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Access to Justice

If people don’t have a voice, then what is it all for?

By Tine Frank

You can improve people’s farms, increase the number of children enrolled in schools, treat – and even eradicate – diseases.

But, a legitimate question posed by many activists is this: If people don’t have a voice, then what is it all for?   

In countries such as Uganda – where people have suffered decades of conflict and turbulence – corruption, abuse of office and human rights violations are all major problems.

People are often too scared to speak out. Many people simply do not know they have a right to question their leaders.

“I never said anything or demanded anything from anyone in government because I didn’t know that I had the right to make demands,” says Samuel Odeng, Chairperson of the Odoot United Youth Group.

The Odoot United Youth Group is one of more than three hundred community organisations to be trained and empowered by Trócaire partners. The 18-month project aims to give people the knowledge and confidence to begin to ask questions of local and national government.


The Odoot United Youth group

Caption: Top and Bottom: The Odoot United Youth group: Charles Emonwait, 27, Betty Amuron 25,  Julius Oboro 28, Samuel Odeng 30, Aleher Augustin 26, Charles Okwele 20. Middle. A schoolgirl outside the local school which has received an extension thanks to the successful lobbying of Odoot United Youth group.

“This project taught us that it is our right to be able to access information and to have a voice,” says Samuel. “They told us that a group is stronger than an individual, and showed us the different steps we would have to go through in order to demand our rights.”

Already, this project is reaping real results.

“We approached the school management committee and said ‘Is our school not under the government? Why is there no money for our school?’” explains group member Charles Emonwait.

The school management committee were themselves unaware of how to access government funds and so it was the youth group who ended up using their new-found knowledge to educate the local leaders.

Thanks to their intervention, a new school extension was secured.

When construction was underway and contractors were trying to use sub standard materials, the community members felt sufficiently emboldened to speak out.

“Because of our involvement from the beginning we had all the information and were able to spot the cheaper materials and protest until it was corrected,” says Charles.

The Odoot Youth group with the children in the local primary school

Caption: The Odoot Youth group with the children in the local primary school.

The group also used their new sense of power when it came to rehabilitating boreholes for drinking water.

“We heard that an NGO was donating four boreholes to our sub-county,” Charles recalls. “Our village only had one functioning borehole, so we were hopeful that the new ones would be located here. But we found they were to be built in another village that already has several boreholes. That village is where all the top district officials live and that is where most of the money goes. So we called a district meeting to put our case forward, and now we have one newly rehabilitated borehole and three more under construction.”

The new borehole has reduced the time spent on collecting water from four hours each day to just 20 minutes.

“We have to ask for better services, so that our children can access them,” Samuel says. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get. But we never had the confidence to ask. We were shy, we would feel like fools. Now we are free. Free and happy!”

Akellot Petra at the bore hole

Caption: Akellot Petra at the bore hole.  All photos: Tine Frank.

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