March 14, 2013
Timap for Justice, a legal services organization based in Sierra Leone, provides legal services through their 19 offices in both rural and urban areas. Lynnette worked for 10 weeks in the summer of 2011 in a small office in Yele, a village in the central part of Sierra Leone. There were 7 total interns with Timap, but each was assigned to a different office. They did, however, communicate with each other and meet up to go on weekend outings.
Lynnette worked on both the individual and the community-level components of Timap’s outreach. On the individual level, the organization deals with a variety of legal issues. Because there is a shortage of lawyers in Sierra Leone, people from the community come to the Timap office with any legal issues they have, such as breach of contract, marital disputes, or local official corruption. The paralegals–who have been trained to work in both the formal and informal legal systems of Sierra Leone–help to provide legal information, conduct mediation, navigate authorities, and, as a last resort, pursue litigation to help their clients.
At the community level, Timap advocates for solutions to issues affecting a community, which vary across the different regions and Timap offices. One specific issue Lynnette worked closely on was the continuing problem of teachers abandoning schools. Teachers would leave to go work at mines in order to make more money, leaving the children with no adult instruction or supervision. Her office initiated a meeting with all the head teachers at the schools in Yele; held separate meetings with the teachers of each school, and also held a meeting with secret society leaders. The meetings led to a more general inquiry into what was affecting the low quality of education in the schools. Timap subsequently coordinated a bigger meeting bringing together various stakeholders—head teachers, teachers, parents, secret society leaders, students, and journalists—and helped inform the discussion using the Child Rights Act. The overall goal was to develop a plan for effective advocacy for the Ministry of Education, which allowed the people a united voice they likely would not have had without the help and guidance of Timap.
In addition, her office conducted community outreach every Friday through “mobile clinics.” They travelled to villages to educate people on what kinds of rights and duties they have under the law (e.g., the proper role of police and local officials). Many citizens are illiterate so verbally explaining the laws serves an important purpose.
On top of the daily work on the myriad of legal issues the office dealt with, Lynnette decided to focus her contribution on gender-related issues. She urged women she spoke with to actively participate in meetings where community-level decisions were made and spoke with parents about the importance of sending their girls to school. She also helped teachers come up with effective ways to provide sex education to teens. In addition, she became very familiar with the Domestic Violence Act in Sierra Leone; during mobile clinics, she explained the different categories of domestic violence included in the act and used examples to talk through them with members of the community, helping people to understand what exactly “domestic violence” was and what their rights were under the law.
Discussing challenges, Lynnette said that dealing with the language barrier while trying to contribute to conversations proved challenging at times. The paralegals translated Krio and Temne into English for her, but sometimes they would do so after the meeting ended. She suggests that future interns establish at the beginning of the internship the need for translations to be made throughout all the conversations. Overall, Lynnette really enjoyed her time in Sierra Leone and recommends the organization to other students.