A President, a mosquito net and a journey on foot: The making of an outreach event
With Maria Kamara
I was leaving Gulu for Lukodi in Northern Uganda to conduct a town-hall outreach activity, when we had to stop due to heavy rain. This concerned me, since today Lukodi villagers had a chance to meet with the ICC President, Judge Silvia Fernández de Gurmendi, and high level representatives from the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV), and I wanted nothing to dampen the experience. As usual, I planned to arrive early to make sure everything was in place for the activity. No matter how best you have planned an event, certain aspects just do not go the way you have envisaged them when you get on the ground.
Upon arrival in Lukodi, the grounds were muddy and only 10 people had arrived so far. Such a low turn-out was unusual; we had expected hundreds. In the past, nothing had deterred this resilient and enthusiastic community from welcoming ICC staff, especially the President of the Court! I approached a community leader and was informed that, due to the rain, people had gone to the nearby village of Lagwiny, where a humanitarian NGO was distributing mosquito nets. But this “nearby” village was 45 minutes away on foot.
I had to find a solution. While tents were being erected and chairs arranged, I was thinking… Of course, mosquito nets were essential after intense rain; in Uganda, the Ministry of Health cited malaria as the leading cause of deaths in 2016. So people needed their nets. But by the time they returned, they would be tired and hungry, maybe not able to focus on the questions they had wanted to put to the President. And would they even make it on time? Perhaps they would miss the much-anticipated event. Then it came to me: they needed something faster and easier, something like… buses.
My colleague Jimmy made a few phone calls and found three mini buses to ferry people. When I saw the first bus arriving, my mood lightened – we were getting somewhere. People were relieved and many had time to go to their homes and get nets set up before coming back to the event area. By the time President Fernández and the TFV delegation arrived in Lukodi, over 900 people were present and we started “as planned.” Nobody noted the nets some community members still had in their hands.
The community members’ interest was clear and their desire to share their thoughts directly to Court leaders was palpable. In the words of one member of affected communities, “every visit of a Court official is an opportunity for us as communities that have endured grave suffering, to engage with them and share our views about the ICC processes.”