MBALALA VILLAGE, UGANDA – 17-year-old Rose and her mother Namusisi step off a small bus in their home village. Even with her IJM attorney and social worker following closely behind, Rose looks nervous. Wind whips sheets of orange dust from the road, as the group of women cross the road and walk toward a weary brick house. The widow Namusisi smooths the bold print of her dress against the gale.
For so long, this moment seemed out of reach – but now, she and her daughter are home.
Onlookers gather to watch the women from a cluster of shops next door, curious to witness the moment that has eluded these women for many months. By the end of the afternoon, Rose will hold the keys to her rightful home once again.
Forced from their Land, a Family Struggles to Survive
When Rose’s father died, he did not leave a will. As is customary when there is no official document, clan leaders intervened to distribute the inheritance, equally dividing the land among his children. One small plot was granted to Rose and her two siblings. Another plot was given to her stepbrother, Fred.
The little patch of land Rose had rightfully inherited could have been home – but there was a powerful force to contend with: her own step-brother, Fred. After their father’s death, Fred had quickly sold his own inheritance – a prime shop front in town. But as the eldest child in the family, Fred apparently felt entitled to more. He forcefully moved into the small house that belonged to Rose and his other stepsiblings and began selling off portions of the land he and his struggling siblings were meant to share, accumulating profits for himself.
Rose and her mother had travelled to Kampala in an effort to find work – but the income they were able to scrape together selling gravel was only just enough to pay for a room to sleep in. Everything – clothing, medicine, even food – became a luxury. All of Rose’s siblings dropped out of school and moved in with scattered relatives. The family was desperate and falling apart.
A family meeting failed to reconcile the dispute, ending instead with bitter insults. Namusisi and Rose were defenseless against Fred, who, as a man, had more power in the rural community and the support of a collection of aunts and other relatives.
But Namusisi and Rose found an advocate. A Local Council chairman – an official in charge of community issues – referred the family’s case to IJM Uganda.
When she met with IJM attorneys for the first time, Namusisi cried out of frustration and desperation – her family’s future depended on the very modest home that seemed hopelessly out of reach.
IJM acted quickly and coordinated a new mediation meeting for the family. And this time, with strong advocates in the room representing Rose and Namusisi, Fred could not maintain his position that stealing the property of his very poor and very vulnerable relatives had been his right.
Attorneys explained to Fred that interfering with Rose’s inheritance had legal consequences, including strict fines and even time behind bars. Fred resisted at first, but his arrogance would not stand against the law. The matter was settled in the meeting: Fred would vacate the home intended for Rose and her siblings.
The keys are back in the hands of their rightful owner.
Even though Fred is finally gone, much work remains before the home will live up to the bright promise it holds. One holey tin sheet covers the single window, scattering neat shafts of light inside. Stones and trash left behind by Fred litter the craggy cement floor. Half the house sits open to the elements – Fred had removed the iron roofing sheets and sold them before he left.
Home Again: The Future is Bright
Despite the rough edges, Namusisi and her family see potential. Located near a busy road, the home would be a prime spot for a small business in the village. With the support of IJM’s aftercare team, Rose is exploring opportunities to begin a tailoring program. And the family is eager to work hard towards a better future, together
While the IJM attorney organizes the official transfer of the house, Namusisi and her daughter laugh in the shade with their social worker. Rose, the Local Council chairman and a witness sign the official transfer contract; Namusisi, who cannot read or write, presses a proudly inked thumbprint. After signing, Rose cradles a silver key and secures the newly-installed padlock on the front door. Applause erupts and she giggles bashfully.
Now, Rose’s nerves have calmed. She is not worried about more abuse from her stepbrother. With legal ownership of this house, her family will have just enough to finally feel secure.
Jingling the keys in her hand and joking with her mother, the nervous girl glows. Her future looks promising after all.