In the midst of a lot of terrible news, I bring you some beautiful stories that I hope will you fill you with as much joy and excitement as they have filled me!
I have often spoken of “cultural change” in theoretical terms. Truthfully, it takes both good strategy (theory) and individuals who engage in gritty, hard work. Last week, I had a front row seat to actual, cultural change, and it was pretty incredible.
I jumped in to work just over two weeks ago, during what was the busiest two weeks of the year for our office. It felt a bit like jumping into a river and getting swept away by the current! But it was fun to immediately get to work and to build relationships quickly with many of the national staff here. Last week, especially, included major events for several of the departments here at IJM, and I had the privilege of participating in a few.
Judiciary & Prosecutors’ Training:
For the past three years, IJM has hosted, in conjunction with the DPP (Directorate of Public Prosecutions—comparable to the Attorney General’s office), an annual training for public prosecutors. IJM hosted a team of Australian barristers and judges to provide training in trial advocacy, as well as training in plea bargaining, and property grabbing offenses. Overall, we were able to provide prosecutors with incredible training, tools and resources.
This year, in addition to the DPP training, we hosted a training with Uganda’s Judicial Studies Institute (JSI) for judges and magistrates from across Uganda. As this is the first year, the training was two days long. Again, we were able to help facilitate incredible training sessions, tools and resources for judges and magistrates.
It’s exciting to see how IJM hosted these events in conjunction with the DPP and JSI. So, it is not IJM hosting the events alone, but rather providing support as the Ugandan government itself seeks to shape its future. At IJM, we use the phrase “bridge-builder.” I saw that in action last week, as the office was able to add value to the Judiciary, the DPP, and JSI simultaneously. These prosecutors, judges, and magistrates are over-worked, with little thanks and few resources, and it was exciting to be able to provide support to them.
When I thought the week couldn’t get any better, I was invited to participate in a “Community Celebration” with IJM’s training team on Friday.
As background, the crime of “property grabbing” provides a different challenge than, for example, the crime of human trafficking. Society generally understands human trafficking and condemns it. In contrast, many communities don’t know of the protections the laws in Uganda provide for widows, and there are some deep cultural understandings around the idea of land inheritance.
In order to combat this challenge, the IJM training team has facilitated community leaders (LCs) in leading “community dialogues”—once a week for the last ten weeks in five different sub-counties. These community dialogues focused on sensitizing the communities to the plights of widows, as well as proper inheritance under the law, and they culminated in a day-long celebration for each sub-county. On Friday, I joined in on the final sub-county’s Community Celebration.
I was overwhelmed as I saw this community take ownership over the protection of widows’ rights. The celebration started with a parade in which hundreds of people marched (along with a high school marching band!), carrying signs (pictures below!) and dancing. The parade ended in a community gathering that lasted all day and included dancing, speech-giving, performances, skits, and a special time to honor widows (IJM clients) in the community.
I was especially overwhelmed to see the men in the community who proudly marched and gave speeches in defense of widows.
It is amazing to me how IJM is working toward transformation from the top-down, and from the bottom-up … literally in the same week. I had a front row seat—as the magistrate asked why property grabbing is a criminal offense and not a civil court issue; as the prosecutor asked for more copies of “Handbook on Property Grabbing Crimes”; as the young man passionately told his community that cultural heirs have no legal right to take widows’ property.
Good strategy, and gritty, hard work. I am truly working in an office full of superheroes—incredible Ugandans who are working tirelessly to make Uganda a better place.
A more personal update is to come… just wanted to share this work update while it was fresh in my heart!
***If you interested in knowing more about “property grabbing,” this