Sun, sea* and sand

Mike Chibita

The team with Mike and Monica Chibita.

With projects observed and training delivered, the final two days of the trip afforded some rest for the team. A long minibus journey on Friday took us to Jinja, to see the source of the (white) Nile. In the evening we were welcomed into the home of the Ugandan DPP, Justice Mike Chibita, where more delicious food and engaging conversation awaited.

The team were up bright and early on our final day in Uganda, to hit up the craft market and fill what space we had left in our bags full of necklaces, place mats, scarves, toy lions and jigsaws! After we had loaded up the minibus and grabbed lunch in our most authentic Ugandan eatery yet (think KFC meets East London café), we were on our way to the airport. We just had time for a quick pit-stop at the beach by the side of Lake Victoria (more Southport Pleasure Beach than French riviera) before we were up in the air and on our way home.

*OK, technically incorrect, but much catchier than lake.


Continuing Legal Education


Mark sharing his view from the bench on various styles of advocacy.

From prosecution of international crimes to judicial review; from managing risk to asking whether you can be both a Christian and a lawyer – Thursday’s training had it all! The team worked their socks off from start to finish, as we set about equipping and encouraging UCLF members.

In the evening we were duly rewarded: UCLF President Daniel and his wife Claire generously hosted us. Jen was particularly excited to see sausages on the menu, a tasty break from the Ugandan staple of chicken. Daniel Junior (aged 8) was excited with his gift of balloons, especially when he saw how they could be used to make Jen’s hair static!

Corruption, commitment and capering


With Sylvia Namubiru Mukasa (left), Executive Director of LASPNET.

Wednesday turned out to be just as busy as Tuesday. In the morning we visited a police station, to see the vital impact the UCLF paralegals have there. We spoke with those being held on remand. This encounter was sensually overwhelming. The sight: a group of men and women without shoes, surviving on one meal a day. The smell: the cells are designed to hold people overnight, or for a week at most; some had been held for over a week. The sounds: “Can you help me now?”

(c.70% of the Uganda prison population are remand prisoners, such is the backlog of cases. Even those who would receive state legal aid for the most serious cases only receive it once the case is fully prepared by the prosecution and court-ready.)

The officers were as candid as the suspects: they have asked us to pray that they would love their jobs, for health to sustain them in their work, and that officers would come to know God so that corruption can be conquered.

If the morning presented the problem, the afternoon offered hope and solution. We first met with LASPNET, a network of legal aid service providers. In the UK, the phrase ‘legal aid’ is only used to refer to state support, but in Uganda it also includes legal assistance from NGOs. All those in the network have a firm commitment to access to justice. From there we went to the Ugandan Law Society, to learn more about their legal aid project, funded by the Norwegian Bar Association.

After a heavy day, the team had the opportunity to let their hair down at the Ndere Cultural Show – a dancing extravaganza, showcasing traditional dances from across Uganda. Needless to say, the team needed no encouragement to get up and join in at the end!

Meet, greet and teach

High Commission

At the British High Commission.

The second week took the team to Kampala, Uganda, to serve alongside the Ugandan Christian Lawyers’ Fraternity. I’d say fasten your seatbelt and buckle in for the ride, but as none of our minibuses in Kampala had seatbelts, cling on to your seats, because it’s about to get bumpy…

Tuesday’s first port of call was a Magistrates Court, to speak with the Chief Magistrate and observe a morning’s list. I didn’t know whether to be encouraged or disheartened that it could have been any magistrates court in England: backlogs of cases, litigants in person, courts full of people waiting to be called on… But the main difference is that in Uganda, legal aid is only available for cases carrying life imprisonment or the death penalty, which means that the backlog is higher as cases are slower and there are many more litigants in person.

Next stop: the British High Commission. Not only did we receive a beautiful cup of tea, but a full briefing on the work of DFID overseas. We conveyed the importance of the work done by UCLF, which was recognised by the Senior Governance Advisor as “very impressive”.

The afternoon brought us a very different kind of meeting: school children! Despite a less formal setting, their questions were just as probing! Mark delivered legal education on the rights of the child, and Naomi taught them the importance of reporting sexual offences. There may have been a kitten meowing away on the beam directly above Naomi’s head during the session, but the children really engaged with both topics. Alumnus Vincent (Acting ED, UCLF) conclude with an inspiring speech reminding children to study hard and make the most of their education.

At this juncture, it might be tempting to say something glib, e.g. education is a universal ticket out of poverty. But that isn’t the case in Uganda. The World Bank quantified unemployment of those with advanced education in Uganda as 15% (UK: 3%). Throughout the week we met various educated individuals who either couldn’t find work or had to travel significant distances to work – including crossing borders into neighbouring countries.

But some of the children in that school hall will follow in Vincent’s footsteps – and for those lucky few, education is their ticket.

CLEAR Leaders’ Training Weekend

Gisenyi group photo

There is something very powerful about hearing the same worship song simultaneously sung in various languages. Before we had even arrived in Gisenyi for our leaders’ retreat, the Burundi, Rwandan and UK delegations were blasting out Hillsong classics for God’s glory on the three-hour bus journey (being helpfully encouraged that God only requires a joyous noise, not a tuneful one!)

The purpose of the weekend was to bring together the leadership teams (Executive Directors and trustees) of our CLEAR partners to encourage and equip them. We were joined (in person) by teams from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, DRC and Burundi, and Mozambique via Skype! Our God truly is a God of all nations. Mark opened the training with ‘The role of a trustee’; Hannah picked up the baton with ‘Transforming an idea into reality’; Therese carried on with ‘Priorities and planning with finite resources’; and Mhairi finished the day with ‘Member Engagement: mobilising our stakeholders’.

After Jen earnestly filled her notebook learning how to do her job, the team enjoyed an evening feasting and watching Germany come back to take Sweden down 2–1.

Sunday morning was incredibly moving as we prayed through the various challenges each team face in their respective countries. The weekend was bookended with yet more multi-lingual singing. Daniel and Vincent (UCLF) even made us all dance along!

Given the depths and heights of humanity – where does my help come from?

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This morning we visited a genocide memorial, and saw both the depths and heights of humanity.

We visited a tiny church (Ntamara Church) where people had hidden in April 1994. 45,000 Tutsi were killed inside the church, and in the gardens and outbuildings that surrounded it. The roof is peppered with bullets and the edges show signs of the grenades. The pews are all completely covered with the victims’ clothes; the altar cloth is red with blood; and the jewellery and ID cards have been gathered in a heap.

There are mass graves next to the church, with coffins and coffins brimming with skulls and bones. There isn’t enough room to bury everyone so some people are still in coffins stacked inside the church.

We then heard from a survivor, Alice, 48, who had hidden in a nearby church, but whose mother and youngest sister were killed in this church. Alice had managed to flee the other church and spent time hiding in swamps, until the milita found her, cut off her hand and killed her 9month old baby in front of her. (She also has lots of injuries from the clubs used.) By God’s grace, she survived the 100 days of the genocide. In the following years, she took what had happened to her and her family and headed up a reconciliation court. She talked of the parallel feelings of sorrow and forgiveness. Incredibly, Alice still visits the people in prison who hurt her, to read the bible with them and pray for them.

With our minds full from all that we had seen and heard, we drove out to one of the local community projects in the afternoon. Here a locally trained paralegal was delivering community legal education on succession (a huge problem in Rwanda). LOH know that they can’t be in all of the places all of the time, so have invested resources into training local volunteers in each area. It was very powerful to watch Florence (a local paralegal) captivate the packed out school room, and the community then shared with us why they had come along.

In the evening, we were kindly welcomed into Safi’s home (Safi works for LOH with Juves) for soda and tea. Culturally, the opportunity to welcome guests into your home and share food and drink with them is very important, so despite our tiredness, it was a privilege to be welcomed into Safi’s home and family.

Dinner was eventually served back at the guesthouse at 9.50pm and we all slept very well!

How Great Thou Art!

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The third and final day of training looked set to be trickier for both streams as expectations were lost in communication. But God was very kind: we  tweaked the content, the mood settled, and everyone engaged in the workshops (Option 1: Juvenile Justice; Option 2: Women in the Law.) We have already been invited back next year to repeat the training, so we’re taking that as a good sign!

In the evening we had the privilege of joining with the LOH students and young lawyers fellowship. (It was like an LCF Essential Truths meeting, only a little (read as a lot!) more energetic!) We opened by singing together ‘How great thou art’ in our mother tongues, which was very moving and gave much meaning to Romans 14:11, in which the Lord says: As surely as I live…every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.  To share in fellowship, worshiping our Creator God, after three days of intense training, was a real blessing and provided spiritual refreshment. There were also plenty of songs in Kinyunrwandan which the team joined in with as best we could!

Mhairi shared a thought from God’s word, encouraging us all to press on (1 Thessalonians). Mark then preached on Matthew 5:13 – how Christian lawyers are called to be salt and light. What does it look like to be salty? We may be called to rotten places, but we can heal. Yes, we will be in a minority. But, wherever we are, we should make things (taste) better. If the salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing – and we will lose out on the purposes God has called us to.

However, the highlight was undoubtedly the traditional Rwandan dancing. LOH had invited a Christian dance troupe to perform as a special treat for us. The women dance like cattle, making their arms look like horns and stamping their feet like hooves. With the singing, drums and whistles, it was quite spectacular!