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Center for Global Justice Intern – Abigail Skeans

Legal Literacy: The Power of One

This entry was posted on June 27, 2013, in Uganda. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment
With just three weeks until the next juvenile session in Kampala, it occurred to me that we might do some training to sensitize them to the judicial process and their role in it through a creative legal literacy clinic.

Legal literacy is not a new programme. It’s been incorporated into international development plans for decades and is especially applicable to contexts involving children since they usually have less exposure to the law than adults. Although legal literacy programmes can take many forms through various methods of implementation, its goal of empowering an individual to fairly and competently access justice is fairly uniform.

On Tuesday, with the help of CJI’s two summer legal interns, Allen Fozzard and Aaron Murphy, we began the first of two weeks of legal literacy training for the 29 boys who will be involved in the High Court juvenile session on July 15.

Tuesday and Wednesday involved a scavenger hunt, call and response learning, art, and music regarding the constitutional rights of Ugandan juveniles. The kids were quick to learn these concepts and eager to smile with pride after they were able to articulate their rights back to us through song on Wednesday.

Today was the final day of week one. The crossword puzzle on the duties of Ugandan citizens proved to be intellectually challenging as many teenage children in Uganda still struggle with basic English written and oral competency. However, after patient tutoring and the great work of, Anthony, a Ugandan social work student who is doing an internship at Naguru Remand Home, all of the children successfully completed the puzzle. Anthony later told me that only expensive, private schools challenged children’s language and logic skills through crossword puzzle-type games. Most, if not all, of these children hadn’t received that type of education. I found this disheartening, but also made a point to express how proud I was of the boys for having the perseverance to complete the puzzles despite their lack of exposure.

To reinforce the importance of responsible citizenship, I asked the boys if they wanted Uganda to be a strong nation. A resounding “yes!” and raised arms was the immediate response. I then asked them how Uganda would become a strong country. One boy quietly volunteered the exact response I was looking for and offered that it would be through his individual contribution. 

To demonstrate this, I asked them to link arms in a circle. I explained that if all Ugandan citizens observed their faith, voted fairly in elections, paid all taxes owed, pursued education, avoided corruption, built strong and caring families, and strived to be strong leaders in their community that Uganda would be like the unbreakable human chain we were forming side-by-side, arm-in-arm.
Then I stepped out of the circle and unhooked one of the boys’ arms, which of course broke the chain. I told the kids that he was an example of someone who had destroyed his family, taken or given a bribe, refused to better himself through education, or wasn’t living according to his moral and/or religious convictions. The point was clear–it only takes one person to break down Ugandan society, but it also takes only one person who wants to make a difference to restore strength to the nation.

It was an impactful lesson on the power of one. The action or inaction of every citizen does make a difference. It can build society or destroy it. This time when I asked how many wanted Uganda to be a strong country, every hand shot up signaling that they would be the one to make the change.

Abigail Skeans, 3L