we started our day by visiting a British NGO called ACE, Action in the Community Environment. The group focuses on working with children, particularly orphans impacted by the HIV/AIDS crisis. From the website: "ACE Africa works in remote, rural areas of East Africa where one in three households are infected with HIV and every household affected, where 60% of the population live on less that a $1 a day and up to and over 20% of children have been orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS." This is a group that actually has "boots on the ground" and is making an impact in rural areas here. One of their representatives came with us for our next stop.
|ACE Africa NGO office|
|Terrible road, beautiful countryside|
|Cow finally moved over so we could pass|
|Outside the "community center"|
We had around 16 or 17 villagers there. They were originally expecting more but there was a funeral. We gave our presentation and honestly, I was not sure we were going to get any response. The questions they were asking were very pointed about life in their village. One of the women made a statement basically saying that women there are property. She said they can go out and work. The money goes into their husbands account. They can go out and buy a car, but it must be put in their husbands name. The house and land must be in their husbands name. She said if she were to write a will and pick an executor to handle her affairs not from her husbands family, the executor could be killed by the family. Basically, the view according to custom here is that the husbands family takes the property upon his death (including his widow and children) and is expected to care for it. The problem is that they frequently take the land and kick the widow off. Yesterday, we heard from a 91 yo woman who had been in a court battle for 5 years for her home because her husband had died without a will. His family was trying to kick her out of the home they had shared for so many years.
The group today was the first we had presented to where there were more men than women. It was probably a 60/40 split. Hearing the kinds of comments I spoke about above coming so frankly from the women in front of their fellow villagers shows that they are hungry for the knowledge. They genuinely have no concept of their own rights, and being able to help shed just a little bit of light for them to pass on to other members of the community is so exciting.
|Kelsey and Phillip looking studious working on wills|
At the end of the presentation, every single person who had attended the meeting drafted a will. I was amazed. We were all sitting at our computers working as fast as we could. It is interesting that even with the language barriers (none of the villagers spoke English), we were still able to construct the documents for all of them with the help of our two local attorneys and our translator Devotha.
|The guys working hard filling out the |
questionnaires so we could draft their wills
After heading back into town, we came to the East Africa Law Society. Basically, it is a group comprised of the 5 countries that make up the East African Union (Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda.) and they represent the interests of the law societies of each country. We had a fantastic meeting with their CEO Tito Byenka, along with some of the program officers and project assistants. They spent more than 2 hours talking to us about the issues they are currently working on and asking us questions about our project. When we individually introduced ourselves, we were also asked to share about our individual paper topics. I am always a little guarded about doing this here as my topic on LGBT issues in Africa is a thorny topic at best, but today I was pleasantly surprised. After the intros were finished, Tito immediately came back to me and said he was very interested to know my thoughts and what research I had been able to accomplish since my arrival. I shared with him that it had been quite difficult to get people to talk at all, and he gave me a few insights and then directed me toward one of his Program Officers. I am hopeful about this. Along the same lines, I have finally been able to gain access to a network which is mostly underground here. I will not write any details about it on here, but I have been put in touch with a number of groups only because they trust me now that I have made some connections here. They are excited to work with activists from the US and compare notes.
|Sign on the wall at EALS|
|Group Photo outside EALS office (awesome meeting!)|