Thirty five women, one strength and one spirit


Some of the 35 women belonging to Upendo Jamii in Kakonko, Kigoma who together took full advantage of readily-accessible legal aid and eventually recovered the group’s land ownership documents that a former chair chose to withhold at the end of her term in office.

In the District of Kakonko in Kigoma 35 charming, hospitable women belong to Upendo Jamii, an entrepreneurial group that was formed in 2008 for the purpose of uplifting its members economically, and along the way collectively tackle the challenges of poverty that women often experience at a higher rate than men.

Over the years, the group has raised chickens to grow its members’ incomes, but that project was terminated following a pandemic that wiped out their entire flock.

Today the women knit decorations on bed sheets, sew, sell a variety of goods at the marketplace and also grow kidney beans on 3 acres of land that they own. An attempt to snatch the group’s rightful ownership to their land brought them to the doorstep of WASHEKA, the local paralegal organization’s office.

Every three years, the group elects a new chair and in 2017, one year after the new leader assumed office, a period of turmoil began to unravel after the outgoing chair refused to hand over office credentials, in respect of ownership of the 3 acres of land.

Efforts to follow up on the important documents were met with claims that, they were lost or burned in a small fire accident in her home.

“Having spent an entire year going back and forth, we finally sought advice on what precisely to do. One group member’s husband is a paralegal at WASHEKA, he was very helpful and he asked us over to their office. The troublesome former chair was called in and we were advised to report the issue to the police, however, at the police station we learnt that, taking that route would prolong the matter.  So, we instead returned the case to the paralegal organization,” says Bertha Munyogwa, the group’s loans officer.

Back at the WASHEKA office, the former chair was made aware of the legal consequences of her actions, which convinced her enough to yield. Not too long, afterwards, she returned the land ownership credentials, which the members discovered were not the original copies, which they signed when they purchased the land.

Immediate efforts were made to locate the person, who sold them the land, so that he could rewrite the sale agreement. He was reached in a neighbouring district, and the group sent representatives over for the new documents.

Bernadeta Nkoronko, one of paralegals that helped the women says, “We arranged for the new documents to be handed over formally, and that spelled the end of the wrangle. Prior to that, the issue had taken several turn, because it was clear the former chair had no intent to avail the documents, and she was keen to appropriate the land for her personal gains;

“This was unlawful and could have had serious consequences for her, something she finally grasped and acted accordingly. I’m delighted that, our office played a crucial role in resolving this predicament in an amicable manner, and that now these women are moving ahead with their plans uninterrupted,” she says.

“As we speak, we have casual workers preparing the land for the impending planting season, and we intend to grow beans again because last year our crop wasn’t successful due to heavy rains. We harvested 18 cans and sold 14 of them at TSh.40,000 each keeping 4 as seed for this season. These positive steps wouldn’t have materialized had we failed to reclaim our right,” adds Munyogwa.

The group’s current chair, Evodia Kayago, says that, they are encouraged by the spirit that exists among the members, which pushes them to accomplish more and never give up.

“We have created a very strong bond among ourselves and this provides plenty of support both emotionally and financially. We access loans that allow us to pay for our children’s school fees as well as address any other vital issues that come up from time to time in our homes,” she tells us.

Adelina Wilson, a member says that, belonging to such a group is vital because women have numerous needs that under normal circumstances require an extra hand to address.

“I have learnt to knit designs on bed sheets and when I sell them I’m able to repay the loan that I will have taken out to purchase the sheets and rolls of wool after providing for my family’s daily needs. I urge other women to join these groups because in here your mind is exposed to new ideas and it’s stretched to think beyond the usual;

“When we didn’t have the land ownership documents, it felt very uneasy but the help that paralegals extended to us gave us our right back and since then each member has benefitted from the crops that we have been growing and selling”, she concludes.

Upendo Jamii represents thousands of other women’s groups across the country which in addition to receiving legal aid from time to time frequently access legal education too.

Under LSF’s Access to Justice Program, paralegals also empower such women’s groups by providing them with vital knowledge and skills necessary for running their affairs.

These efforts are a deliberate bid to unite women in endeavours to uplift themselves economically and help build a better, stronger society that knows, respects, protects and promotes women’s and girls’ rights.

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