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Motorbikes and Rough Terrain: How Sandra Meets Villagers in Remote Uganda Where They Are

From the global women’s marches to the #MeToo movement, it’s been quite a year for women in activism. As we close out 2017, the Fund for Global Human Rights is honoring women like Sandra with our #ShePersists campaign—a series of stories that showcase the courage, strength, and resilience of the women human rights defenders we support around the world. Donate here to support activists like Sandra and read on for her inspiring story.

When Sandra Wobusobozi visits rural communities in northwestern Uganda, she often goes alone—armed only with educational brochures and a beat-up motorbike.

As a staff member of the Lake Albert Children Women Advocacy Development Organization (LACWADO), Sandra jets between remote areas, training and collaborating with community members to tackle issues ranging from domestic violence, to child marriage, to corporate land grabs.

Formed in 2005, LACWADO is a grantee of the Fund for Global Human Rights working to end human rights violations against women and children in Uganda’s Buliisa and Masindi Districts. The organization offers psychosocial support for victims of gender-based violence, helps girls who were married young get back into school, and teaches men, women, and children about women’s and children’s rights. Recognizing the threats posed to communities by corporate development in the region, LACWADO also educates local people about their land rights, and helps them negotiate with companies who want to tap their resources for economic gain.

Despite her young age, Sandra’s presence in the communities LACWADO serves is vital to the group’s success. It’s her job to enter hard-to-reach villages, educate them on their rights, and mediate land and other disputes. As the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, she’s also tasked with making sure LACWADO is meeting its goals by collecting data to track progress. Sandra visits up to four communities a day for her work—a tall order, especially given the conditions in which she must operate. But if anyone’s up for the challenge, it’s her.

“Riding in the dark is risky”

Sandra’s work comes with demanding hours—she sometimes goes all day without a chance to eat. But, according to her, the most treacherous part of the job isn’t the physical strain—it’s the terrain.

LACWADO is located near Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, where roads are rough and wild animals roam freely. This makes travel between LACWADO and nearby communities dangerous and unpredictable—especially at night.

“My first experience with an accident on the job was riding on the bike,” Sandra said. “I was speeding a bit – you know, I was rushing [for work]. When I fell, it dislocated my leg.”

At first, Sandra didn’t realize something was wrong. “I rose up, went back on the bike and rode like a hundred meters. But then I realized blood was flowing from somewhere.”

Sandra was forced to pull over and call for help. As she waited, the sun set, leaving her alone, injured, and in the dark. With ambulances few and far between in that area of the country, she had to take a motorbike taxi to a nearby government hospital. Fortunately, she was able to return to work after just two days of rest.

The incident demonstrates Sandra’s incredible commitment to her work—but she said that she’s prioritizing her personal safety going forward. “I’ve learned from this that you have to leave the field early. Riding in the dark is risky,” she said. “We have old bikes, so when you ride to the field, you’re really riding on probability.”

“I’ve seen the changes in the community”

The lack of reliable and safe transport poses serious threats to Sandra’s daily work and personal life. With Uganda lacking a strong healthcare system, and in the absence of health insurance to reduce costs, a serious injury would be financially and professionally devastating for her.

But Sandra persists—and she said that the victories LACWADO has achieved outweighs the risks. “I’ve seen the changes in the community as a result of [the organization’s] work, and in my work too.”

For example, LACWADO recently worked with a group of roughly 50 men and women who were victims of a land grab by an oil corporation that moved in to develop their territory without their consent. Furious over the violation, the community demanded compensation; but neither party could agree on an amount.

“We came in as a mediator between the victims and the offenders. We were able to hold a round table discussion, and mediated their case,” Sandra recalled. “They [the community] are now happy and proud of what happened.”

LACWADO has also worked with more than 360 families affected by domestic violence. They have offered psychosocial services, supported survivors as they bring cases through the legal system, and met with the families to resolve underlying conflicts. Critically, Sandra noted, LACWADO continues to follow up with victims and families after their work is finished.

A small misunderstanding

Sandra’s job often demands that she discuss difficult topics with communities in which she is a total outsider. The work has forced her to develop leadership and public speaking skills that many Ugandan women are discouraged from building—albeit with a few bumps along the way.

“When I had just started working [at LACWADO], I went to this community where I was not in their tribe. This group was having problems with land grabs, you know. So I go to the community, I introduce myself and say that I’m going to teach them about HIV and AIDS, that I come from LACWADO. I pass around attendee lists so that the people can acknowledge that they’ve attended my meeting.”

“But then, these people were like: ‘You’ve come to steal our land! We are not signing your papers,’” Sandra recalled, laughing. She explained that the community members thought she was from a corporation, and that she was trying to trick them into signing away the rights to their land—a common tactic, especially with communities where literacy levels are low.

Though some people might be rattled by this experience, Sandra took it in stride. She was able to calm the crowd down, gain their trust, and continue with the training. It’s this tenacity that makes Sandra such a critical member of the LACWADO team—and makes the Fund so proud to stand with her.

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