In Tanzania, Mara Cluster Member OSTACK MLIGO has been making national headlines. He's bringing legal aid and human rights to communities that need it most. Jake caught up with him recently, and heard that despite some recent high profile achievements, there is lots still to do.
Jake: Your organisation is called LSAC - what does that stand for? And what does it do?
Ostack: It's the Legal and Social Assistance Centre, and I'm the Executive Director. We’re a small NGO – run by myself and many volunteers at our centre and in the community. We do legal aid, human rights advocacy, lobbying, and community economic empowerment, where we do training in entrepreneurial skills. And our focus is marginalised people: so children, women, people with disabilities, the elderly, and those living with HIV or AIDS.
Jake: And so what are some of the big legal issues these people face? I know FGM [female genital mutilation] is a big focus for you.
Ostack: Exactly right. We fight against harmful traditions like FGM, but there are many other things too: child marriage, ndoa ntobu, funeral cleansing…
Jake: Sorry what are they?
Ostack: Ndoa ntobu is a tradition whereby an elderly woman who has never had a child has the right to pay a ‘bride price’ to the family of a young woman and marry her. The elderly woman then chooses a man to reproduce with that young woman, and any child born from that relationship shall belong to the elderly woman. As for funeral cleansing, this is a tradition of a widow having sex with a man, in the belief that her husband's death was a curse on the community, and sexual intercourse will remove the curse.
Jake: Wow okay.
Ostack: Yes, and we also see lots of other legal issues – physical, emotional, sexual and economical abuse of our target groups. As well as this, we focus on reconciliation and mediation on matrimonial issues. And we also help community members claim rights on land issues, marriages, child neglect, inheritance… so, lots of different things!
Jake: And of all these things, what do you think is the single most important?
Ostack: GBV. Gender-based violence. FGM in particular, which we believe can be addressed by conducting human rights meetings. And this is why a big part of our work is to communicate to the community about human rights and harmful practices. So we hold meetings, dialogues, seminars, workshops, and we also involve media, local government leaders and traditional leaders to spread the word.
Jake: You represent people who don’t have a lot of money, so how do you fund this work?
Ostack: Well we get money in different ways, like members’ contributions, private sector corporate funding – donors like UK Aid and the Foundation for Civil Society – and also a few consultancies from companies. But this is not sufficient. In fact, this is the hardest thing about my work: the lack of funds. If we had more funds we could extend our services and reach more people. For example, there are many incidences of human rights violations in more remote areas like rape, FGM and child marriages. We want to focus on capacity-building with community facilitators in villages, who can then implement LSAC activities. And we also want to meet more with traditional leaders and community members. Sensitising the community is important, but the costs required to do this well are very high. We are looking for funds to sustain our activities. We have lots to do but we lack funds.
Jake: Does being part of the Cluster make this work easier?
Ostack: Yes it does, absolutely. It’s increased our capacity and improved our implementation. For example, LSAC has gained new experience and knowledge from other members through SALT visits [a technique used by Clusters to listen to and understand the community voice]. Also we get volunteers from the Cluster who offer their time working with LSAC. And Cluster members have also referred many people to LSAC offices for help.
Jake: That’s great. And Ostack I also know you made news headlines in Tanzania earlier this year. Tell us about that.
Ostack: Yes, well we have made the news a few different times in recent months. I think the one you are talking about was a case of child abuse. A father had hung his child – aged just nine years old – on the roof of their house. And the child was about to die. A Good Samaritan who was passing by heard the child crying and assisted the child to get down. We then received the said case: we referred it to police, the culprit was arrested, we are providing legal aid to the child, and the case is now in court. We are awaiting judgement.
But there have been other cases too that have made the news. One was a matrimonial issue: a man beat his wife who was eight months pregnant, and she had to be admitted to hospital. LSAC reported the matter to police and the accused were send to court. His case also is in court. We are waiting judgement on this one too. And there was also a land issue case: we assisted an old man to claim back his land, after it was taken from him by his neighbour. He had no place to cultivate crops or graze his cows. LSAC filed the case and the man won his case, and got his land back.
Jake: It’s great that you can bring people to justice, and hopefully deter others from these kind of offences. But some of these stories sound so traumatic, so what keeps you strong when you do such difficult work?
Ostack: Well we face personal challenges, yes, but we remain strong because we have a strong, qualified team with so much experience and knowledge. And we have the support of community leaders and government. This makes us confident. But yes, sometimes we get personal attacks – the people accused sometimes say that we are making their traditions to be seen in the community as bad, while they are good. They hate us! But we remain strong. We try and educate them.
Jake: In all of this work, what’s your proudest achievement?
Ostack: I think it’s just the number of people we’ve been able to help. Many people have received our services, and incidences of rape, physical violence have decreased significantly. Land ownership disputes have gone down as well. People now know where to go to report human rights violations, and we now have good co-operation with the government sector. People respond positively and they are ready to assist LSAC in all her activities.
Jake: That’s amazing! Just finally, what about the future? What are your hopes and plans for your own career, for LSAC, and the Cluster?
Ostack: Well we have a few plans! We want to have more community facilitators in rural areas. We are also mobilising the community to form village committees to deal with human rights issues in their own community. I'm also looking for partnerships with donors who can support our staff with office equipment like projectors, computers, generators, and funding field work and meetings. All of this would make us stronger, so that we can bring human rights even into the most remote community.
If you would like to contribute towards Ostack’s work with LSAC in the Mara region of Tanzania, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org.