LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Irene feared she would never win back the land her uncle stole from her family years ago. But with the support of IJM Zambia and a special friendship with her IJM social worker, Irene is now able to celebrate this week that her rights are finally restored.
Left Struggling by Her Uncle’s Greed
After Irene’s father died in 1987, her uncle stole all of his remaining property, including a house that Irene’s mother used to rent out for a small income. Without rights to the land and house, her mother struggled to meet their family’s basic needs, but was too intimidated by the uncle to ever stand up for herself.
Years later, Irene was worried about being forced to drop out of school because they were so poor. At 23 years old, she had dreams of going to college to become a social worker. It was then that her grandmother told her about the stolen land, and Irene realized standing up for their rights could help lift her family out of poverty.
Irene came to IJM Zambia in 2006. IJM defended her rights in court, but her case met frequent and frustrating setbacks for the next eight years. Irene often thought about giving up—but each time she found the courage to press on with help from her IJM social worker, Joy.
Her persistence paid off. On February 12, the judge ruled in Irene’s favor and ordered her uncle to return the land and property he stole.
“I have been very frustrated and hurt each time we went to court,” Irene says. “But this time after the judgment I was excited."
Tears of Celebration
When Irene returned to the IJM office with her attorney after the hearing, she ran immediately to Joy and started crying. Joy says, “I thought at first they must have lost the case, but it turned out those were tears of happiness after eight long years.”
Joy says, “It’s one of the oldest cases we have, and it’s a great relief that we received that judgment…It’s good to know there’s finally an end.”
Throughout the trial, IJM helped Irene pay for university and invited her to volunteer with the Aftercare team to use her skills. By chance, one of the IJM clients she had gotten to know was at the office on the day Irene received the judgment. The women hugged and cried together in celebration.
Encouraged by this victory in the civil case, Irene and IJM staff will continue to pursue the ongoing criminal case against her uncle for the land thefts.