Tag Archives: work

Patience. Humility. Assertiveness.


My first week in Uganda my boss told me there were three things that interns/fellows needed to be successful for their year.  Patience.  Humility.  Assertiveness.

Patience because things don’t work like they do where we’re from.  People are not the brought up the same way.  Expectations are completely different– from customer service to government to accountability… But you’ll get no where if you let the frustrations get to you.

Humility because though you’re educated, you don’t know it all.  Actually you understand very little.  Just because you come from a place that has figured some things out, doesn’t mean that those things will work here–or that they should.  Listen.  Learn.

But, assertiveness.  Because the status quo is not OK.  People being abused by the system that has been tasked with protecting them is not OK.  A better way is possible.  But you will meet opposition from every side–because people benefit from the brokenness of the system.

– – –

I have been back in Saint Louis for two weeks.  I was prepared for the worst as everyone warned me that reverse culture shock is much harder than arriving.  I had made so many dear friends and was in some ways nervous and unsettled about leaving.  But being back home has been a sweet, sweet time so far.  I have SO many loved ones.  I am so glad to be a part of their lives in a more direct way again.  It is comfortable, cozy, known.

– – –

I am happy with the work that I completed in the last 16 months.  It has been challenging.  I spent most of my initial time in Uganda scared to death at what was expected of me with no idea how to get started, let alone accomplish anything.  But as with most things, you just have to dig in somewhere.

It took about 8 months to feel comfortable with my job and my life–and to own them as mine (this is right on schedule according to cultural adjustment timelines).  And slowly anxiety about my job gave way to excitement as a picture of the project design was brought into focus polam pola with each trip to the court or judiciary’s IT group or sitting for hours hammering out detail by detail how practically we could reorganize, resource, train and monitor a series of reforms in our pilot area courts.

Vague ideas transformed into detailed design and budgets and timelines and procedures and training curriculum and procurement recommendations and a growing list of collaboration partners.  Could transformation of a fundamentally broken court system really might just maybe be possible???  Does that seem arrogant?  My boss thinks we have the best chance that the Ugandan Judiciary has seen in my portfolio.  Why not dream–and then follow through in faithful, compassionate word and deed?  We know we’re trying to do the impossible.  We surrender our little plans to the One who sits on a throne of justice and grace.  Oh to know the unfamiliar passions of God!

– – –

I turned in my multi-hundred page portfolio of recommendations to my field office director with a feeling of relief–and still, incredibly, knowing that there was so much more!  So much will happen the next few years!  My innovations and designs will be reworked and refined through trial and error.  How I would love to be a part of it!  But it was time to hand it off.  I placed much of it in the capable hands of my BFF Richard Asiimwe (shout out Richie!  Miss our talks– and you fixing my computer!)  I worked till a couple hours before my plane left.  And boom.

You leave one world.  And step into another.

Not better or worse.  Just different.

– – –

Water fountains.  Interstates.  Strollers.  Carpet.  Over abundance.  (Too many) options.  Ubiquitous smart phones.  Tall people.  Enormous people.  Expectations.  Change of seasons.  Heated water at sinks.  Seatbelts.  Directness.  Hyper safety.  Driving.  Good beer.  Good coffee.  Unlimited internet.  Complaining.  Continuous improvement.  Emission standards.  Libraries.  Customer service.  Midwest salt-of-the-earth friendliness.  Parking lots.  Blending in & being anonymous walking down the street.  No 5AM call to prayer, goats or roosters waking me.

– – –

Scott would chide me for jumping between too many subjects.  Alas, I am an inconsistent poster.  Webale nnyo bassebo na bannyabo!


Sharing my rare email updates

Hello friends and family!
If you are keeping track, you may remember that today I am supposed be back at home in the US of A again…
But–I am still in Uganda!  What happened?!?
As my fellowship time was running out with many things still in progress, I was asked by IJM to extend my time in Uganda.  I ended up accepting a two month contract extension to finish my work and support our baseline study.  I will finish writing a few detailed memos of how to implement the next five years of our structural transformation project.  I will introduce other staff to the people I have developed trust and relationships with and pass on my duties and plans.
We are also conducting a baseline evaluation right now to measure the performance of the public justice system before our project begins.  In five years we will measure again to see if our project produced our desired impact to lower property grabbing and increase public justice system performance.  I am guiding the researchers through the police and court file reviews.
My friends, it has been an incredible year.  I know it sounds cliche, but it’s impossible to summarize.  I have learned SO much, grown professionally, personally and spiritually, gained much experience, met beautiful people, and I hope and pray have made some lasting impacts to serve the widow and the orphan in Uganda.  It is our vision that one day widows and orphans do not have to live in fear that their land and livlihood will be taken from them.  We hope that the public justice system will be strengthened to protect its citizens.
If you haven’t, please watch this video of Grace’s story.  Grace is one of over 500 clients that we have rescued and returned to their rightful property since 2008.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RohCIHXBZxY
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your support– with emails, care packages, financial support, skype dates, phone calls and prayer.  I am so thankful for each one of you and the unique way that you have shown your love to me in the past year.  Thank you for putting up with me following my dream to serve with International Justice Mission in the field.  It has been a humbling honor.  And it is not over yet!
I do look forward to returning to you in less than two months now.  It will be a very happy Thanksgiving!
You can be praying that I finish my work well.  That I will discern what is next for me.  For the big, impossible goals that the IJM-Uganda office has set to accomplish structural transformation, victim relief and perpetrator accountability.  For our new office opening in post-conflict Gulu.  For the one in three women and children who are victims of property grabbing after the death of a head of household in Sub-Sarharan Africa.  For the thousands in desperate situations of abuse and oppression around the world waiting for rescue.
Love you all,

Transforming Structures


Things have been busy here nearing the halfway point of my structural transformation design fellowship.

In addition to continuing excellent investigations, legal representation and aftercare for our individual clients who are victims of illegal land seizure, IJM-Uganda’s structural transformation (ST) team is kicking it into high gear.  We have project concept notes and budgets due plus local council leadership and police trainings begin in our ST pilot area over the next month.

Here are a few things I have been busy with:

  • Writing a comprehensive memo for my boss and HQ sharing all that I have learned about the World Bank’s project to digitize and revamp Land Registries and Land Administration in Uganda
  • Meetings with the Judiciary of Uganda’s IT department and consulting company regarding the Justice Law & Order Sector’s plans to install court recording/stenography systems in a pilot high courts
  • Drawing up budget estimates for the next five years of court improvements–including expanding the court recording pilot, installing new shelving and implementing new systems to track case files, increasing number of case tracking management computers, installing alternative power sources to combat continued power outages, and public information boards at each court in our pilot area
  • Drafting letters and MOUs (Memorandums of Understanding) and coordinating meetings with partner agencies to formalize our working relationships and request approval for trainings regarding best practices for combating land grabbing
  • Writing a research memo for my boss & HQ about how we can quantifiably measure the outcomes of our cooperative reform efforts in the courts at the end of our ST project
  • Continuing to meet regularly with clerks, office supervisors, registrars, magistrates and judges in our project area to learn about their jobs, systems, and resourcing & training needs.

It is busy, stretching, fraught with new challenges, sometimes overwhelming… but good.  Sometimes I have to get my eyes off of myself and my myopic deadlines to see what amazing things God is doing through IJM in our staff, in our clients’  lives, in Uganda, throughout the world–and in me.

I will try to keep you updated on work, play, travel, community, food….tell me what you want to know more about!  What do my people want to hear!?

Launching Project Empaanyi


I am beginning my fifth month in Uganda and my seventh month with IJM. That is unbelievable. I always envision myself updating this regularly… but have failed in execution. My apologies. I was considering joining in the fun of **Foto February** and posting a picture from my life everyday. I’m a bit behind, but may be able to recover.

I feel I have been negligent on writing much about my work, which makes up a majority of my waking hours. Let’s rectify that!

The IJM-Uganda office is launching a five-year structural transformation project. My office of investigators, lawyers and aftercare workers has been working for the rescue and restoration of victims of property grabbing since 2008 in Mukono District, just northeast of Kampala.  In Uganda our work is solely focused on property grabbing, which is when family or community members forcibly remove widows and orphans (the most vulnerable) from their most valuable possession—their land—usually after the death of a husband or father.

This year we are launching our structural transformation project, called Project Empaanyi. Through five years of casework we clearly see problems in the public justice system and know them well. Now we are considering how we can partner with government offices to make sustainable changes to increase the protection of the most vulnerable in society by an efficient and fair public justice system.

My work this year is to research the administrative functions of these offices and design a book of recommendations to guide our collaborative project. I have been forging introductions, developing relationships, asking questions, and observing in the lands registry, various levels of court, the police, and the administrator general’s office (which handles estate administration, aka: probate).

Yesterday we held a workshop for leaders in our project district, to formally introduce them to IJM, Project Empaanyi, and ask for their collaboration and partnership. I had a fun week planning the logistics. After waiting 1-2 hours to begin, I began calling our invitees asking if we could expect them. Most of them showed–just a little cultural two-hour-late thing!

Next week I am hosting a police consultant and friend of IJM from California. She is volunteering her time and expertise to help us in writing police training curriculum and suggesting recommendations to file management and processes at the police station.

~ ~ ~

In other news…

  • power outages are worse than ever.
  • I returned home Monday night to my roommates taming a bizarre fire issue in our kitchen. All is well–really!
  • It is unbearably hot and dusty in my first experience of this “dry season.” 3 months without rain + dirt roads = an orange Natalie.
  • Our favorite English legal fellow and roommate, Ruth, returned from her month leave last night to Mary and I holding welcome home signs at our front gate.

And I miss you and am thankful for you! xoxo