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Mukono widows get window of hope

By Rukiya Makuma

Women and children often face hard times when the head of the family dies. The situation is compounded if there is poverty and disease.

Jane Nalwadda, 48, is a typical case. Her husband died in 2000 leaving her to fend for their 10 children. Soon after he died, her husbands relatives threw her out of the family and she discovered she was HIV positive.

I was devastated with nothing to hold unto, she says.

She rented a small room but was thrown out last year for failure to pay rent arrears.

Constance Kyalimpa, 35, a mother of four from Kabembe village in Mukono suffered the same ordeal when she lost her husband in Aug. 2002.  She was, however, able to retain the house after International Justice Mission (IJM), an NGO based in the American capital Washington D.C, intervened.

Though not serious, she still receives threats especially from her husbands firstborn son who feels the land belongs to him. The land is question has to be shared among the nine children of the late.

Its unfortunate that most of our clients that we deal with are second wives and the conflict usually arises from the mans older kids from the first wives who feel they are more entitled to take over their fathers property leaving the younger children from the second or third wives with no shelter, Says Florence Sitenda the counseling psychologist at IJM. People do not make wills and this leaves the family in jeopardy and in constant fights about who is more entitled to own what. Sitenda says helping restoring peoples property all amounts to nothing without a sustainable source of income. That is the reason IJM partners with other local organizations like Empower and Care Organisation (EACO), Empower the child an organisation that helps in sponsoring the orphans to enable the widows and orphans live a favorable life.

IJM got sponsors to build her a house, arranged for Nalwadda to get free treatment at Hope Family Clinic in Ntinda, a Kampala city suburb and, through their legal personnel, put a caveat on her late husbands land.

The land in question is a small piece of land, but I have to fight if my children are to have a roof over their heads, she says. EACO pays for four of her children to attend school.

Though not well off, I can now afford a smile ever since I got to know about IJM, she says.  She learnt about the IJM through Hope Mission, an organisation that was teaching legal education programmes focusing on succession law in Mukono.

Kyalimpa got pigs from EACO and was taught to make beads.

I hope to save enough money to buy a plot of land where my children and I can have a peace of mind, she says.

Shadrack Kyobe, EACOs Programme Director says, through income generating activities, project beneficiaries gain the money with which to make decisions and will be able to define their lives.

EACO trains clients in income generating activities like poultry farming, mushroom, vegetable, and banana growing. The women are also taught entrepreneurial skills like making art and crafts and shop keeping. So far 70 widows and elderly women have benefitted from EACO projects.

IJM operates in places with existing laws to protect people especially widows, orphans and the vulnerable. In Uganda they base on the Land law to help widows who have been victimised by illegal property seizure since 2008.

Laura Stewart, a Communication Fellow at IJM, says they use mainly mediation to help the widows regain their property.

It is always better to settle the matter as a family because it bridges on the hatred but at times we are put in a tight spot when the relatives are not willing to cooperate with us, she says.

In such cases, especially if the perpetuator is violent, then they have no choice but to go to court.

IJM currently operates in Mukono Town council and in the villages of Kyampiza, Nakyisunga, Naama and Goma all in Mukono district. It finds it easier to build relationship with the Local Councils and police to enable cases move faster.  Laura  says IJM could move to northern Uganda if funds become available.

On April. 18 EACO received a grant of US$5000 in partnership with IJM from the US Mission to Uganda under the Ambassadors Special Self-Help Fund to oversee a microenterprise program benefitting the orphans and widows served by IJM. The funds will help IJMs widowed clients in Mukono to train and offer startup business supplies they need to become self sufficient. Up to 40 widows have been identified by IJM and are already working with EACO.

Though right to property is protected under the constitution and the 1998 Land Act, widows and orphans often fall prey to greedy relatives who seize their possessions, issue threats and physically attack them. IJM carried out as study that showed that over half of widows and orphans in Mukono had experienced property grabbing. It is determined to change that.

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