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:

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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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Back from Uganda

Uganda Roadside

I am back from Uganda. In a nutshell, it was an amazing week.

I had really good intentions of blogging along the way… but then life happened. I learned quickly that a wifi connection was hard to come by in Uganda, even when the hotel said “they’re working on it” & “it should be working again soon”. Three days later and still no internet… Then there were the nights that, after a very full day, it took 2 hours to get our dinner, and afterwards I was way too exhausted to function well (let alone write). And finally, our days were so packed that there were only 10 minutes here or there on sporadic days to check in with the world, when there was functioning internet.

So here I am, arriving back at home, jet-lagged but with a full heart.

Where to start…

IJM in Kampala, Uganda works to secure justice for widows & orphans who are victims of property grabbing. A quick typical story – a woman’s husband dies and shortly thereafter (if not at the funeral itself) a relative from the husband’s side (a brother or uncle, or sometimes a neighbor) will swoop in and threaten her and her children with violence, claiming her land for themselves. They might destroy her crops, threaten her children with machetes, or push the house in on them while they sleep. She has nowhere to go, no one to fight for her, and she and her children (who are extremely poor to start with) are left with absolutely nothing. No shelter, no crops, no livelihood.

It is a very unfamiliar story to those of us living in the west. But this is her terrifying reality.

In a three year period from 2005 to 2007, 30% of the widows and orphans surveyed in IJM’s project area had become victims of property grabbing when their husband or parent died.

But this week, I met the heroes who are saying “not on my watch”. The IJM staff who stand up beside her and say “we are going to fight for you and we are not going away”. They are a group of truly remarkable people.

In a simplified description, IJM seeks to secure her land for her, to hold the perpetrators accountable for their crimes, to stand beside her in the process of restoration & empowerment, and to change the systems in place so that this crime doesn’t happen anymore.

Incredibly, since 2008 IJM has brought relief to well over 650 victims of property grabbing crimes. (That number is almost a year old too.)

So, what were we doing there?

The piece of the puzzle that our volunteer team was there 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 victims.

Along the way, I was specifically seeking a chance to interact with our staff, to learn from them to better understand the work being done in Uganda. As a marketer, if I can better understand the work, I can help communicate the story more effectively.

In the coming days I’ll write about our adventures at the court house, reflections from spending time with the IJM staff, from going to a rural Ugandan church, and maybe most notably, I’ll share with you the story of meeting one of the incredibly strong widows we are still in the process of walking alongside.

By the way, I’m turning 30 on Tuesday. Help me celebrate by donating to my IJM FreedomMaker campaign. I set the audacious goal to raise $3000 (100% of which goes to IJM). Let’s make an impact together!

Some IJM Uganda & US staff, together at church on Sunday

I’m going to Uganda!

Tomorrow, I leave for Uganda. Is this actually happening? Uganda.

This will be my first time to Africa. A whole new continent. A whole new world to explore. It’s been over a year since my last big international adventure. And as anyone who has traveled much internationally can attest, it becomes a bit addicting. Travel really is good for the soul.

This will also be my first time visiting an IJM field office. Something straight off of my bucket list. In Uganda, in general, IJM fights for widows & orphans who have been victims of land grabbing. Check out my post Freedom Friday: Caring for Widows to learn more about this amazing work.

So the trip is here, but I can still hardly believe it. I just learned I’d be going a month ago and these last 4 weeks have gone by in a total blur.

Are you ready for the fun-to-explain part? The overall purpose of the trip is to take some volunteers from wonderful church partners of ours and go organize the paperwork in the archive room of the High Court of Jinja.

Why would anyone even need to do that? Why would the government of Uganda let a group of Americans come ruffle through their official papers? And what good will that accomplish?

All are excellent questions. I’ll answer all of these in future posts, so you’ll just have to keep coming back!

In addition to that official and original purpose of the trip, I also have some marketing objectives to cover, and will also have the privilege of getting some good, quality time with the IJM staff in our Kampala office. The real heroes who are out there changing lives.

For now, please do really go check out the earlier post Freedom Friday: Caring for Widows and learn more about the incredible work IJM is doing in Uganda.

Oh, and did I mention, below is what the archive room in the High Court of Jinja looks like. Yup, that’s what we’re up against… It’s going to be quite an adventure! But definitely making a tangible impact we’ll be able to see!

Jinja Court Archive Room

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Also, I’m turning 30 two days after I return! This year, I wanted to do something to make a bigger impact, so I started an IJM FreedomMaker birthday campaign with the audacious goal of raising $3,000 in honor of turning 30. 100% of funds raise go to fund IJM’s work. Will you please consider joining me & helping change some lives?

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