Last blog: In Dubai, thinking about what the IJM driver told me

  • 31 August 2017
  • Property grabbing, Uncategorized

Dear world,

Just like that it’s done.

I’m not in Uganda now, I’m sitting in Dubai’s airport with all the anonymous and cloned duty-free shops. It feels like I’ve just been down the worm hole.  I hope you’ve come with me.

You all know I’m not a professional writer, but a volunteer, and it turned out to be much harder to write a blog than I thought. How do you write as yourself, and an organisation as well?  How do you observe the things that are going to be most interesting to that invisible audience? How do you translate experience into words? How do you stay accurate enough to catch something of the complexity and wonder of sitting with a social worker, while tears prick the corner of your eyes as she summons her unshakeable belief in the value of women, when what you see is that her country doesn’t show the same care?

How do you share that the road edges are not neatly drawn, but punctuated by potholes and drawn with a rough hand? How do you tell them that in Kampala, even in the posh hotel that you stayed in, all the pictures are crooked, the lamp doesn’t have a bulb, and that with such great need outside, it makes you want to curl up and hide before mentioning it?

How does one week of training for 30 prosecutors and almost as many magistrates make a difference?

Did the team do well enough for this to spark any sort of lasting change?

I’m sitting in a sanitised business centre typing this to you out there in e-land.  The air-conditioning hums white noise and it’s comforting.  I’m waiting to leave and go on holidays somewhere privileged and western.  It’s going to be amazing.  But I’m going on my holiday altered, full of thought, and yet wordless.  My experience doesn’t fit into categories.  I don’t know the answers to the big questions. That’s going to take some time.

Maybe as a parting gesture, I can try and share some of things that I do know.

I know that the staff at IJM are passionate about their work.  Even IJM’s drivers see the difference in widows from the beginning to the end of their case.  One driver sat with me to give his point of view.  He wanted me to know that he is there at the start, and the widows are often dirty, broken-hearted and homeless. He said that women of 28 look 40 (in Uganda that translates as old) and by the end when they and their land has been restored, they look 18.

I know that they take great care with the clients they work with.  You can trust that each is treated as a highly valuable human.  Women’s and children’s rights are in safe hands at IJM.

I know that the IJM team works beyond hard to bring about individualised and creative solutions, often with little resource.

For example, the program director showed photos of a new centralised filing system in one of the courts, so that files don’t get lost or corrupted.  It can’t fail to speed up cases.

I know that they take great care to build relationships with existing judicial systems, evidenced by Uganda’s Director of Public Prosecution, Justice Dr Mike Chibita, being present at the opening and closing days of the training.

I know that the public prosecutors I met, who work under very challenging employment conditions, also universally spoke about their jobs with a fire for justice.  They were engaged in the training, and by the end of the week were confidently cross examining on land grabbing litigation.

I know that the Australian team who went were passionate about providing excellent education, collaborating with and encouraging their Ugandan counterparts.  I saw them in action, and I reckon I even learned enough for some sort of diploma.  It was high quality education.  They are high quality humans.

I know that there were conversations about how to make this one week of training long-lasting and a genesis for change.

I know that something is different in me now.

I can’t explain it yet. There’s too much noise and experience to sort through. The need is so great that it hurts me. The work is so hard and heavy. The road ahead, potholes and all, is long. But given what I’ve seen, I am hopeful for Uganda.

Thanks for reading.  Hopefully my words are useful in a small way to bring change.

All kindest regards,



About the author
Dr Sara Townend is a GP with a young family living on the Northern Beaches in Sydney. On Friday 18 August 2017 Dr Townend departed to Uganda as IJM’s volunteer doctor for a week. The team of Australians judges, magistrates and barristers that she is travelling with will be training their local counterparts in how to prosecute the crime of land grabbing committed against some of Uganda’s most vulnerable.


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