Tuesday, July 3, 2012

07/03 - Trip to the village & East African Law Society

I know I am double blogging today, but not really.  We had technical issues yesterday with the internet.  It is spotty at best here.  (Another thing I take for granted at home...put it on the list).  

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
After leaving ACE, we drove out to a village outside of Arusha.  We almost didn't make it.  The van actually got stuck because the road was so washed out.  A cow blocked the road at one point, but eventually moved.  The kid who was herding the animals was probably 10, maybe 11 years old.  Once we did make it, we were immediately greeted warmly.  I was barely out of the van basically in a field when an elderly woman grabbed me and said "KARIBU" (you are welcome) and kissed me on both cheeks.  The building was a small tin roofed building that was apparently their village community center.

The two ladies who jumped me
as soon as I climbed out of the van
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!)
One final note for today: I started the day overhearing some gut wrenching commentary from the American missionaries at the table next to us at breakfast.  Just a few of the things I heard from them:  "Africa is really like the old testament.  I guess thats what we should focus on here."  "We simply need to get more white people here to lead them.  They will follow."  I have nothing against missionaries.  I think they do amazing work in some parts of the world, but what I have seen here, I do not like.  It is fundamentalists bringing their views over to a fresh slate here in Africa where many people are desperate enough that they are willing to listen (particularly since many of the groups actually pay people to come to their presentations).


  1. Hi Chip,
    It was a little disconcerting not seeing a new blog for a couple of days.
    I was so relieved when I saw the blogs for 7/3 and 7/2.
    Thanks for the updates.
    I was telling Lois at lunch yesterday I was worried about you since you had not “blogged” for a couple of days.
    She said “they are probably having some problem with the internet” – but, you know me.
    Each day I can’t wait to see what you have been doing.
    My eyes are really being “opened” to how blessed we are in America and how easy it is to “forget” to be thankful for what we have – I take so many things for granted.
    I believe you and the group are leaving a very positive impression of what Americans are really like.
    The media paints such a negative image of the US so often.
    It makes me proud to know your visit will have a huge impact on the women you are helping and their families as well.
    I love to hear about your “food choices” and experiences. LOL
    I am not a “country girl” and that “chicken” you picked for you lunch a while ago could NOT be fresher!!
    As for the meat hanging from the ceiling on Monday – I was a bit surprised to hear that was your choice!! (Even if you were in Rome) LOL
    Well, today is the “4th of July” – and there will be lots of fireworks tonight all over the USA.
    I thank God for the “Freedoms” we have, and for the men and women who so bravely have protected them for us.
    Sending love to you, and remember you and your group are
    in my prayers each day!!

    1. Kathleen,
      Thanks so much for your 4th of July wishes and thoughts on the blog. I am glad you are keeping track of my travels. It has truly been an adventure. Being abroad for the 4th was a little strange but we did get to spend some time with some American students tonight who happened to be here as well. I look forward to being back home and catching up with you upon my return. Tell Lois I send her my regards as well :-)
      Happy 4th to you!!