What did you learn about your own country from this experience?
The trip back to Uganda was truly enlightening. I do not think I had ever had the opportunity or time to appreciate the work that lawyers in Uganda, especially young lawyers, are doing to promote human rights, particularly economic, social, and cultural rights. We met lawyers that were passionate about these rights, and were working diligently to promote them particularly in rural areas where people lack access to lawyers, live in poverty, are mostly illiterate and unaware of the rights they have. Despite the limited staffing that these organizations have, they are making a difference in the lives of Ugandans.
I was particularly impressed with Barefoot Law, an organization that uses technology and traditional methods to provide free legal services, and the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), which promotes effective understanding of monitoring, implementation, and realization of economic and social rights in Uganda.
What stands out as the most memorable meeting or field visit?
We took a field trip with ISER to a rural community in Kayunga District very close to Kampala city. During our trip we visited a primary school and a health center. The health center we visited catered for people who usually walked for miles to seek medical attention. The majority of the patients are pregnant mothers, who sometimes have to walk many miles while in labor or are carried on a motorbike. The building and equipment were very old, and the staff on hand would not be able to handle serious medical emergencies.
The Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER) works with people in the community as well as the medical personnel to monitor different health centers in this district. They monitor whether the patients are receiving treatment, whether the health center receives drugs from the government, and whether the health care professionals are doing their job. ISER also provides ‘know your rights’ sessions on the right to health for the people in the community. For years, I watched news and read various stories about our poor health care system, but have been privileged enough to visit either the better government hospitals or private hospitals where I could seek medical attention. I was quite impressed with the work ISER was doing. I left having acknowledged my own privilege in my society, and with the zeal to do more to help the people of my country through my work.
As a Ugandan, what would you most hope Penn Law students took away from their visit?
I hope the Penn Law students were able to learn from a different culture and appreciated the differences. Often the rhetoric about the African continent is negative, depicting only wars or civil strife, famine, conflicts, dictatorships and other negative aspects. The students on the Uganda trip were very excited to embrace a new culture and delve into Uganda’s uniqueness. I appreciate their openness to embracing new things, and one of my fondest memories was watching my fellow classmates join a group of traditional Ugandan dancers and dance energetically to some traditional music.
In March of 2017, Professor Regina Austin led a delegation of Penn Law students to Kampala, Uganda as part of her innovative Global Research Seminar. This seminar explored how Ugandan lawyers and legal institutions are organizing to support advocacy aimed at expanding and enforcing economic, social, and cultural rights, particularly in the areas of education, property rights, and health care. Particular attention was paid to Ugandans’ use of digital media to reach ordinary citizens in order to educate them regarding their economic, social, and cultural rights. The final product from this seminar was a documentary project that incorporates our students’ field-based research. Amanda Nasinyama served as the Teaching Assistant for this seminar. Amanda came to Penn Law from Uganda as our annual LLM Human Rights Scholar. She had earned her first degree in law from Makerere University, whose Refugee Law Project was an important strategic partner in executing this program.
This piece originally appears in the 2017 Global Affairs Review.