Monthly Archives: October 2010

WE DID IT!!!

Yesterday was a very, very, very good day for IJM Uganda. Yesterday morning we all arrived at the office to see the conference room decked out in streamers and balloons, a crate of sodas and a box of cupcakes in the corner, and a cryptic message on the whiteboard: “144+1.”

Our field office director told me to gather everyone for an “emergency” meeting in the conference room ASAP. By that point, the numbers were beginning to make sense in my head, and I could barely contain my excitement as I ran around the office: “Quick, everyone! You need to come to the conference room NOW. We have an emergency!”

What, you may ask, was this emergency that so urgently required our full attention? Well, ladies and gentlemen, on 26 October, 2010, IJM Uganda reached our victim relief goal for the year, which means that to-date this year, we have restored 145 women and children to their rightful land!!! HALLELUJAH!! (144 was the goal).  What made this even more remarkable was the fact that last year we also hit our victim relief goal for the year on 26 October (I think IJM Uganda should declare this to be an office holiday forevermore).

Our director treated us all to a great poem, modeled after the classic ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He had stayed up all night writing it, and it truly is an inspired piece of writing. It documents both the incredible joys and overwhelming frustrations of our casework this year, with great months like May when we achieved victim relief for a record 54 people, and disheartening months like August where we seemed to make no progress in any of our casework.

My heart swelled to see the joy on everyone’s faces. It was humbling to reflect on the incredible perseverance, sacrifice, and teamwork that has allowed our team to achieve this goal. But what really made the event truly inspiring was what happened after the poem finished. Everyone clapped and cheered, but then one of our Aftercare staff members (a dear woman of God,  who in many ways is the matriarch of IJM Uganda) broke out singing “To God be the glory, great things He hath done.” Amen.

Of course, our work for the year is far from over. We have many more cases we are working through, and even now we face many challenges and roadblocks in our casework. 145 is a great number, but it still is a small percentage of all those who still need to be rescued and restored. We still need your prayers, very very much. But for now, rejoice with us, and give Him the glory!

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Achieving Victim Relief

Newsflash::: last week, two IJM Uganda clients and their families were successfully restored to their land!

In our office, that statement alone is enough to make the whole office burst out in whoops, hollers, and extensive clapping; enough to make our field office director break out into a ridiculously exuberant dance; enough to immediately make me hop on a bodaboda to go buy queen cakes (like cupcakes, sort of) so that the whole office staff can celebrate properly. It’s a big deal.

I wanted to share the good news,  but quickly realized that without a deeper understanding of our casework here in Uganda, that news probably means much less to you than it does to the team at IJM Uganda.  Never fear, I am here to explain everything. 🙂 (Note: This stuff is pretty meaty, but if you last through it, I guarantee you’ll have a much better understanding of our work here – and hopefully next time I announce victim relief, you’ll be able to do a little dance, too!)

The story of a case at IJM Uganda is a long, long process that can take anywhere from a few months to many years. Basically, it all starts under a mango tree or inside a village church at one of IJM’s Legal Education days. The Church and Community Relations department coordinates  about 20 legal education seminars in our project area every year. These legal education days educate the public on all aspects of illegal property seizure, including how to safeguard your family against having their property stolen. Community members are taught how to write a will and formalize their marriage, if necessary.

Afterward, IJM lawyers conduct on-site case intakes, where they sit down and meet with widows or families who have had their property stolen and record the necessary information to determine if the case is within our casework boundaries (does it deal specifically with stealing property from a widow or orphan? Is the evidence enough to make the case credible and doable?)

The Legal Education team takes this information back to the office, where they pass it over to the Investigations department. The Investigations team is in charge of analyzing casework, identifying the perpetrator (ie the person who stole the property from the rightful owner), and deciding whether to open the case or not. Once it’s opened, they work with the attorneys on the Interventions team to gather the necessary information to move forward with the case.

If possible, IJM tries to restore the widow to her land through family mediation meetings. Many times, the perpetrators will back down from their illegal control of the land once they realize that they have been caught breaking the law. In those cases, the threat of civil action against the perpetrator is often enough to secure the land for the widow. If mediation meetings are unsuccessful, the case then moves into either the civil or criminal courts (depending on which charges were brought against the perpetrator), where it can get bogged down in months of judicial hearings and delayed rulings.

Even if the mediation meetings are successful, there are still many steps necessary to achieve full victim relief, including securing the official land title that definitively proves the widow’s right to own and occupy her late husband’s land. At this point, a case can often be halted due to lost files, unclear boundary lines for the land title, and a host of other reasons.

Meanwhile, the Aftercare department looks after both the immediate and long-term needs of our clients – their physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. If  the lawyers of the Interventions department are the brains of IJM casework, Aftercare is the heart of IJM’s casework: They’re the ones who walk hand-in-hand with the IJM clients down the hard, intimidating road of securing justice; they’re the ones who ensure that regaining a widow’s land is just the first step in a life newly transformed by hope and restoration.

By partnering with local development organizations and compassion ministries, the Aftercare department helps treat any medical needs (many of our clients are HIV+), helps the orphaned kids get sponsored for school, and works with the widows to create income-generating opportunities for themselves (eg. raising chickens, starting a small business, etc).

Finally, after what can be anywhere from a month to a few years, when the widow has regained the official right to her land and has the necessary legal documentation to prove her ownership of the land, we count victim relief!!!

There are some amazing stories that have come out of this sort of IJM casework in Uganda and hopefully I’ll be able to share an officially approved client story with you soon. As you can see, it’s a long hard road for these widows and orphans to travel. The stuff they are rescued from is heart-breaking, the pain is unimaginable… but the victory at the end  is very, very sweet.

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Playmobile, Pit Latrines, and a Place to call Home

This weekend, I began my reign as Aurelia, queen of Playmobile land. I made treaties with traders from Arabia, ousted Japanese samurai and man-eating dragons from my kingdom, and arranged the fortuitous meeting of my handsome brother Kendall and my favorite lady-in-waiting, Lydia. It was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

No, I haven’t had an emotional breakdown or regressed 15 years in maturity. 🙂 On Saturday morning, I traveled out to Bombo, a small village about 45 minutes north of Kampala and spent the weekend with a missionary family who are friends of friends from the States. It was my first time to meet this family. I’m not sure if it was our shared experiences of home schooling, the uncanny likeness I shared with their tall, blond-haired blue-eyed kids, or the ease with which I slipped into their simple lifestyle that involved no running water but tons of family time and honest imagination and fun, but after about two hours, I was ready to call the place home.

An incredibly generous and hospitable family, the Carrolls spent ten years in Uganda before returning to the States in 2007, and have only recently returned to Uganda in order to partner with local churches and the zillions of compassion ministries in Uganda to more effectively reveal the heart of God for the poor and broken through these ministries That may sound redundant, but you would be surprised at the number of ministries in the world (it’s not just a Ugandan problem!) that have managed to effectively meet physical needs while totally forgetting the centrality of God’s love in the whole process.

Although I absolutely love my work at IJM and am completely convinced that the work of seeking justice is exactly where I am called to be at the present, I won’t deny that it was really refreshing to be back in the home of a typical “missionary” family, a family with whom I could relate and identify with in a million ways. At Taylor, I tried hard to establish an identity apart from my background as an MK, and I think I was successful to a certain extent. But living back in a developing country that reminds me so much of Papua New Guinea, I’ve found myself self-identifying more and more with my MK roots. You can take a kid out of the mission field and turn them into an adult, but I’m not sure if the heart of the MK will ever leave that adult.

It was so refreshing to be out of Kampala and breathe the clean air, to be with young kids again, reading “The Things People Do” with a four-year old, enthusiastically comparing favorite Narnia scenes with a ten-year old, and of course, beginning my inaugural reign as Queen Aurelia of Playmobile land (I do not know how I managed to live 22 years of life without ever being introduced to Playmobile!).  It was even refreshing to use their pit latrine, use water from their rainwater cistern, wash dishes in two big basins, and remind myself that even after four years spent mostly in America, this sort of lifestyle isn’t foreign to me.

They graciously extended me an open invitation to treat their place as my home away from home… and as soon as I can figure out the complicated system of taking taxi buses out their way, I’m sure I’ll be back. I have a Playmobile kingdom to rule over!

P.S. In case you’re worried that I’m just cavorting around the Ugandan countryside: a blogpost about the casework of IJM Uganda is coming shortly. Many of you have asked great questions about what IJM does in Uganda, and as soon as I get permission from HQ to post more specific information about our casework here, I’ll be sharing some exciting news with you about the victim relief we just secured for two clients and their families last week!

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An African Safari Adventure

This is mostly a show-and-tell post (because I wanted to share my pictures with you all, and because my computer decided to crash a few days ago… which makes extensive blogging rather difficult. It has to go Stateside in order to get repaired. I am not a happy girl). But in the meantime, here are some pictures to enjoy from my recent excursion up north to Murchison Falls National Park, the biggest national park in Uganda! We left early Friday morning (thanks to Uganda Independence Day, we had a three-day weekend), and spent most of the day driving up to Murchison. In our group of four, there were three IJM interns/fellows and another friend working here in Uganda with girls rescued from the commercial sex trade (check out the links at the right-hand side of my blog to learn more about what they do!)

As we finally got out of Kampala traffic, the Ugandan countryside started to expand with big blue skies and green fields all around. We passed through small villages and trading centers with young kids milling around outside and old women selling billions of bananas. I thought to myself more than once, “this is the real Uganda!!” We made it up to to the park that evening and practically ran down to the Nile to catch the sunset.

After sleeping in our luxurious safari canvas tents, we woke up bright and early the next morning for our safari drive through the park. Although I’ve seen giraffes, elephants, and hippos in the zoo before, the wonder of really seeing them in the African wild was thrilling. It’s one thing to see a lone hippo sitting by itself in the little stinky pool at the zoo, it’s an entirely different matter to see a harem of hippos cavorting around in the Nile, with their funny little ears, big ugly bodies, and hilarious honking laughter erupting around you. We also saw families of elephants – our guide thought that this particular group of elephants may be guarding a mom and her newborn, but we couldn’t see what exactly was going on. They are huge creatures, big silent giants solemnly walking through the brush as if in slow motion.

That afternoon we continued our exploration of the African countryside with a boat launch up the Nile, to Murchison Falls. This awe-inspiring waterfall is the most powerful spot on the Nile, where 30 metres of water is forced through a 6-metre crevice in the rock. Along the way we spotted crocodiles, antelope, warthogs, and lots of exotic birds. We even caught a tiny glimpse of a leopard on the prowl (friends who have grown up in Africa say that seeing a leopard is a huge accomplishment!) Our safari group also included four other visitors to Uganda – coming from Kenya, Denmark, and Australia! It was fun to exchange stories about our respective experiences in East Africa.

In short, it was a great experience and I feel blessed beyond measure to have seen the beauty of God’s creation so vividly spread across the African wild. I did feel hopelessly like a tourist the whole weekend, but even being a tourist can be fun for a weekend.To see the rest of my pictures, click here (it’s a link to my facebook album, but you don’t have to be on facebook to see them!)

We love Africa!

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All in a Day’s Work

With one official week of work under my belt, I thought it was high time to answer everyone’s favorite question recently: “So, what exactly do you do at IJM Uganda?” Granted, it has only been a week, so if you are interested in hearing my first impressions that may not be entirely accurate, read on!

Officially, I am an administrative intern who serves as the Executive Assistant to the Field Office Director.  I schedule meetings for him, do the organizational/technical stuff that he doesn’t have time to do, compile information on various case and write client briefings.  Every morning we have a meeting to go over his agenda and my to-do list for the day. My tasks can be as diverse as entering business card information onto the computer, to calling the guard security company to tell them to come pick up their payment for the month.

Unofficially, I am the go-to girl for what seems to be everything under the sun — ordering and picking up cakes for office parties, being the first point-of-contact for guests who walk in the door, figuring out all the logistics of important visits from IJM headquarters staff, etc. And I can’t forget my most favorite job duty… filling out endless payment request forms and other such types of financial protocol.

Last week was an especially hectic week; not only was I going through tons of training, but our monthly field office report was due, which meant I had to fact-check a lot of information regarding open, closed, and declined cases that IJM Uganda deals with. Well, needless to say, it was quite a learning curve to figure out the intricacies of these cases. There are many steps necessary to achieve victim relief for a widow and her family. Depending on the type of property seizure and the effectiveness of the local council and courts, a case can take anywhere from a few months to multiple years.  I’m slowly becoming conversant in the lingo of IJM casework here in Uganda: perpetrators, victim relief, land titles, district surveyor, casetracking chart, Lands Registry office, mutation forms, transfer forms, mediation meetings, legal education clinics, etc etc etc. I still have a ways to go before I understand all the ins and outs of IJM casework, but it’s been encouraging to see how far I’ve come in during the last week!

Of course, the job continues to challenge me daily. As it is in many developing countries, things don’t operate as smoothly here as they do in the States. A lot of simple tasks can take longer and often you end up getting different results than you had hoped. Even the seemingly easy task of ordering the party cake from the supermarket gets complicated when it involves a harrowing ride on a bodaboda (motorcycle taxi) and talking with the bakery staff, who don’t quite seem to understand that you really need the cake by a certain date:

Hello, I need to order a cake to pick up on Thursday at 11 am.”

“Please, madam, I think Monday the cake will be ready.”

Well, I actually need it on Thursday.”

“Yes yes, it will be good on Monday.”

Sigh.

All that to say, I still think it will take me a while before I really know how to do my job well.  I continue to mess up, quite frequently. But I do love it. Serving as the Executive Assistant is giving me a comprehensive understanding of how IJM operates, at both a 10-yr visionary level and a daily nitty-gritty level.  I’ve loved being able to work closely with all the departments at the IJM office here – Interventions, Aftercare, Communications, Investigations, and Church/Community Relations. My co-workers have been complete gems, being so patient with me as I ask them the same questions over…. and over… and over again.  I know it’s only been a week… but I think I’m gonna like it here. 🙂

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