Volunteer Spotlight: Faith Mulenga

Welcome to the latest installment of UP Zambia's Volunteer Spotlight Series showcasing the phenomenal volunteers that give of their time and energy to help bring freedom to Zambia's incarcerated youth. You can now hear the many varied stories and experiences of our volunteers in their own words. Thanks so much to Faith Mulenga for the skills you have brought to our organization and your commitment to the UP Zambia mission!

 Faith Mulenga

Faith Mulenga

Of all the exciting jobs I have done and all the places I have worked, none has been so full of emotions as my time with UP Zambia. I first heard of UP Zambia from a friend who shared with me the advert for interns. I then looked it up on Facebook and checked out their website. I told myself that this is something I could do. I read of the different works with the kids and I was interested. And, that is how I applied to be a Junior Intern with UP Zambia’s Justice for Juveniles Project. It has been an interesting journey, thus far, filled with all sorts of emotions especially at the beginning considering how unfair our system is towards the kids. When we began, there were juvenile cases that had been pending for months because parents/guardians were not in court. The cases were perpetually adjourned and very little effort if at all was ever made in locating the families, and, for some of my cases, the parents were not even aware that their child was incarcerated. Family tracing (physically tracking down family members based on information from the juvenile) has been the most exhausting part of the job. I found it challenging in the beginning because there are parts of Lusaka I had never been to until my work with UP Zambia.

Then there were the prison visits and seeing the conditions the kids live in. I had never been inside any prison before and what I saw was quite disturbing. The first thing I thought of was getting them brooms to clean with and now, I can actually tell the difference. The cells may not really be tidy, but they are clean. I have been to a couple of prisons since then and I am hoping to visit more. I wasn’t quite prepared though for what I encountered. My first thought was that the system would be as clear and straight forward as we learn it to be in law school. Alas! Nothing so far from the truth has ever been imagined. I have learned humility and realized that not everything that is labeled “bad” is actually bad. Some of these kids just find themselves in very unfortunate circumstances and do not deserve the intensity of punishment they have had to endure as in this one case.

 Faith and UP Zambia volunteers during a prison visit to distribute donations for incarcerated juveniles.

Faith and UP Zambia volunteers during a prison visit to distribute donations for incarcerated juveniles.

One Juvenile (I will call him Gift) travelled to Lusaka from Kasama last year for holidays. He visited back and forth between two of his Aunts’ houses as he hadn’t been to Lusaka before. On that fateful day, he was out with his newly made friends playing football when a member of the team kicked the ball too hard and it landed in someone’s yard. The then 13-year-old did not think it wrong and decided to go in and pick up the ball. As he did so, someone called him out as a thief. A mob quickly gathered and took him to the police. He spent 5 months, from November to April in jail cells before appearing for the first time in court. With his phone confiscated and no other means of communicating with his family, his case dragged on. When he was finally released in June, he had no idea how to make it home. With a friend, we decided to drop him off at one of his aunt’s houses in Bauleni. We thought it would be easy since we were with him but the poor lad could not remember directions. He had spent only 2 weeks with her and 7 months in jail. By 6pm, we abandoned the search and thought, perhaps, we would drop him off at his other aunt’s in Chawama. By 9:30pm, we still hadn’t located her either. We ended up having to book him at a lodge for the night. The next day, he was calmer and more relaxed and was able to tell me some names of his family members. I took those names and began searching for them one by one on Facebook. Eventually, I was able to find his half-brother and was luckily able to communicate with him. After 7 months, Gift was finally re-united with his family. The look on his face was golden. To date, that look helps me sleep easy looking forward to my next court date.

 Faith and the Justice for Juveniles team working at UP Zambia's office.

Faith and the Justice for Juveniles team working at UP Zambia's office.

I feel honored to belong to such an amazing organization dedicated to helping kids who are neglected, forgotten, or betrayed by society. Gift’s story is just one of many. Through my work with UP Zambia, I have witnessed an amazing correctional facility chess tournament, a talent show at the prisons, and many other exciting activities. I appreciate the experience I am getting as an aspiring lawyer and my interaction with the courts is building my confidence. Even my manner of communication with people has changed greatly and influences other outreach activities I do. When I go out to conduct meditation sessions, my preferred audience is juveniles and young adults in schools, and orphanages. Soon, I hope to hold a session at a home for street youth where I can also give a talk on juvenile delinquency and having the proper mindset to be responsible and law-abiding citizens.

Thank you UP Zambia for the amazing opportunity!

- Before her law studies and time with UP Zambia, Faith was a professional tennis player who seeded second (tennis ranking) in the regional Inter-University games which qualified her to attend the World Games in China. She also volunteered as a youth tennis coach and Psycho-Social Counselor for HIV positive youth. She joined the International Youth Action Against Terrorism where she served as Human Rights Coordinator before ascending to Vice President and was later appointed a Youth Ambassador by the Chief of International Human Rights Commission. In addition to her many activities, Faith is, currently, a Peace Architect and a mindfulness and meditation trainer with Peace Revolution.

Checkmates and Chocolate: UP Zambia's First Chess Tournament

Walking down the side streets of any Zambian village, town, or city certain sites are easy to find. Women selling piles of vegetables; men off-loading bags from dusty flatbed trucks; children kicking make-shift soccer balls made of old, plastic bags. These scenes may seem familiar to an experienced traveler, but there is another motif that may surprise you. It usually involves a small group of spectators surrounding a chess board where two players sit hunched over, calmly planning their next move.

  Photo by David Johnson

Photo by David Johnson

Chess is a classic pastime to sharpen the mind. But, while you may think this game is limited to Russian arenas or elite universities, in Zambia, it is a sport for the every-man. Schools have chess teams, high-end shopping malls have large open chess boards, and in nearly any strip of shops or market stalls you will find a checkered board surrounded by players and interested passersby.

Capitalizing on this popularity, Kelly Kapianga, UP Zambia’s director, decided to bring this competitive past-time to the youth in Zambia’s prisons.

“We needed an activity to keep them busy” Kelly confided.  “What they have in abundance is time, so we needed something sports related that could keep them engaged. So, I immediately thought of chess and draughts because it stimulates the mind and doesn’t involve too many resources or costs.”

From that, a new start-up project was born. During UP Zambia’s weekly prison visits, boys are introduced to chess through instruction about the rules of game, mentoring in strategy, and practice through free play. Then, later, if the facility allows, the boys begin preparing for tournament-style competition.

This project is not just a way to pass the time, however. During their incarceration, children are out of school and have limited access to educational resources. This leaves the youth with little mental stimulation, leading to greater cognitive losses and setting them further behind their peers once they are released.

Kelly believes the structure and mental acuity needed for the game can help offset some of the disadvantages put on these children while they are out of school.

“Chess is very intellectual,” he explains. “They can learn to strategize and how to problem solve and plan their next move which is something many of these boys have never learned before.”

Of course, not every child is a chess champion. “We also provide draughts [sometimes called checkers] for those that don’t have the interest in chess. If they are intimidated or unfamiliar, they can start with draughts and then watch the others as they play chess to build their confidence.”

Kelly himself grew up playing chess in his home village of Kasiya near Pemba in Zambia’s Southern Province.

“I had a great mentor that made me who I am today. I would always learn from him even though I was never in the chess club.”

This personal passion is something Kelly brings to the project which he wants to continue to grow as much as UP Zambia and Prison Services will allow. “It is something we can get multiple facilities involved in and do inter-prison competitions.”

Recently, the program has taken off after encouragement and support from Prison Services at Kamwala Remand Correctional Facility and Kabwe Medium Security Correctional Facility.

“We started by talking about chess among the officers that supervise the inmates,” Kelly explained.

They were immediately enthusiastic and soon many of the officers were challenging the more adept boys to friendly matches, allowing them to grow in their skills.

“We have several boys at Kamwala and Kabwe that are pretty good players!” Kelly explains, with a hint of pride. “The support we’ve received from authorities has been really positive. The commissioner general himself has great interest in the idea of tournaments.”

And with that support, the dream came alive. On May 25th, 2017, UP Zambia held its first ever chess tournament for juveniles incarcerated at Kabwe Medium Security Prison. Twenty-seven boys competed for the first-place medal, bragging rights, and quite a bit of chocolate.

 One of the boys proudly showcasing the tournament prizes. Each boy received chocolate for playing but continued to gain more chocolate bars as they progressed through the rounds. The ultimate victor earned the much coveted (and first) UP Zambia Chess Championship Medal.

One of the boys proudly showcasing the tournament prizes. Each boy received chocolate for playing but continued to gain more chocolate bars as they progressed through the rounds. The ultimate victor earned the much coveted (and first) UP Zambia Chess Championship Medal.

“It was very clear that all of the boys at Kabwe Medium, all 27, had been preparing for the tournament,” Kelly commented.

At Kabwe, many of the boys are coached by their adult caretakers and one of the prison officers. The boys usually play in the evenings after they go into their evening lockup, giving them plenty of time to practice their skills.

The event commenced on a group stage where the participants competed while other inmates, officers, and volunteers watched with rapt attention.The best in each group progressed to the knockout rounds of quarter finals, semi-finals, and finals. At the start of each match, the boys participating would receive one chocolate bar as a reward for their participation. The further you went in the tournament, the more chocolate you earned.

Faith Mulenga, an intern with UP Zambia, reflected on the competition, “Chess is not an easy game and it seldom is a game of chance. It takes planning, strategy, and calculations for one to win the game. I could see the fire in each one of the kids’ eyes as they played. I realized as I listened to their comments that it wasn’t just about the chocolates but to exhibit their mental capacity and, of course, to be the one to walk away with the ultimate prize… the medal.”

After hours of competition, Robert (whose full name is withheld for privacy reasons), emerged with the coveted metal in hand. Robert has been in detention for many years without trial. UP Zambia has been working to resolve his case and filed a constitutional petition on his behalf in February. The court has still not yet heard his case but at least for one day, victory was his.

 Robert displaying his first place medal.

Robert displaying his first place medal.

Of course, there were many valiant efforts made during the competition. One participant of note, was an Ethiopian boy, Abai, who doesn’t speak English or any local Zambian languages. He taught himself how to play chess by observing the other boys during their evening matches. His quick wits earned him a spot in the semi-finals before being bested by the day’s champion. 

“The final two games showed that the boys who'd made it to the finals deserved their spot. The quality of the chess they displayed was such that every chess coach would be proud.” Kelly commented.

When asked to reflect on the day Kelly beamed, “The actual tournament was even better than I personally had ever hoped for. The kids displayed a deep understanding of chess and strategy. Even the kids who were spectating seemed to appreciate what was going on. The atmosphere was magical- almost as if we were no longer in a correctional facility… In the end, it was a realization of one of UP's aspirations and much more. Yesterday was the achievement of a personal life goal."

Other volunteers weighed in on the success of the day. Bliss, a young man who has been volunteering with UP Zambia since his own release more than a year ago said, “[The tournament] was so impressive! We need more effort so that we can build this project!"

With any luck, Bliss may get his wish. The Commissioner General of the Correctional Service has embraced the concept of starting juvenile chess clubs in prisons across the country. UP Zambia plans to expand the chess program to all the prisons and facilities they serve including Livingstone Central, Nakambala, and Katambora. Once those clubs get started, the commissioner suggested that UP Zambia host a nationwide tournament where the boys can be brought to a central location to compete against each other. 

“It would be great to have more kids participate and perhaps we could have bigger tournament in the future to involve other correction facilities” Faith explained. “The kids are eager to learn if there is someone to teach them and to identify their capacity and help them build on it. For some that I spoke to, they never played chess before being in prison but someone helped them learn and improve on the game.”

Faith also best summarized the success of this initial tournament and the reason UP Zambia continues to fight for legal and personal well-being of juveniles by saying, “If there is one thing I learned from the tournament, it’s that a mind cannot be caged, not even in prison.”

 Post by Carrie Russpatrick

Volunteer Spotlight: Megan Keenan

We at UP Zambia decided it was time to start showcasing the phenomenal volunteers that give of their time and energy (often coming thousands of miles) to help bring freedom to Zambia's incarcerated youth. You can now hear these stories in the volunteer's own words in our Volunteer Spotlight Series. Thanks so much to Megan Keenan for the skills you brought to our organization and your commitment to the UP Zambia mission!

 Megan with the UP Zambia team as they conduct interviews with juveniles incarcerated at Lusaka Central Prison. From Left to Right: Chawezi Ng'oma, Paul Kapianga, Chimbalanga Wapamesa, Sara Larios, Megan Keenan.

Megan with the UP Zambia team as they conduct interviews with juveniles incarcerated at Lusaka Central Prison. From Left to Right: Chawezi Ng'oma, Paul Kapianga, Chimbalanga Wapamesa, Sara Larios, Megan Keenan.

I had the opportunity to spend the month of January in Zambia through the Human Right Study Project (HRSP) at Virginia Law. After a misconnect in Dubai and a couple of days of touring Victoria Falls in Livingstone and neighboring Zimbabwe, I headed to my final destination of Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. Back home, I’d been warned time and time again of culture shock—after all, this was my first trip to anywhere in the African continent—so I came in with an open mind and minimal expectations, somewhat unsure of what I’d find (aside from what my feeble attempts at background research had revealed about the state of the law on the books and the rainy season).

Upon arrival, I was lucky enough that Sara Larios of Undikumbukire Project (UP) graciously allowed me to rent out a room in her home for the duration of my stay. While I’d tried to prepare for the work in advance, I quickly gained insight into the juvenile justice system in Zambia in my few weeks in and out of different courthouses and prison facilities with UP. I found that Zambian law doesn’t provide a right to court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants, so indigent children (read: the vast majority who encounter the juvenile justice system) generally have to represent themselves. As a result, many children—after what ranges from months to years of pre-trial detention in prison facilities—are brought out of a holding pen crowded with other juvenile and adult defendants, placed before a judge speaking to them through a translator, and asked how they want to plead. If that wasn’t overwhelming enough, the juveniles have virtually no information about the case against them at this point in the proceedings. Due to a technicality in Zambia’s Criminal Procedure Code, prosecutors are able to run what’s called “trial by ambush” in which juveniles do not have to be informed of the witnesses or evidence against them prior to trial. These conditions would leave educated adults bewildered, let alone children without any legal training or assistance.

In light of all this, I learned the importance of UP’s three primary functions: first, they represent as many juveniles as possible free of charge; second, they challenge failings in the juvenile justice system to obtain better protections for children; and third, they focus on the rehabilitation process for juveniles in prisons that are largely devoid of structure or regular recreational activity aside from the occasional proselytizing religious organization. Watching UP assist juveniles before, during, and after their trials was a truly incredible experience, and I felt totally undeserving when a juvenile, whose case was withdrawn largely due to UP’s work behind the scenes, came over and shook my hand along with the rest of the legal team on his way out of the courtroom. It was undeniable that even the things that felt like small steps had real impact on children’s lives.

After my first week in Lusaka, my mom asked me if I was interested in doing this type of work in the future. I came to law school in large part because of my interest in social justice from domestic civil rights to international human rights, which is why I’d been targeting HRSP since my first month at Virginia Law. But with all of the information I’d been taking in that first week, I hadn’t been viewing the work through a forward-looking lens until she asked, and I was more apprehensive in responding than I expected. I was struck by a number of things: how hard it must feel to make the sweeping changes you’d like to see when you’re starting from the ground up and large-scale reform requires resources that just aren’t available, and—selfishly—how isolating it must feel to permanently be based hundreds of dollars and thousands of miles away from family and friends and familiarity. At first, I hedged in my answer: the work is certainly worthwhile, but it would be incredibly difficult and more than a bit lonely.

But as I continued to soak in my time in Lusaka, I was amazed by how Sara, my colleagues at UP, and the broader group of friends that Sara had built all unfailingly opened their arms to me. This community—doctors, lawyers, educators, missionaries, Peace Corps volunteers—was truly driven by service, and it was that sense of purpose (and an occasional card game) that connected this group of individuals with a hodgepodge of accents, upbringings, talents, and career interests. These inspiring people reminded me why I pursued a law degree in the first place, and their dedication to others is something I aspire to emulate throughout my lifetime.

That doesn’t mean that human rights work in Zambia isn’t still incredibly difficult. But by the time I left, I recognized that this kind of work is far from lonely. It’s hard to feel isolated knowing that communities of bright, passionate people motivated by something bigger than themselves are there for you across the globe.

Story by Megan Keenan

– Megan Keenan will begin her third year at the University of Virginia School of Law in the United States this fall. Megan spent January of 2017 working with Undikumbukire Project in Lusaka and has continued to research remotely with UP upon her return. She hopes to continue her relationship with the project in the years to come.

Funding the Dream

More than an hour outside the dusty, sprawling city of Lusaka lies the winding, green banks of the Kafue River.  It is there in Kafue Town where the only residential drug and alcohol rehab program, Teen Challenge, calls home. Sara Larios, our founder, was touring this up and coming NGO with one of the boys from UP Zambia learning about their programs and discussing potential partnerships between the two groups. It was there that she received a phone call she was not expecting.

On the other end of the line was Annika Rach, the Press, Politics and Culture Consultant at the German Embassy in Lusaka. Months earlier UP Zambia began applications with the German Embassy for the funding of human rights related projects in Zambia. As a burgeoning NGO, the team at UP Zambia works tirelessly to procure funds to support its continuing legal work and outreach projects. The process is never easy but the staff at the German Embassy provided an atmosphere of encouragement and support. Once our proposal was submitted and revisions were made, it was simply a matter of waiting for the final approval.

Annika had called to deliver the good news that funding had been approved. UP Zambia could expect 30,000 Euros to fund our program “Justice for Juveniles.” This program seeks to support juveniles in conflict with the law by placing trained law students in all juvenile courts in Lusaka to provide one-on-one guidance to juvenile defendants and their guardians with their criminal cases. This project also will engage in advocacy within the legal community on juvenile justice issues.

Following this exciting news, came another surprise,

“Can you come to the Embassy today for the signing ceremony with the Ambassador?”

Such an important event was not to be missed, but, as Sara stood on the muddy grounds of the Teen Challenge compound in the bush outside Kafue, she looked at her casual, mud-covered clothes and laughed.

“I said I could get there in an hour and thirty minutes and would have to go straight there, muddy sandals and all.” She said with the warm-hearted smile of someone used to the constant changing agenda and flexibility this job requires.

At the embassy, Sara was met by UP Zambia board members, Lwisha Shula and Kelly Kapianga.

The German Ambassador to Zambia, Achim Burkart, met with the UP Zambia team to discuss the program and provide a small signing ceremony to commemorate the upcoming partnership between the two organizations.

“The Ambassador took time to sit us down and ask for the background of UP Zambia and this specific project. He is also a lawyer so he had a lot of good on-point questions. [He] emphasized his personal interest in the project and the desire to have updates from time to time. As we left, other members of staff expressed interest in taking a day to come to court for observations as well as attending our advocacy events.” 

With the stroke of a pen, UP Zambia cemented its first major donor relationship and moved one step closer to bringing justice to one of Zambia’s most at-risk populations. We are excited to see what opportunities the program “Justice for Juveniles” will bring to legal students as well as juveniles and their families.

We would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to the Federal Republic of Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who is represented by Ambassador Achim Burkart and the many staff members including Gudrun Haider Head of Trade, Culture, Press and Political Affairs at the German Embassy in Lusaka who helped us through the application process- we cannot thank you enough for your support as we start this exciting new chapter at UP Zambia.

Post by Carrie Russpatrick

Photos courtesy of the German Embassy in Lusaka

Getting to Know Nancy

I never had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Czaicki. However, I have had the pleasure of getting to know the incredible woman she was over the past several weeks. As a volunteer with UP Zambia, I often help with finance and communications needs, allowing the main administrative team more time to tackle the countless legal cases facing juveniles in Zambia’s prison system.

As a team, we had been working on a number of grant options to help fund our programs in 2016. We were reeling a bit after receiving another grant application rejection, leaving only a small amount of funds to begin tackling the new year. It seemed that 2017 would be starting with exponentially growing programs and narrowing financial support. 

“While this is not what we had hoped, still we carry on.” Wrote our organization’s founder, Sara Larios, in her typical perseverant manner.

Soon after the disappointing grant announcements, Sara was hit by another more personal blow. Her dear friend, Nancy, passed away suddenly while visiting the US during the holiday season.

“We received a very bittersweet and unexpected source of finances.” Sara explained, “Nancy's family chose UP Zambia as the charity to receive memorial contributions.”

 Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, presents UP Zambia's founder Sara Larios with a donation from CIDRZ.

Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, presents UP Zambia's founder Sara Larios with a donation from CIDRZ.

As a result, donations began pouring in. Social Good Fund automatically sent Sara emails alerting her to each new donation, in honor of a well and truly loved friend. Each email was touching but at the same time traumatic.

“We can't seem to get the money we want and then we get the money I would never hope to receive.” She confided. It seemed we were on the receiving end of a very strange kind of blessing. One whose obvious and much needed benefit was complicated by grief.

As an outsider to the situation, I hoped to lend a hand in the difficult memorializing process. Sara sent me a link to a wonderful and in-depth article written by a news agency in Nancy’s home town of St. Louis (a heartily recommended read you can find HERE). It was there that I was formally introduced to a stunning individual, Dr. Nancy L. Czaicki. I also began to notice similarities between Nancy and myself. We were both at about the same age in life, 30. We both did our graduate work in the field of public health and had both worked here in Zambia on public health issues. Of course, much of the comparison stops there as Nancy was in a league all her own- a national merit scholar, receiving her doctorate in epidemiology after receiving her master’s and serving as an Americorps volunteer, teaching in some of United States’ most impoverished areas and reaching children most at risk of the hardships that accompany economic disadvantage. Throughout her young life, she frequently traveled overseas reaching out to communities in need in any way she could, including Zambia. She had only recently returned to Zambia as member of the CIDRZ team working to end the deadly progress of HIV/AIDS.

I began monitoring the donations page, and I found myself mourning a person I had never met. Almost every donation was accompanied by an accolade alluding to her intelligence, compassion and civic-mindedness. Frequently attributing words like “world-changing” to the work she did.

The more I began to read, the more I began to feel like Tom Sawyer, unnaturally eavesdropping on a memorial to (a better version of) myself. The concept has been sitting in my mind and heart for days now. The gift of life that I often squander. I caught myself saying, “I could never hope to receive this much support for my memorial fund.” “Do I even know this many people?” It struck me how far her kindness reached, not just in her work but in her personal life. On paper her life read like an idealized resume with scholarly accolades and community service too great to be real. But, the outpouring of love could not be denied as hundreds of people continue to flock to remember and pay homage to Nancy on our donation page (showing only a fraction of her true impact). How could a person touch the lives of so many different communities?

Her unending potential laid out before me like a tragic call to arms- at once mournful and inspiring. This singular person could do so much in such a short time, it calls us all to use the years we are given to try, in as much as we can, to do the same. She is an inspiration and an example to follow and her story will continue to be a reminder in my life of how to be the best version of myself and use the time I am given to make a more gracious and thoughtful world.

The UP Zambia community has lost a valued friend and colleague but most certainly the world suffers for her absence. It is only right for us to also thank all the wonderful people donating in her name. Due to the outpouring of love and support for Nancy and her family, UP Zambia has received over $10,000 and the number continues to grow. Her kindness and compassion for others left an indelible mark on all of us here at UP Zambia and her generosity of spirit will be felt in UP Zambia programs for years to come.

 Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, shares a much needed laugh with UP Zambia founder Sara Larios.

Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, shares a much needed laugh with UP Zambia founder Sara Larios.

We had the privilege of hosting Nancy’s mother, Cindy, and Nancy’s co-workers at CIDRZ early February of this year for a small memorial service in Nancy’s honor. At the event, UP Zambia presented Cindy with a portrait of Nancy doing the work she loved here in Zambia. The portrait was drawn by a talented young man, Keith Francis Mweseka, from Old McDonald’s Farm which partners with UP Zambia to provide aftercare and support services to juveniles we help release from prison.  Also at the service, CIDRZ presented UP Zambia with a sizable donation to Nancy’s memorial fund. It was such an honor to share UP Zambia’s work with the talented people at CIDRZ as well as with the Cindy, the woman responsible for shaping the incredible and influential person Nancy turned out to be.

 Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, holds a portrait of Nancy commissioned by UP Zambia with representatives from UP Zambia and CIDRZ.

Nancy's mother, Cindy Czaicki, holds a portrait of Nancy commissioned by UP Zambia with representatives from UP Zambia and CIDRZ.

From all of us here at UP Zambia, thank you.

 

Post by Carrie Russpatrick

Acquittal Counterfeit Case

One of our recent cases has been cause for great celebration among our team, and demonstrates how important it is for juveniles to receive legal representation at trial to ensure that their rights are protected and their cases defended when they face criminal charges in Zambian courts. “Ben” (not his real name) was accused of being involved in the counterfeiting pf local currency. Law enforcement officers testified against him, claiming that and his housemate were behind known counterfeiting operations.  But Ben persevered: he knew he had committed no crime, and wanted to fight to clear his name. Volunteer lawyers worked alongside Ben, following leads and tracking down witnesses in remote corners of Lusaka who could testify to his innocence and present his side of the story. Having heard all the evidence, the Magistrate agreed that Ben was not involved in counterfeiting and that law enforcement officers were protecting the true counterfeiters. Ben was found not guilty and released.

Without lawyers to investigate and build his defense, Ben could have faced time in prison for a crime he did not commit. Instead, he walked out of Court after months of detention. How did he celebrate his freedom? A hot shower, new clothes, lots of hugs from family and lawyers - and a strawberry milkshake. Ben is now passionate about assisting other juveniles facing similar circumstances and regularly joins in UP Zambia prison visits and helping UP Zambia volunteers track parents and witnesses for court proceedings. He hopes to find a local sponsor to help him continue his education and is interested in coming involved in juvenile justice as a career.

UP Zambia helps coordinate legal representation for juveniles like Ben, so that their rights are protected and their cases defended in court.  

Assistance for Imprisoned Ethiopian Migrants

Many of you are aware that UP Zambia has spent significant time this year working on behalf of non-Zambian migrants, primarily from Ethiopia, who have been charged with the offence of “consenting to be smuggled” into Zambia. The offence carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison under the Anti-Human Trafficking Act. We are happy to report that as of now, most of the juveniles sentenced under this law have received Presidential pardons from His Excellency the President Edgar Lungu and have returned home. This is an immensely positive development, although there is more work to be done on behalf of juveniles and adults.

Our work on this issue has taken many forms: helping co-ordinate pro bono legal representation for juveniles and adults charged with this offence; facilitating donations; developing legal advocacy materials; and liaising with a variety of stakeholders to advocate and explain why the law is harmful not just to migrants, but Zambia as a whole.

Working on behalf of imprisoned migrants was, at first, not within our field of experience, but we embraced the issue whole-heartedly given our strong belief that all vulnerable people deserve legal representation, particularly vulnerable juveniles who are far from their homes, families and culture. While the work has at times felt overwhelming, our efforts and successes reflect the model that we seek to implement in all our work: legal representation for the vulnerable in court; targeted advocacy informed by our casework, and a collaborative approach to working with stakeholders to achieve a better justice system for everyone in Zambia. We will continue our efforts on behalf of juveniles and others charged with this offence, and look forward to a day when the offence is removed from the law.

New Office Space!

UP Zambia is excited to announce that we will be opening our first office!  This is an incredible milestone for us, as we’ve spent the past two years working out of cars, living rooms, courts, prison parking lots, and our phones. It’s been great to be nimble, but as we’ve grown, the need for an office has become ever more urgent to support our volunteers, partners and the juveniles we serve. Now that the space is ours, we’re excited about the opportunities it presents: a workspace for lawyers, administrators and volunteers; a place to facilitate partnerships with other stakeholders; a collection point for donations; and a safe space for juveniles who are out of the criminal justice system.

The office is located on Alick Nkhata Road (Stand 35222) in Kalingalinga, next to Persian Carpets. Now that we have the space, our next task is to put together an office that is both a workplace and a youth-friendly space. We are looking for donations of furniture of all kinds, computers, books, games, office and school supplies, etc. For a full list of needed items please send us a message. Spread the word!