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“Paralegal work has been very important to women in our community”

An Interview with Judith Ochanda

Global Legal Empowerment Network member Judith Ochanda is a trained paralegal. She serves as Center Coordinator for Nyando Human Rights Advocacy and Development Network, or Nyahuriaden, based in Kisumu County, Kenya. Nyahuriaden began as a project of Kituo Cha Sheria in 2006, and is currently composed of twenty trained paralegals and ten human rights monitors who assist clients with access to justice.

“WE HAD THIS CASE ABOUT A VERY YOUNG LADY. She was a widow, and physically challenged.  One of our community members sent her to our justice center.

Legal empowerment is to give somebody the strength to know her rights and to know where to go when she is wronged and when her rights are violated.

Her husband had passed away. He was a farmer, the husband was a farmer, and he had a sugarcane plantation with very many acres of sugarcane. After the death of the husband the brother-in-law, the mother-in-law, and the father-in-law wanted to take away the property of the widow.

When she came to us she explained the case and we did some screening. We wrote a letter to the chief asking him to handle the matter. But later on we came to realize that the chief was taking sides with the in-laws of this client.

The chief had written a letter to the cooperative society where the widow was supposed to be taking her money from the cane proceeds. Her account was frozen and she could not get access to the money that was rightfully hers.

So we took another step. We wrote to the chief demanding that he should withdraw the matter and write a letter to the District Cooperative Officer in charge asking for release of the money. But after a week the chief still hadn’t responded.

So we decided to write another letter informing the District Cooperative Officer directly about the matter.  The District Cooperative Officer then wrote a letter to the bank manager–that is, the manager of the bank dealing with farmers who do sugarcane farming in Mulroney.

We wrote a letter to the chief asking him to handle the matter. But later on we came to realize that the chief was taking sides with the in-laws of this client.

After three days, the money was released. It was 100,000 Kenyan shillings and it was given to the widow.

To date, the woman has the money, she is doing her business, and her children are going to school.

We felt it was success because at the end of the day the chief withdrew and did not take sides. The money was given to the widow, and now she is doing business and she is doing well.

According to our customs, women are meant to stay home and take care after the children. So you find that in some of these communities, they still stay home.

Paralegal work has been very important to women in our community because you find that we are always readily available in the community, whenever they come to the justice center we are there. When we are told there is a woman suffering somewhere, we are able to go to her home, make her feel free by telling her the kind of work we do and advising her that we are going to be confidential, we are not going to share it with somebody else.

According to our customs, women are meant to stay home and take care after the children.

I didn’t know much about the law until Kituo came in and gave us some training, and I got interested. As I started my work in paralegalism I found it very challenging. I was feeling for these people who were affected, and to some extent I could even shed tears. But I have worked a lot. I have known how to handle the cases, and at least I can persevere and help people go through their cases without shedding tears in front of a client.

Legal empowerment is to give somebody the strength to know her rights and to know where to go when she is wronged and when her rights are violated. Paralegal work has helped me a lot. And it has been very important to women in our community.”

Judith Ochanda, as told to Bremen Donovan

Click here to watch other conversations in the African Voices series.

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