‘…thank you note from a poor person is more worthy than a Mercedes-Benz’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/12/thank-you-note-from-a-poor-person-is-more-worthy-than-a-mercedes-benz/
By Douglas Olum
In today’s Uganda, the pursuit of a law degree is a top choice of schoolchildren and their parents, largely because of the career path’s reputation for securing private and public jobs that yield money.Most law schools receive overwhelming applications. For the 2019 intake, for instance, Uganda Christian University (UCU) received more than 1,000 applications, but only admitted about 400 due to capacity limitations.
For many, it’s about the money.
For Conrad Obol Oroya, a 2011 UCU Bachelor of Laws graduate,it isn’t. He channels his knowledge to probono (free legal) services.His journey along this path started from UCU where one of his professors, Brian Dennison (now living and working in Georgia, USA),included community legal support training. During his legal profession preparation, Oroya says he participated in land conflicts mediation and helped people to write their wills, among other free services.
His passion to help the less fortunate continued as he received his postgraduate certificate in legal practice in 2012 from the Law Development Centre, where he took a job at the institution’s Legal Aid Clinic. He was soon employed as the Court Reconciliator. He later joined Legal Aid, a probono legal service provider in Uganda where he served as the Assistant Legal Officer before he was promoted to Legal Officer. After that, he worked for the International Justice Mission, another probono legal service provider.
Oroya says he is passionate about helping the economically disadvantaged get justice.He believes that poor communities like those in northern Uganda really need his service. A 2016-17 report by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics estimates that at least 10 million of the estimated 37.7 million Ugandans live in poverty. People in Eastern and Northern Uganda, depending largely on subsistence agriculture, are the poorest of the poor.
“It would be fancy to work in Kampala and make a lot of money but that would be serving personal desires without impact on the community,” Oroya says, “To me, a thank you note from a poor person is more worthy than driving a Mercedes-Benz.”
Oroya is a full-time lecturer at northern Uganda’s Gulu University. He also owns a law firm, Conrad Oroya Advocates in Gulu, and is a Regional Counsel Member of the Uganda Law Society, representing lawyers from northern Uganda, but he continues to offer free legal service both at a personal level and through his previous employer, the Legal Aid.
Every Wednesday, he travels to a court in the neighboring Nwoya District as a lawyer on State brief (without pay) to defend individuals caught on the wrong side of the law. In his office, there are two huge piles of files – one for paid services and the other for free services. He says most of those probono files are for poor men and women who generally have only the clothes on their backs and a small piece of land being grabbed by wealthy individuals.
“I am happy to be serving in this community because I am making some impact,” Oroyo said. “I have won at least 300 cases and restored more than 400 families to their land after wealthy individuals grabbed them. My probono services also have greatly helped to decongest the Gulu Prison.”
A call to servant-hood was so strong that Oroyo turned down a prestigious opportunity to work in Europe. In 2016-2017, he got the Commonwealth Scholarship to pursue a Master in International Human Rights and Criminal Law at Bangor University in the United Kingdom (UK). Of 29 Ugandans that year, he was the only Ugandan legal scholar. And he emerged as the best Master of Law student. His dissertation titled, “Law Reform Examination and Property Rights and Gender Equality: Women’s rights to property upon divorce and separation, a comparative legal study of Uganda, England and Wales,”also was voted as the best dissertation in 2017.
Those achievements earned him two accolades and he immediately got an offer from a professor to work with him as a Research Assistant, a position that would have automatically earned him a teaching job – and more money – in the UK. But Oroya says beside honouring the terms of agreement he had with his then employer, International Justice Mission, he knew that the poor in northern Uganda needed him more. Sohe turned down the opportunity.
Upon his return to Uganda, Oroya embarked on a move to try and reform the systems in place. He trained fellow lawyers, prosecutors and police officers on best practices of investigation and the need to respect individual human rights during arrests and detention.Detention without trial, torture and grabbing of land that deny individuals the right to own property are the most common forms of human rights abuses meted by law enforcers in Uganda.
Many times, suspects are arrested before investigations are done and they are held in custody for weeks or months – beyond the mandatory 48 hours as police investigate. Besides, it is a common practice for the wealthy to buy favors and win cases against poor individuals who cannot afford the cost of legal representations.
For Oroya, there is more to be done. And he feels led to help do it.
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