The calm waters of Lake Tanganyika belie the grim realities that face many residents of communities near the shores of this famous body of water in western Tanzania. In the village of Kirando located in the district of Nkasi, Rukwa lives Lillian Ally, a vendor who, amongst other things, sells fish she purchases on the sandy shores of the lake and supplies around the village.
Lillian has been able to operate these small enterprises and manage to look after her two children after winning a divorce under Islamic tenets, to which she subscribes, and was awarded some of the possessions that her former husband sold without consulting her that’s denying her the right to fair treatment. This favourable outcome that has enabled her to get this far was achieved through the work of paralegals working in the district of Nkasi under the mentorship of Kaengea Environment Society (KAESO) which coordinates the availability of free legal aid and education in the entire region of Rukwa under a programme funded by the Legal Services Facility (LSF). These paralegals routinely convene public meetings that they use to extend free legal aid and education and generate awareness of their work which is how Lillian became acquainted with them and sought their help.
She says briefly, “I tied the knot with Hassan Abdul under Islamic arrangements in 2012 after being forced to leave high school after becoming pregnant by him. But just three years on our marriage was rocked by turmoil after he became involved in an extra-marital relationship with a woman and abandoning me and our two children in the rented home we lived in. As their relationship deepened he moved out and stopped supporting our children and went further and sold our house which at the time was under construction without involving me”.
Hassan’s new relationship brought about extreme difficult for Lillian who constantly battled thoughts of what she would do to extricate herself from her daily challenges without any certain help at hand. She felt of no value as a woman and every time she looked at her children her mind was overwhelmed with questions to which she had no easy answers, but she believed, with some trepidation that someday her tribulations will end.
Amongst other things that she and Hassan accomplished together was the early stages of constructing their house which went ahead while they lived in rented accommodation where he left her and their children. To guarantee herself some semblance of a modest living and care for the children she embarked on vending, selling a variety of things including fish, however Hassan returned swindled her out of her money she had saved to expand her capital, sold their furniture and fishing nets, and left never to return.
Trying hard to face her situation head-on and after exhausting all other remedial options failed to yield fruit she sought a breakthrough by engaging paralegals with the help of Wilbroad Nzumi, the local village chair. Nzumi has on numerous occa- sions worked with the paralegals and Lillian’s case was neither unfamiliar nor impossible to address.
“The allegations levied against Hassan appeared very serious and as is standard procedure we sought audience with them in the presence of the village chair and we heard both sides of the case. Despite the fact that it wasn’t a straight-forward deliberation, we were still able to use the occasion to enlighten the couple on pertinent laws and rights within the confines of marriage. Their marriage was Islamic and Hassan was allowed an opportunity to lay bare his stance and he opted to issue a divorce so that Lillian could lead her own life away from any inconveniences. A few days later he presented her with the formal divorce”, says Filbert Milambo, the paralegal that took up Lillian’s case.