People in rural areas need paralegals

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Lilian Ishengoma and Bony Matu are average citizens who made a life changing choice, not just for themselves but for many members of their communities. They both agreed to be trained as paralegals and they are helping fellow citizens to gain access to what is constitutionally their legal right, access to information and legal assistance.

They became paralegals for different reasons, at different times but both did so through the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).

The LHRC, an international recognized organization, has been operating in Tanzania for 15 years. The mission of the LHRC is to strive to empower the public, promote, reinforce and safeguard human rights and good governance in Tanzania. Throughout the years, the LHRC has received complaints regarding Land disputes, women and children’s rights, marriage disputes, environmental pollution and police brutally to name a few. Mobilizing and educating different communities in Tanzania has become a key objective for the centre.

One way for the LHRC to assist Tanzanians is to bring legal aid closer to the people, within their communities, through paralegals. For several years members of the LHRC have been going to communities all over Tanzania in search of everyday citizens who will be interested to be trained as paralegals and help their communities gain access to legal aid.

 
 Conducting seminars and workshops throughout the country is one way of helping the citizens, going a step further and training ordinary people to become paralegals has been a fruitful objective. Through funding from organizations such as the Foundation for Civil Society the LHRC is able to train these paralegals. Recent funding from the Foundation for Civil Society provided training for 21 paralegals from 15 districts of 8 regions.

Lilian Ishengoma, a primary school teacher by profession, is from Bariadi in Mwanza. She became interested in becoming a paralegal in 2008 after two LHRC officers visited her home town looking for candidates. After various training sessions, in Mwanza and Dar Es Salaam, Ms Ishengoma was ready to start assisting her community members with legal advice. She wanted to become a paralegal because she was tired of the social problems in her community. In her opinion most of these problems were easily to settle but led to horrible conclusions, with sometimes people losing their lives.

The land area where Ms Ishengoma comes from is huge and the number of police covering it is in adequate.  Most villagers are pastoralists with a male dominance culture, marrying as many as three to five wives. Most women are mistreated in their marriages and when they live their husbands traditionally they are not entitled to anything, not even rights over their own children. Land disputes are plenty but also witch craft cases are in abundance. Historically people took the law into their own hands and often the situation escalated leading family to feud and fight with machetes.

Ms Ishengoma explains, ‘We face a lot of challenges when we set out to help individuals, especially in the rural areas. Lack of education is a major setback. Traditional customs are also a major challenge as they are not always in sync with national laws. The good thing about Bariadi is people are genuinely afraid of police and the courts. Once you educate them and let them know their actions can lead to police intervention or court appearances, in most cases they listen to you and disputes are settled easily.’

 
Mr Boni Matu comes from the neighboring region of Mara, from Tarime, he is an
accountant by profession. He started training as a paralegal in 2000. Tarime had a national high record of family feuds and clan fights that it was declared a special police zone. Mr Matu says his region faces many challenges legally. Traditional customs, the increase presence of special police in the area and the headstrong nature of the people make it very challenging in solving legal disputes.

Ms Ishengoma and Mr Matu are some of the people who received training from the LHRC and are qualified individuals licensed to provide legal services to the public. They strive to create awareness and educate people on their legal rights. Bony Matu says, ‘We try to reach as many places as possible, although sometimes it can be difficult to reach certain areas due to restrictions such as poor road infrastructure. The seminars and workshops we provide have been a great help to many citizens, we receive a lot of feedback and communication from the people we have assisted. It is very encouraging to see people becoming aware and more involved in trying to protect their rights.’

However he does point out there is a long way to go in his area to solve historical issues such as children and female abuses. For example traditionally women are not entitled to own land. Also, special value is placed on boys, therefore if a family is financially strapped, boys will be educated while girls stays at home waiting to be married, even if the girl was doing well in school and acing her exams. Female genital mutilation practices are still very much accepted and encouraged. To avoid the crackdown by law officials combating the practice, parents are now circumcising girls of a much younger age to avoid detection. 

In Mr Matu’s opinion more paralegals are desperately needed in rural areas. He says this because of the success he has seen in Tarime. He wishes every village in the country had a paralegal, because if it was possible to bring changes in Tarime it will be possible to change the whole nation.


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