IJM Kampala: The Very Relatives Who Took Nelson In As An Orphan Later Stole His Home

Nelson, pictured a few days after her learned that his uncle and cousin were convicted for trespassing on his home—a home that was left to him after his parents passed away.
Nelson, pictured a few days after her learned that his uncle and cousin were convicted for trespassing on his home—a home that was left to him after his parents passed away.

KAMPALA, UGANDA – When Nelson's parents died, he and his siblings faced an uncertain future until relatives took them in. But years later, Nelson would learn an awful truth: these same relatives had stolen his parents' property—a home and land that would help the orphans—and they would use lies, threats and violence to stop Nelson from getting it back.

But on July 22, after three years of IJM's work, the relatives who threatened and abused Nelson were convicted for their crimes. Now a young man, Nelson is safe, and he can look forward to building a future for himself and his siblings.

Vulnerable Orphans Deceived

Nelson was only 13 years old when his parents died. His two younger siblings were barely toddlers. Relatives took the orphans in and raised them—Nelson with his uncle and his siblings with their grandmother.

But years later, Nelson discovered that his uncle had stolen the small patch of land their father had left for his orphans.

At 19 years old, Nelson tried to reclaim his rights in order to work the land and support his brother and sister. But his relatives refused and quickly turned hostile. Nelson's uncle—who, as an elected leader in the community, had far more power than Nelson—began to harass, intimidate and threaten him. All of a sudden, Nelson lived in fear of his own family.

Violent Threats Continue

Overwhelmed, Nelson came to IJM Uganda in 2010 searching for help. He had been barely getting by on his own for a couple years, homeless and taking odd jobs to support himself. Nelson knew he had a right to his parent's home, but he knew he couldn't stand up to his uncle alone. IJM moved Nelson into a safe location and attempted to mediate with his uncle. The uncle angrily refused.

Over the next two years, IJM worked on Nelson's behalf to gather evidence, protect the orphans and resolve the dispute. But Nelson's uncle repeatedly delayed and undermined any attempts to restore the orphans' rights to their land.

Nelson wanted his 12-year-old brother to move out of their grandmother's so he could go to a boarding school. IJM would help support his brother's education at the school, where he would also remain safe. On the day Nelson went to his grandmother's to help his little brother move out, a cousin attacked Nelson. A couple days after the beating, his uncle found Nelson and threatened: "Between you and me, one of us will die."

Justice Secured and a Future Restored

The danger was escalating, and IJM set to work with local police to arrest Nelson's violent uncle and cousin. Authorities located the men in May 2012 and arrested them. But when the men got out on bail, they hid from authorities and failed to appear at scheduled court hearings. Justice was delayed for months on end. In June 2013, IJM worked with local police again to locate and successfully re-arrest Nelson's uncle and cousin. After one year and a combined 36 court sessions, both men were finally convicted for their crimes on July 19 and 22.

"[Nelson's uncle] thought he was untouchable," says IJM social worker Florence Sitenda. "Now he has revealed to the people in the community that he is not above the law. The community now knows that these acts will not go unpunished."

IJM attorney Byron Mwanje says, "This case gives us hope that courts can hear criminal cases and punish law-breakers even if the crime is committed against a family member. Nelson is grateful that the law is now standing between him and his tormentors."

IJM will help Nelson secure ownership of his rightful land, and to ensure that none of his relatives hurt or harass him again. IJM social workers will continue to support the orphans with housing, school fees and medical care.

With IJM's support, Nelson is now working to care for his younger siblings. He says, "Although our relatives have abandoned us, we must build a future for ourselves."