An Adventure Like No Other
By Guest Blogger Abigail Skeans
Upon returning home after trips to East Africa, I am often asked about my “African adventures.” Foreign places often seem to be full of a constant barrage of unusual, exhilarating experiences, but not for the reasons one might first expect.
My interest in rule of law development in post-conflict regions led me to law school. Prior to law school, I had worked at a non-governmental organization which provided me with critical experience and prepared me to pursue something more policy focused. While I believed law school would equip me with necessary skills, inwardly, I had already resolved to avoid two areas during my legal career: criminal law and juvenile law.
But God was about to have a big laugh. During my first semester in law school in October 2011, an attorney friend who had spent significant time in Uganda suggested to me that I might do an internship in Kampala with a juvenile justice organization. I smiled and politely brushed off the suggestion, remembering these were the two things I was resolved to avoid.
Over the next couple of months, as I was repeatedly reminded of this conversation and doors of opportunity were opened, it became clear to me that God was calling to spend time working in juvenile justice. So, I took a step of faith, booked a ticket, and committed to a summer in Uganda.
I arrived in Uganda on June 8, 2012 and spent my first day with the children in the remand home in Kampala two days later. To this day, I cannot accurately articulate the evolution that occurred in my heart during my first few hours with the nearly 200 children awaiting trial in such desperate circumstances. After that first experience, I have been adamantly devoted to working on their behalf. A true case of needing to be careful for what one asks for, I was suddenly confronted with a world of opportunities to constructively live out faith that would only be limited by imagination. And I soon learned that meaningful implementation of ideas would only be possible through true reliance on all the fruits and intervention of the Spirit.
Some days of working for the peaceful transformative work that Christ calls us to doesn’t seem appealing. It seems difficult and discouraging in the dim light of very slow incremental progress. But this perception only survives when I’m evaluating my very immediate circumstances- the hardship of the moment.
For the past year, I have had the honor of working alongside individuals and organizations that are doing remarkable things for Ugandan children in conflict with the law.
Working with Children Justice Initiative (Sixty Feet), I have been able to assist with a programme that has provided nearly 100 children, whose cases seem to have been forgotten by the established system, with speedy access to justice utilizing the legal procedure of plea bargaining.
We have been able to educate children held in detention, as to their duties and rights as Ugandan citizens in accordance with the Ugandan constitution, and the role of the judicial process in their lives through a creative legal literacy program.
We have created and implemented an electronic database programme which will allow government stakeholders to track a juvenile’s journey through the justice process enabling greater transparency and accountability for the system and more timely justice for the juveniles.
And in July 2013, we held the first-ever training workshop on plea bargaining and the future of a national Juvenile Justice Coordination Programme in Uganda which provides a five year strategy for full institutionalization of juvenile system from the non-governmental community to the Government of Uganda.
All of these incredible outcomes demonstrate the fertile ground for the progress of reform in the juvenile system in Uganda. In almost daily retrospect, it is humbling to see how I have been privileged to participate in contributing in a substantive, enduring manner to bringing justice to some of the most vulnerable in society.
However, implementing such programs is not easy. The adventure is not in describing the outcome but lies in the process of achieving institutional understanding and concurrence. And stories of adventure often results when one must decipher the appropriate means and methods to apply the policy decisions where one lacks intimate familiarity with the culture. It has been made very clear to me that the leavening power of the Spirit through people of faith placed in critical positions throughout society is essential.
For me, the adventure is found in the challenge of numerous meetings that fall through with the one person who can grant approval for your programme contrasted with the five minute head nodding discussion that allows you to move forward at an exhilarating speed.
The adventure is in the heart break of a child’s story of emotional and sexual abuse and spiritual captivity that is redeemed by the gracious decision of a magistrate who allows the child to re-enter society with a clean slate. The adventure is in foregoing the comforts of family, friends, electricity, clean water, health, and safety.
And the adventure means enduring countless derogatory remarks and glances, instances of stolen funds, and dishonesty that hinders the positive progress I’m desperately attempting to make.
When I look at the work that God is doing in Uganda through eyes of faith, it is overwhelmingly encouraging. So much groundwork has been accomplished to prepare for the efforts of the current generation. The amazing stories of what has been done, is being done, and will be done through the diligent efforts of many others are incredible. It is once I realize this that I can say with confidence that my work for justice in Uganda has truly been an adventure like no other I might have imagined.
Click the following link more information about Children Justice Initiative (Sixty Feet).