So what were we actually doing in Uganda?

I have been terribly negligent at blogging. For various reasons, I’ve found it very difficult to sit down and write since returning from Uganda. But here we go with post #2. If you didn’t read the first post, take a minute to read that, as it provides the introduction to what I’m about to write about.

The piece of the puzzle that our volunteer team was in Uganda to help with was in working to change the systems – specifically in the area of court reform. If we can help the courts run more efficiently, we can more quickly get justice for more widows & orphans who are victims of land grabbing.

I regularly hear of stories where a case file has gone missing (in many of the offices around the world where we work). Sometimes suspicious activity is to blame for a missing file and sometimes it’s the case of archive rooms that look like the below picture. This can delay a case for months at a time, significantly delaying justice and restoration for the victim. It causes a lot of work for the IJM team who travels to every hearing only to find it canceled and it causes continued heartache and pain for the widow who is suffering. And after this past week, I can now understand how they go missing. Take a look again at this picture (that I posted before leaving):

For reference, those beams are a little over 6 feet up. Unreal.

For reference, those beams are a little over 6 feet up. Unreal.

In asking one of the IJM staff on the legal team in Kampala how often a missing case file affects the cases they’re working on in Uganda, the answer was “regularly”.

Amazingly, IJM has built up the trust & credibility with the local government and court officials that they welcomed the opportunity to have us bring volunteers to help organize these case files (while the criminal court was in recess in August). So we brought in volunteers from different churches who were willing to sacrifice their time & money to fly to Africa to go work really hard in a very unglamorous job. They heard of a need and said send me.

It was a very abnormal mission/service trip.

Before the team got there, IJM staff had worked extremely hard to empty the above pictured archive room down into 2 court rooms, into mountainous piles by overarching case work type. In the process they had to clean off and deal with mouse and bat droppings, terrible amounts of built up dust, dirt, & debris. They had to fumigate, rip out shelves, paint, and rebuild new shelves.

So here are some pictures of the piles that were waiting for us when we arrived:

This is 1 of the 2 courtrooms that was filled with paperwork when we got there. This picture probably shows around 1/3 of the total case files we faced when we arrived. We rightly look a little bit overwhelmed.

This is 1 of the 2 courtrooms that was filled with paperwork when we got there. This picture probably shows around 1/3 of the total case files we faced when we arrived. We rightly look a little bit overwhelmed.

Towers and towers of stacks of tattered paper, very roughly bundled by decade.

Towers and towers of stacks of tattered paper, very roughly bundled by decade.

You can get a small glimpse of the quality of the files we were working with. Mostly handwritten notes, paper that was disintegrating, often littered with bat or mouse droppings, etc.

You can get a small glimpse of the quality of the files we were working with. Mostly handwritten notes, paper that was disintegrating, often littered with bat or mouse droppings, etc.

It was pretty overwhelming to walk in and see what awaited us. I heard it was 60,000 case files! We knew it was a rather impossible task. But we also knew that God was doing amazing things through IJM in Uganda and He could work amazing things through us on this trip.

Long story short, the team was awesome. The original plan was to work Tuesday-Friday, roughly 9-5pm. Because the need was so great, and much more tedious than originally estimated, they team ended up asking if they could work until 9pm or so most nights (the courthouse staff strung lights up around the courtyard where we were working so we could see after dark). They also gave up their free time, fun activity on Saturday morning (an ATV tour) in order to get another 4 or so hours of work done before having to fly out that evening. They were so hardworking, and so joyful doing it. It was a privilege to be with them.

Here’s a bit of what the process looked like:

We had runners that would bring stacks from the courtroom piles out to the courtyard where we were working. He would roughly sort them on the front end before taking the stacks over to the labelers.

We had runners that would bring stacks from the courtroom piles out to the courtyard where we were working. He would roughly sort them on the front end before taking the stacks over to the labelers.

We all wore gloves & masks to protect us from the dirt & droppings. The labelers would go through their stacks with the intention of having to hand write the proper coding on each file. They'd have to sort & label whether it was a Chief Magistrate's Court or High Court file (like local court vs the next level up of jurisdiction/appeals), if it was a civil vs criminal file, the casework type (family causes, land matters, civil appeals, etc), what year it was from and the case number within the year (case 2 of 1978, case 214 of 1995, case 77 of 2011).

We all wore gloves & masks to protect us from the dirt & droppings. The labelers would go through their stacks with the intention of having to hand write the proper coding on each file. They’d have to sort & label whether it was a Chief Magistrate’s Court or High Court file (like local court vs the next level up of jurisdiction/appeals), if it was a civil vs criminal file, the casework type (family causes, land matters, civil appeals, etc), what year it was from and the case number within the year (case 2 of 1978, case 214 of 1995, case 77 of 2011).

Can you tell I'm smiling? After labeling, the runners would bring the piles up to the sorters. We'd have to keep them separated by all of the above mentioned criteria and pile them in stacks by years.

Can you tell I’m smiling? After labeling, the runners would bring the piles up to the sorters. We’d have to keep them separated by all of the above mentioned criteria and pile them in stacks by years.

We used those shelves to help sort. With each casework type spanning at least 3 decades, it was a lot of effort to get everything sorted properly.

We used those shelves to help sort. With each casework type spanning at least 3 decades, it was a lot of effort to get everything sorted properly.

We would then file the case files into boxes, in order by year. So this is a box of civil appeal files from the Chief Magistrate's Court, in case number order from 1980-1981. You can see the hand labeling in black sharpie at the bottom of the top file.

We would then file the case files into boxes, in order by year. So this is a box of civil appeal files from the Chief Magistrate’s Court, in case number order from 1980-1981. You can see the hand labeling in black sharpie at the bottom of the top file.

Rows and piles of boxes that we were filing into. Someone said we used well over 100 file boxes.

Rows and piles of boxes that we were filing into. Someone said we used well over 100 file boxes.

As I mentioned before, the volunteers were awesome. So joyful and diligent in the work. Gary Haugen talks about the work of justice being “long and boring”. It’s the unglamorous side of justice. Not the rescue operations, but the hundreds of hours our staff spends driving to and from court cases, or in this case, the dozens of hours spent tediously pouring over tens of thousands of files. But it makes a huge difference for the one widow we’re trying to help. Earlier in the week, we split the group into two and went out into the countryside where each group had the tremendous blessing of meeting one of the women we have helped (or are in the process of helping). It was a touching experience that made the work so much more real & impacting. (I’ll write about it in a later post.) But the team was very inspired by the experience & hung up the below sign:

IMG_0989

So after hundreds of man hours spent handling tens of thousands of files, we didn’t get it all done in that week. But we got what we deemed the most important portion (and the work did get finished by another team after we left). And that Friday night & Saturday morning, we unloaded as many boxes as possible into the revamped archive room. Scroll back up to the before picture for a second…

And then check out this after picture. We never thought files could look so beautiful!

Finished I’ve skimmed over a lot of details here, but that is the gist. It was a long week of tedious work, but it sets up the court for much better efficiency, and helps our IJM legal team better serve so many more widows and orphans who truly need someone to fight for them.

Next (& soon) I will write about the absolute joy of getting to spend time with the IJM Kampala staff and about the touching experience meeting a woman our staff is walking alongside on the path to justice and restoration.

So I turned 30 on August 6th. Help me celebrate by donating to my IJM FreedomMaker campaign. I set the audacious goal to raise $3000 (100% of which goes to IJM). So far we’re up over $2,300, but the campaign ends on August 30. Let’s make an impact together.

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One thought on “So what were we actually doing in Uganda?

  1. Wow, Karen!! Thank you for taking time to share this story! The photos overwhelm me with the needs…especially remembering that every piece of paper represents someone’s life and justice crisis. So glad to be supporting the efforts of IJM!

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