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Pepperdine | Caruso School of Law

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By Stephanie B.

The last few weeks the office has been in a complete frenzy over the process of re-registering IJM as a non-profit in Rwanda. This is an incredibly complex process as it involves reviewing IJM's Memorada of Understanding (MoU for short) with all of our partners - other nonprofits and governmental organizations. IJM staff meets with each of these partners to discuss and negotiate the "annual report" and "5 year strategic action plan." In addition to ensuring our annual report documenting the previous year, forecasted activities, and expected outcomes are in line with our MoUs, and our directives from IJM Headquarters in DC, each word on this 100-page-registration document must be approved by each of the three districts of Kigali City. All of our clients and casework must be divided into each district and described in detail to show what we did in Kigali this last year and what we are planning to do in the upcoming year. It has been a laborious process to say the least, and it may take up to six months to complete. I've only attempted to contribute minute details to these documents, and I've become overwhelmed by the challenges that the office faces to make each of the reported words successful.

Laws are vague and poorly written. Prosecutors and judges are overloaded, lacking the capacity to give time and attention to detail to each of the 30 cases on their docket for any one given day. There is no such thing as "grounds for appeal;" if you're unhappy with the verdict, you can just appeal. This substantially delays justice for our clients and the victories that we can report when in fact the cases are looming on appeal for many years. Children under the age of fourteen must have their testimony corroborated by extrinsic evidence. When evidence is rare in a rape case to begin with, asking that the victim's testimony be corroborated is a substantial hurdle to justice for these victims. Funding is limited. DNA testing is expensive. Medical reports are poorly written. Birth certificates are incredibly difficult to track down. Sentences are not given according to the Code. There is no safe-house to care for our clients if it is not in their best interest to live at home.

Trying to wage war on all these fronts, its astounding to see the incredible success that IJM has had. Every conviction is a victory of epic proportions. Yet, it's in our nature as Americans to constantly push towards improvement. We had X convictions last year, this upcoming year, we want to see X +10! This is how our minds process improvement. We like to measure results by raw numbers, statistics, names and short descriptions of the successes we achieved for our clients. And we like things to be clear- on paper in black and white. But the reality is that IJM's work is not best described on paper. Or in words.
It is best OBSERVED.

Certainly there is always room for improvement, but along the way, let's not get too distracted with the idea of "growing" that we forget how personal each step of that growth is.

I was sitting in the home of one of our clients, Louise, a humble six foot by eight foot concrete rectangle. Ignorant to the irony of her offer, she kindly asked if she could bring me a Fanta (a soda is an entire day's worth of wages for most Rwandese). In response to the question of what impact IJM has had on her life, she said, "I thought I would never again be happy for the rest of my life. But IJM intervened and gave me so much support to overcome my trauma and to finish my studies. IJM gave me a smile when I thought I never would again."

When her mother spoke about how tremendously IJM had impacted their lives, she said, "I don't have words to express my gratitude for what IJM has done for me and my family. I thank God everyday for IJM and IJM staff."

So, I get it Rwanda government. I understand your need for numbers and targets. But I just want to vent that it's unfair. IJM's work is too raw and real to be translatable onto printer paper, even 100 pages of it. The change that IJM incites in these victims is too amorphous and abstract to be filtered into targets and "progress measurements."

IJM gives smiles back to people.

IJM brings hope to these victims lives just when they thought it was lost forever.
And I have been so blessed to be a very small part of it.

I told the counselor who took us into the field that day that she had clearly changed Louise's life. She bashfully replied, "Only by the grace of the Lord."And it will be only by the grace of the Lord when IJM gets re-registered and gets to continue doing this amazing life-changing work.