The first day of the Global Legal Empowerment Network’s citizenship learning exchange kicked off on Monday in Nairobi with 13 participants from 12 countries, along with the exchange hosts. The participants are all working in their countries to ensure access to citizenship by empowering communities, helping them know, use, and/or change the law by their own agencies. We will be posting highlights from our sessions here for those interested in following along – I volunteered to write the first post.
The first day started with an introduction to the exchange program and the network. The program has been designed to let participants learn from each other’s experiences and, together, find specific solutions to the various challenges we face.
The exchange of knowledge started with the first panel on paralegal training and development. Every organization has their own ways of engaging their community paralegals and different means of operations, though trainings and refresher trainings were done in most of the paralegal groups. Through discussion, we underlined the importance of sustainability of paralegals by recruiting people who have interest and value the work they are doing.
The next panel on engaging communities and mobilization was equally interesting. Friends from Nigeria engaged the chiefs and communities by utilizing available means such as music and broadcasting programs on the radio. Some organizations were engaging women in their work, because they found that women were deeply affected with legal identity issues, because most of the times their children were the ones whose access to the documents barred.
Trust and relationship building was one of the main issues that arose. Building trust and relationships is not something we can rush; thorough connection built with patience and respect, and the local community’s needs in mind should be prioritized. We also noted that it is important not to just go to community members or government when we need something from them.
The dilemmas were present in the provision of incentives to paralegals, government, and the beneficiaries on the work we are doing. We have to keep in mind that involving communities in our activities takes away productive time that they could be devoting to their livelihoods. For some people, learning about citizenship rights and how to secure identity documents does not equal immediate benefits, making it hard for programs to attract people to their sessions. Providing beneficiaries with in-kind benefits such as calendars with information that is relevant to the program were practiced by one of the participant’s organizations.
Another interesting point: from our discussions, we realized that even though we were coming from around the world, colonial policies are still affecting citizenship situation in our countries. Boundaries made between colonized states separated communities that had been living there for centuries. In the future, participants are hoping for regional meetings to allow people with similar context to gather. If possible, capacity building and empowerment can take other forms, for example online courses, that might be beneficial for the network members.
Photos by Namati
An introduction to the Legal Empowerment Learning Exchange
First panel on paralegal training and development
Panel on engaging communities and mobilization
Examples from Nigeria of engaging chiefs and communities by utilizing available means such as music and broadcasting programs on the radio