Sunday, June 15, 2008

Timap for Justice

Niloufar Khonsari is working at Timap for Justice this summer in
Magburaka, Sierra Leone. Below she shares some of her experiences:

The first picture is of me and some workers doing an investigation at a gold
mining site. An American gold mining company has failed to pay its workers for their services and since terminated them. Through Timap for Justice, we went to the site to speak with the manager of the site and to do further investigations before writing a letter notifing the company, the labor office, and the police station.

The second picture is of me talking with the paramount chiefs during a travel clinic. The chiefs in the town of Malong confiscated farmland from one farmer eleven years ago and fined him several times for removing a neighboring farmowner's vegetables. There has been no oversight, and this poor farmer has been unable to pay his fines because he has not been permitted to harvest his bananas from his farm. Timap for Justice is holding a formal meeting with the paramount chiefs and the farmer next week after conducting some investigations with the local court (where the issue was also brought, but allegedly ignored).

A recent United Nations Development Program ranking of health, education, and standards of living ranked Sierra Leone last out of 177 countries. The World Bank classified Sierra Leone as "severely indebted." The minimum wage is only about 21,000 per month (ca. US$ 7.00 per month). Corruption is massive, and "justice" (as in most places in the world) is only accessible to the wealthy.

The injustices I have read about, seen, and felt recently, has made my last month's work with the NGO I am interning at that much more rewarding. It is truly an invaluable organization in a country with so many injustices and paralyzing poverty. Being surrounded by amazingly beautiful and strong people, facing the kind of poverty and problems that I wish on no one but am grateful to be able to help address, and learning from the paralegals and founders of the organization, have made my time with Timap for Justice a humbling and invaluable experience.

Sierra Leone is divided up into chiefdoms and districts. I live in the Tonkolili district, under the Kholifa Rowalla Chiefdom. In the last month, the organization for which I have been working as a legal intern, is called Timap for Justice. "Timap" means "stand up" in the Krio language. I work with two paralegals, Zainab and Hassan. Mondays through Thursdays we work in Magburaka town, where our office is located. We conduct mediations, do intakes, go on follow ups, talk to chiefs, officials, etc. On occasion, we also travel outside of Magburaka for investigations as we did for the gold mining company case, of which I posted pictures some time ago. On Fridays, we have a mobile clinic where we visit other Chiefdoms in our district and encourage the village people to report problems to Timap for Justice. The most common cases my office has handled during my stay include family disputes, corruption by chiefs and other authority figures, land disputes, breaches of contract, and employment related disputes.

The paralegals, Hassan and Zainab, who I am working with, are amazing. They are really good at feeling out the people they help. They let them know they understand and they're thorough when informing their clients of their options to address their issues. Working for Timap for Justice and with amazing paralegals like Hassan and Zainab has shown me how much I need to be doing this kind of work right now and in the future.

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