Arrived Alone, Left With a Family

By: Melissa C.

Before leaving to Guatemala, I knew that I was going to be alone. As opposed to everyone traveling to Uganda, Rwanda and India, I was going to Guatemala by myself, and I thought that was okay. However, my first few weeks I realized that even though I have traveled plenty, I had always traveled with more people. This was the first time that I was completely alone and had to get out of my comfort zone to get to know people.

The first days at the office I quickly realized that Guatemalans (or as Guatemalans call themselves, chapines) are very much like Mexicans, where I am from. They are kind, warm, friendly, and treated me like part of the legal team since day 1.  I soon felt comfortable to make jokes and be honest about everything I was feeling. The lawyers made it a point to make me a welcome breakfast, invite me to visit Lago Atitlan (an amazing place you should go if you are ever in Guatemala!), always extend an invitation to have lunch with them, and on my last day, a goodbye lunch.

I also grew very fond of our mornings at the office: Quiet time, prayer time, and coffee time with the lawyers while we all prepared for a day of work. At these times of the day I learned that Guatemalans drink their coffee with some special cookies to dip into their coffee. I learned that Guatemalans really want to make their country a better place. I learned that work was not individualistic but communal, since everyone helped each other out. Most importantly, I learned that I was not alone and that leaving these amazing people was going to be extremely hard. And it was.

Giving Everything I Have

By: Melissa C.

Starting law school is intimidating. But working your first job as a legal intern is even more. After finishing my first year of law school, I didn’t know what to expect for my summer internship. Being accepted to work at International Justice Mission (“IJM”) was a dream come true, but with all dreams comes a little fear: Was it going to be hard to do the legal work? Was it going to be challenging to use my skills in another language? Could I really be of help? There were so many questions swarming my head. Luckily, my skills were more transferable than I thought they were. More importantly than my legal knowledge, my heart grew by a tenfold.

Since the first day at the office, I noticed how the victims were given aftercare services in the office. Kids would be running around the office, happy and joyful. Despite knowing their cases, this taught me to not detach myself and bury myself in the word of law, but remember why I was doing this in the first place: To help others. These kids would come running to the legal team’s office and say hi to everyone, and every time I would see them, I would be reminded how important was this job and how lucky I was to be chosen to be one to help.

Furthermore, I saw firsthand the lawyers fight with everything they have in court. I realized how important is the job IJM does and why they do it. The lawyers at IJM would go extremely prepared to trial, leaving my agape at their knowledge and skill, only to realize they might be the only ones prepared in that room. This realization brought to my mind a quote I love: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” If it were not IJM helping these victims in a justice system that still has some advancement to do, who would advocate for the rights of these victims with everything they have?

I also saw first hand when a judgment was given that the office believed was not the correct one, and how shattered the lawyers were, how much it bothered them. This taught me to realize that it is not because we “lost” but because we are fighting for justice of the oppressed. However, this would not destroy the legal team’s hopes, they would just say instantly, “we are appealing this one.” Yet again, I would see how the lawyers would give everything they had in them for this fight.

Overall this experience taught me what being a lawyer is really about. It is about caring for others and giving everything you have in you in the court of law to secure the rights of others.


By: Jenna K.

The first things I noticed about Uganda were the butterflies.

We had just landed and were being escorted out of the airport to the van that we would later spend hours upon hours in driving from prison to prison all over the country in order to help inmates file plea bargains and start serving their sentences. The pathway to the parking lot in the Entebbe airport is covered with a tent-like structure that creates a makeshift tunnel. Trapped inside this tunnel were some of the most beautiful butterflies I had ever seen. They fluttered around us as we dragged our giant bags full of 2 months’ worth of living supplies. One finally came to rest on the shoulder of Andrew Khaukha – the special adviser to the judiciary and the project manager of our team – before quickly flying away to join its family in their quest to beautify an otherwise dirty, concrete space.

This was my introduction to Uganda and throughout the course of my stay I discovered it to be more fitting than I could have ever imagined.

Uganda’s current constitution was ratified in 1995. This means that the country’s present democratic structure has only been in effect for just over 20 years. However, they have accomplished more in those two decades than many “developed” nations have in a hundred years.

In 1995, Uganda had been ravaged by civil war, led by the warlord Joseph Kony and his band of deranged men. Kony had ripped the country apart through widespread murder and the recruitment of child soldiers. He coerced children at gunpoint to kill their own families before forcing them to join his megalomaniacal mission to destroy the people of Uganda. War raged and people died and the government seemed powerless to stop it. However, the ever resilient Ugandan people were able to band together and push Kony out of their borders (he has since retreated to Sudan where he is continuing to wreak havoc).

Left with a devastated and broken country bursting with widows, orphans, and former child soldiers, a group of men and women rose up to rebuild their nation. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Benjamin Odoki, then Attorney General Bart Katureebe (the current Chief Justice) and the members of parliament drafted a constitution that starts off much like our own:

“We the people of Uganda, recalling our history which has been characterized by political and constitutional instability; Recognising our struggles against the forces of tyranny, oppression and exploitation; committed to building a better future by establishing a socio-economic and political order through a popular and durable national Constitution based on the principles of unity, peace, equality, democracy, freedom, social justice, and progress; exercising our sovereign and inalienable right to determine the form of governance for our country, and having fully participated in the Constitution-making process. . . do hereby, in and through this Constituent Assembly, solemnly adopt, enact, and give to ourselves and our posterity, this Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, on this the 22nd day of September, in the year 1995.”

I love the line “recognizing our struggles against the forces of tyranny, oppression, and exploitation; committed to building a better future . . .” I feel like it summarizes the Ugandan people – fueled by the pain of their past and determined to build a better tomorrow for their children.

I had the honor of meeting Chief Justice Katureebe during his visit to Pepperdine last October and again during my stay in Uganda. He is a tall and regal man who commands the attention of those around him but whose eyes are soft and friendly. He and his comrades are essentially the Hamiltons, Jeffersons, Madisons, Washingtons and Franklins of their country and I am in awe that I, a mere law student from across the world, was welcomed with such warmth and fervor into their offices and into their lives. It was easy for us as Americans, who enjoy a well structured judicial system (despite how it may feel at times), to be frustrated by the stage of development at which Uganda currently finds itself. However, think of what our country looked like 20 years after our constitution was written. It was nothing in comparison to where Uganda stands today. Uganda’s leaders are brilliant men and women whose collective accomplishments deserve a world-wide round of applause.


(The team with Chief Justice Katureebe in his office at the Supreme Court.)

The initiatives that have been undertaken and implemented since 1995 are impressive to say the least. Take plea bargaining for example. Uganda suffers from an immense case backlog which leaves those accused of a crime to sit in prison for on average 5-7 years waiting for a court date to see a judge to determine if they will even be convicted of said crime. This is an egregious human rights violation and the Ugandan judiciary has been scrambling to figure out an answer to the problem despite their extremely minimal resources (for example, even most government buildings are privately owned and rented to the government because the government cannot afford to buy a lot of property). The solution came in the form of two Pepperdine interns who introduced the country to the concept of plea bargaining. The Ugandan judiciary was humble enough to listen to the advice of two American law students, and brilliant enough to hit the ground running with the idea. Since its introduction a few short years ago over 2500 prisoners spanning across almost all of the 13 prisons in the country have plead guilty and have started serving their sentences. There are still over 10,000 prisoners on remand awaiting trial, but plea bargaining has offered an option that will eradicate this number in an infinitely shorter time than before. It is utterly remarkable that a program such as this could see a nation-wide roll out in such a short period of time – it would take that long for republicans and democrats to agree on what kind of pizza to order.

It is easy to focus on the negatives – the bullet holes in the fabric of Uganda’s history. Take a step back, however, and you will be treated to a beautiful and elaborate tapestry that is being woven at utterly impressive speeds.

In order for a caterpillar to become a butterfly, it must undergo great stress and pain. Wings must develop and break free and its old body must be shed to make room for the new. Uganda has certainly gone through severe struggle and suffering. However, their wings are emerging and they are becoming a beautiful new creation. I read an article a couple weeks ago that predicted Uganda will reach “first world” status by 2066 – if they keep going with the tenacity and passion they have today, I don’t have a sliver of doubt that Uganda will soar to heights we can barely imagine.

Lost Phone, Gained Perspective

By: Jenna K.

On Thursday, June 16th, 2015, at 19:00 hours, the unspeakable happened. My innocent, unsuspecting iPhone 6s was taken from the safety of its charging spot in the middle of my living room. I had gone across the hall for a bit and made the grave error of leaving my front door unlocked for a short time. Whoever snuck in bypassed my wallet and computer and went straight for the one item that is basically an extension of my hand. Let me tell you – that whole phantom limb syndrome is a thing.

However, losing my phone mid-trip brought my level of privilege into acute perspective. I met countless people throughout my two months in Uganda, and each one taught me something about how blessed I truly am.

First, there was Bernard. Bernard is the police officer who has been tasked with the harrowing duty of serving as the personal security guard for the Director of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Last year, the Director of the DPP’s assistant was killed in a drive by shooting by family members of an accused person that the DPP was prosecuting at the time, so it’s fair to say that Bernard deserves every dollar he is paid.

Bernard makes the equivalent of 100 dollars a month. With that, he feeds himself, his wife, and his three children. He pays rent on a small home for his family and he puts his kids through school. As the most educated man from his home village, he dreams of helping his people through education projects, farming initiatives, and by building a church where his friends and family can worship. He is working to build a library in his village to house books, offer studying space with desks and chairs, and to serve as a home for the student debate team he hopes to found. My teammate Cat Price and I have actually recorded a video of Bernard explaining his dreams and will soon be setting up a crowdfunding campaign to help him achieve those goals.

jenna and cat

(Cat and I with Bernard and his three kids.)

Then there were the police officers whose church we were blessed enough to attend one Sunday. Uganda’s police force is fairly militarized and many live in barracks. I was stunned at how little these officers have – the barracks are not much more than run down huts in which families of 4, 5, 6 or more live crammed into a couple rooms. It broke my heart that one of the poorest, most third-world areas of Kampala housed the individuals who were brave enough to risk their lives for the safety of their country. However, even though they make pennies, they invited us into their home for the sweetest, most powerful church service I’ve been to in a long time where they proceeded to use their little resources to serve us a massive, delicious lunch. It was incredible to watch these people who work so hard for so little pay still exude a kind of joy that I’ve never seen in the rich in America.

Then there was Sarah*. Sarah is one of the prisoners I met at Mbarara prison during our prison week (for more info on prison week, check out my professor Jim Gash’s blog HERE). I was first struck by the humility in her eyes as she approached my table asking for help. She wasn’t supposed to be on our list for the day, but one of her prison guards drove a far distance to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions’s office the night before to make sure that Sarah would be seen by one of our teams.

She was only 23 years old but she was already a widow whose children were taken away because she couldn’t afford to feed them. When I asked about her kids, tears began to tumble down her cheeks and she shook as she sobbed. After few moments, she slowly recounted for me the story of what brought her to the prison. She had been homeless and terrified and willing to do anything to feed herself. One evening, she walked into a bar and told the male patrons that she would sleep anyone who would just give her food or 1000 Ugandan shillings (the equivalent of 33 cents). One guy volunteered and she proceeded to have sex with him for that measly third of a dollar. However, much to her surprise because he had been drinking at a bar that is supposed to only serve those 18 and older, the guy turned out to be a 15-year-old boy, which constituted “defilement” (Uganda’s version of statutory rape). His uncle caught them mid-act, viciously beat them both, and had Sarah arrested.

When I met her, she was facing a sentence of 8 years – 8 years for degrading herself out of complete hopelessness. This wasn’t a career prostitute. This was a woman who was utterly desperate for food and had nothing to offer in return but herself. By the grace of God (and the generosity of the DPP) I was able to negotiate her sentence down to 4 years, minus the year she has already spent in prison waiting for her court date. Sarah will be 26 years old when she leaves prison and hopefully will be in a better place to take care of herself and her children thanks to the educational programs the prison offers.

The cost of my iPhone is 6 months of Bernard’s salary. 6 months. One of my many material possessions could feed his entire family for half of a year.

The cost of my iPhone could significantly help the officers build the little church building they are hoping to construct soon so that they don’t have to meet in the pastor’s home anymore.

The cost of my iPhone would cover 1,818 meals for Sarah. One thousand, eight hundred and eighteen.

The loss of a phone is definitely annoying, but it’s truly nothing more. I’m not saying that wealth itself is a bad thing, for God even rewarded Solomon’s request for wisdom with innumerable riches. We just get so caught up in the newest technology, the trendiest clothing brands, and the swankiest restaurants that we miss how incredibly blessed we truly are to even have a phone, clothing, and food.

I will tell my children the stories of Bernard, the police officers, and Sarah. I pray they grow up with a deep appreciation of all they’ve been blessed with and that they choose to bless others in return.

*Name was changed for privacy.

I Will Always Be Your Ate

By: Edrina

Last night was one of the most difficult and emotional evenings throughout my time here in Cebu, Philippines. I said goodbye to the children and teenage girls at the shelter where other IJM interns, fellows, and I would visit twice a week. Although I have only been in Cebu for a short two months, the relationships I formed with these sweethearts will certainly be written on my heart forever. While I wish to share every detail about these wonderful children and teenagers to give a small glimpse into who they are, confidentiality restraints prevent me from doing so. However, one attribute among them is certain. These sweet souls, despite the abuse and hardships they have suffered, love without hesitation, fear, or suppression.

This government shelter is where many IJM clients are brought to live after they are rescued out of sex trafficking or from online sexual exploitation. Leading up to my first visit, I was nervous that my knowledge of the harsh truth of their suffering would make it too difficult to build relationships, and that putting faces to the names of our casework would be a hindrance. When I walked through the gates of the shelter for the first time, the children immediately came running and grabbed my hand. They were so excited to meet me and asked me what my name was. When I answered them, they kept repeating, “Ate Edrina! Ate Edrina!” “Ate,” pronounced “ah-tay,” is a Filipino word that means older sister. My heart melted… they had won me over.

It certainly was challenging to love these children and teenage girls so much while being painfully aware of the reality of their lives. Yet, it was truly a privilege to love them in the midst of their circumstances. While I thoroughly enjoyed my role as a summer legal intern assisting IJM’s private prosecutors to prepare for trial, prosecute perpetrators, and seek justice in the courtroom, the opportunity to connect with our clients far exceeded my expectations for this summer. There are many moments at the shelter that I will always remember, whether it be reading “A Voice in the Wind” to the teenage girls, cuddling with the babies, playing hide and seek with the children, or just listening to the clients as they shared the sensitive details of their lives, trusting me completely.

Despite the painful realities of these clients’ lives, they showed me how to love in a new way, breaking down my barriers and expanding my comfort zone. Their love was joyful, innocent, and freely given. I doubt they will ever understand how the love they displayed and showed me has changed me forever. I can only hope that they trusted me when I said that I would always love them and that I would always be their “Ate.”

The Big Project

By: Kyler

My second to last week in the office as also just a normal week.  There was nothing too exciting going on, which allowed me to get a lot of work done.  In fact, I was able to finish one of my smaller projects early and spent a lot of time on my main project.

The main project that I have been working on is really a collaboration between IJM and the Judicial Studies Institute (JSI).  JSI is the body of the judiciary that is responsible for training judges and magistrates in the law, kind of like a continuing education program.  It runs the website that contains Ugandan case law, holds trainings, and has also been involved in the Plea Bargaining Program that Pepperdine is working on.  IJM is helping JSI redesign and revamp their website, and I had the chance to be part of that process.

One of the features that we are adding to the website is a digest or database of case law relating to specific topics.  We started with cases involving land issues and gender based violence, since those are the case types that IJM is working on in Uganda.  I was tasked with the job of coming up with a way to organize the database and then to go through the cases and organize them into the database.  It was quite a big project and I am so honored that IJM entrusted it to me and gave me the freedom that it did.

To complete this task I started by just reading cases and writing down the case title and the topics that were covered.  I ended up compiling over 200 cases from the years 2016-2010, with the help of one other girl, to put into the database.  Then I created an outline by using the topics that were discussed and sorted the cases into this outline.  I was able to work with the technology guy at JSI and we were able to come up with a design for the website and even think that we may be able to make the database searchable, which would help cut down on research time.

While this was actually a very interesting project and I loved reading the cases, what I enjoyed the most was work with the people at JSI.  As part of this project I was able to spend one day a week, for about a month, at JSI and work with their staff to complete this project in time.  They welcomed me with open arms and helped me so much.  They taught me how to research better using their tools and databases, they listened to my ideas, and they helped me understand more about the structure of the judiciary and JSI’s place within it.  As challenging as this project was at times and for as many hours I spent reading on my computer, it was all worth it to meet these amazing people and to make those connections.

This was not quite the project I was expecting as a summer legal intern, to be honest I am not really sure what types of projects I was expecting, but I am so glad that I had the privilege to work on this project.  I learned so much and this is one thing that I will be able to look back on and know that I did something and made an impact for IJM.  Plus, I am excited for the launch of the redesigned website and too see my product in working condition and not just on a word document!