Striving to offer legal aid at grassroots GEORGE SEMBONY

The project whose implementation started this year and ends in August 2020 was launched by the Korogwe District Commissioner (DC), Eng Robert Gabriel. The project, which is being executed with financial support from Legal Service Facility (LSF), a not-for-profit organization which manages a basket fund, presently supported by DANIDA and DFID.
The fund is created to channel funding on an equal opportunity basis to organizations, which are providing legal aid and paralegal services on the mainland and in Zanzibar, who through these services assist individuals to claim their rights, redress grievances, and who protect fundamental human rights of the individual.
The Project Manager, Jane Mrema said that the CSO whose work includes implementing community development interventions around community capacity building for local structures through training, and provision of social services in Tanga Region, has certificate of compliance allowing it to work on the mainland. TEWOREC was established in 1997 and registered a year later.
On the significance of the project, Mrema said that some of the conflicts, human violations occurring in rural and even urban areas resulted from a general lack of understanding of the law. “We sometimes contribute to conflicts and violations because we do not understand our rights.
If there is a wide understanding of the rights and places where the people could seek legal assistant there would be no such violations and denial of human rights,” she said.
Eleven Paralegal Aid Centers would be established in all district councils of Tanga Region under the four-year project whose overall objective is to contribute to elimination of human rights violations among men and women through sustainable community institutional structures, in particular District Paralegal centres in the region. Ms Mrema said a total of 11 centres would receive support from the project. She elaborated that seven paralegal centers were established under an earlier project in four districts.
“The project would add four more centers especially in districts that had so such centres in its determination to ensure that all regional residents are served through such centres,” said Ms Mrema.
The current paralegal centers are Korogwe (2), Handeni (2), Kilindi, Pangani and Tanga City with one each. Four more centers would now be established through the project in Mkinga, Bumbuli, Lushoto and Muheza.
The project would also increase the number of Legal Aid Assistants from the current number of 167 to 275 assistants who would provide paralegal aid services in those centres.
She mentioned the centers to receive support are from the project as including Tanga Organization for Justice and Equality (TAJE) based in Tanga City, Humanity and Legal Aid Paralegal Organization (HALAPO) in (Korogwe Town Council, Usambara Coastal Paralegal Organization (UCPO) in Korogwe District Council and Bumbuli Paralegal Organization in the Bumbuli District Council.
Others are Kilindi Paralegal Organization (KILIPA), Handeni Paralegal Organization (HANDEPA), Pangani Coastal Paralegal Organization (PACOPA), Umoja wa Wasaidizi wa Kisheria Nkinga (UWASHEM), Levo Lushoto and a paralegal organization in Muheza.
The centres would offer mediation services, reconciliation and referral free of charge, but above all the centres would enhance legal knowledge for all players including ward tribunal members, the judiciary and the Police gender desk.
She said that one of the major problems affecting the services had been lack of support in the form of allowances to enable the legal aid assistants to move around. Ms Mrema pointed out that almost half of the 275 assistants trained by the organization absconded due to absence of any kind of facilitation.
The number was reduced to 167who are now active. “This time around the Project would facilitate the work. Legal Aid Assistants would be paid some kind of allowances to enable them to execute their work smoothly,” Ms. Mrema disclosed.
Activities that would be covered under the project include introducing the project at the district, ward and village levels, conducting capacity building training to paralegals which would also include training to ward and Village Reconciliation Council members and Traditional and customary leaders to enable them to discharge legal aid to the people.
The project would also undertake capacity development by training Legal Aid Center staff on leadership and governance issues to ensure that centers are being managed properly,” Ms Mrema pointed out. TEWOREC responsibilities would also include sub granting of the project funds to Legal Aid Centers and monitoring their performance.
The Legal Aid Centers, she noted would be registered as independent entities and the training for the centers would include grant management. To ensure the sustenance of the project work she said that organization would undertake advocacy campaigns to ensure that legal aid education is taught in secondary schools to build up a future citizenry that understands their human rights and be able to defend them.
TEWOREC expects to form legal clubs in schools to raise awareness among children who face violations. Korogwe DC, Eng Robert Gabriel underscored the special position of the project saying it was crucial in enhancing protection of human and other rights in the district.
He said he was positive that the project would help reduce such cases as it was done during the past project. “We had a serious problem of children especially girls absconding from school to work housemaids or in commercial activities and in most cases with the knowledge or encouragement from parents. This problem is currently on the decline because of awareness education campaigns and legal measures being taken against those who are involved with the problem,” said Mgaya.
A Ward Executive Officer (WEO) for Magoma Ward, Method Maganga said that establishment of Paralegal Aid Centers would enable people to receive legal aid at close quarters.
“There is a Legal Aid Office at the WEO’s office, which has helped people reduce the distance and time they used to seek legal aid 45 kilometers away in Korogwe,”Maganga said. He noted that many people were afraid to go to court to seek justice because they have a traditional fear for the court and the magistrate.
“Experience is showing, however, that they have no fear of consulting a legal aid assistant because he or she is a Community member they know of,” the WEO for Kilole Ward, Lucy Ngomuo said. She added that these Legal Aid Assistants have an important job of educating community members of their rights and escorting them to courts of law to seek justice.
She further said through such assistance many women have gained their rights in matrimonial conflicts. One is tempted to urge local councils to sustain such services at the time when the project ends so that local residents could enjoy legal aid services.
* George Sembony is a freelance journalist based in Tanga.