord and take photographs. In rural Uganda, police usually cite lack of fuel as a reason for being unable to follow up on cases. By paying for the fuel, SFJ ensures that cases are actually filed and followed up.
This case was taken to court in Wobulenzi, 45 kilometers from Namumira, where it has been settled out of court. As part of the settlement, Namumira’s SFJ will be reimbursed for expenses incurred in connection with this case. The tenant will become a landowner, as a piece of land has been surrendered to her in the settlement.
If not for Save For Justice, the boy could have died for not reaching the hospital in time. The case probably would not have been pursued in legal channels, as evidence of the crime would not have been collected while the tenants were away. Additionally, the cost of traveling back and forth between Namumira, the police post in Bombo, and the court in Wobulenzi would have been prohibitively expensive for the family to cover on their own.
Case 2 – Defilement
One day a 13-year-old girl was found unconscious in some bushes. She had been defiled (in Uganda, sex with a minor under 18 years old is defined as ‘defilement’). She had been raped. Since she was found in Namumira, community members who found her quickly notified Mpoza, their CLV. He rushed the girl to the hospital, where they did a rape kit. Unfortunately, the girl became pregnant. The girl’s mother had died and she lived with her father and a stepmother, who was suspected of mistreating the girl. It is believed that the girl has a mental illness, or epileptic condition, as she sometimes has fits.
Save For Justice funds were used to transport the girl to the hospital, obtain appropriate medical tests, (including testing the perpetrator for HIV), as well as completing a medical report. SFJ funds were also used to pay for police transport to arrest the perpetrator. Additionally, SFJ funds allowed for the perpetrator to be transported from the small police station nearby to the larger police post in Bombo, 37 kilometers away. Mpoza says that if they had not done this, the case would have died and the perpetrator would have been released, due to the lack of funds and will on the part of the local police.
After the rape, the girl’s parents fled Namumira and abandoned her there. Sadly, she is now in a mental hospital in Kampala. Namumira’s SFJ group remains in contact with the hospital where she is staying.
The rapist was arrested and is currently serving time in a prison in Nyimbwa, 45 kilometers from Namumira.
Keys to Success and A Way Forward for Namumira
Mpoza cites ‘togetherness in the community’ as a key reason that the Save for Justice group is successful in Namumira. When asked to identify what else makes the savings group successful, Mpoza says there must be empathy towards injustice, which he feels has been developed through the community dialogues he has held in his capacity as a Community Legal Volunteer (he has held six community dialogues in the last two years). Communities should also have a spirit of volunteerism. Lastly, the leadership of the group should demonstrate to members and the wider community that they are not corrupt.
Finally, when asked if he thought the Girl Power Project® and Save For Justice could stand alone — if each could be successful without the other — Mpoza highly recommended that the two go hand-in-hand. He explained that the Girl Power Project® lays the foundation for justice and the respect of children. According to Mpoza, the Girl Power Project® provides credibility and paves the way for community members to understand their obligation to look out for their girls. And with Save for Justice, community members now have a way to protect their children.
— Reported by Annette McFarland,
Monitoring & Evaluation Specialist in Uganda for Just Like My Child Foundation