Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)

Eun Ha Kim (Refugee Law Project – RLP - Uganda): Eun Ha received her B.A. with a dual concentration in Economics and Urban Studies from Brown University. She completed two years with an investment banking firm, but felt unfulfilled and embarked on a year of travel to countries that included Cambodia and Nepal for a year. Inspired by the adversity and strength of the people she has met, she decided to return to school. At the time of her fellowship, Eun was pursuing her Juris Doctor at Georgetown University Law Center, with a focus on international human rights.

First Taste of Uganda

25 May

Day 6 in Kampala, which is a bit surprising given how settled I have felt for days. Perhaps it harkens back to my nomadic days wandering around in SE Asia and having to adjust quickly to new local cultures, languages, sensory revelations while spending only a night or two in any one location. In any case, I am grateful for the easy transition because after final exam period I was feeling more than slightly dazed. But what better way to celebrate the end of my first year of law school, then to board a plane to the other side of the world. And after about 30 hours in transit (which included 12 lovely hours wandering around at Heathrow airport), I was greeted in Entebbe with my first sunrise in Africa.

After working through some kinks regarding finances (all the ATMs here only take Visa), I took a “modest” room at Backpackers Hostel. By modest I mean pretty bare but at least it has a mosquito net, which is my only real requirement since I am a mosquito crowd-puller. I have been sure to bring the usual anti-malarials, but this time around I have come to terms with the fact that the risks are pretty significant. I immediately set off for the RLP office in Old Kampala that same morning much to their surprise. Even I was surprised about how much energy I had despite the fact I had just arrived in a new city a few hours earlier. As they were not quite expecting me for a few more days and were limited in space, I took the next few days to explore. White water rafting on the Nile (and being bruised up on rocks after being flipped off the boat) and riding boda bodas (motor bike transport) through different neighborhoods and meeting people at my hostel who were working all over East Africa (one at the ICTR, another doing HIV research in Northern Uganda) and getting absolutely lost in the sprawling, large city that is Kampala are just a few of the memorable moments of my first few days.

Yesterday was my first full day at the RLP office, which is located across the way from a primary school. While working, I can hear the happy sounds of children at play, which adds some levity to the gravity of the work at the RLP. My first impressions of the office are in line with my expectations, following closely with the description I received from a friend who worked with the RLP last summer. The staff is quite congenial and welcoming, and I felt quite at ease with the people I will be working with in the Research and Advocacy group. I have arrived at a time of transition; two of the handful will be leaving shortly and one researcher is new.

Through conversations with the Director, Zachary Lomo, I was briefed on the technology issues which currently plague the office. With new hardware sitting in the offices, the technology capability of the office is superficially misleading. In particular, the office lacks the capacity to access the internet with only one dial-up connection. Although now somewhat autonomous from Makerere University after being founded as a research project under its public university status, the RLP must deal with additional bureaucracy of approvals for certain items such as technology purchases as outlined by university procedures. Therefore, the RLP cannot directly make IT purchases without significant delay. Despite having funds earmarked, the office is estimating months before the launch of a faster connection. Given the present structure of RLP, in-kind IT donations would be a much more efficient means to realize its communication needs. Although the Advocacy Project has attempted to assist in matching the office with an in-kind donor, such efforts have been unsuccessful given the limiting criteria of those technology donors. This avenue, however, should be continued to be explored.

With currently approximately 200,000 officially registered refugees from Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi and 1.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), the topic of forced migration in Uganda is inimitable. The work of the RLP is nuanced and multileveled, fulfilling a role which is essential to protecting the rights of refugees and IDPs, but its mission is simple. It comprehensively addresses problems left unanswered and largely neglected by the government of Uganda and the UNHCR. The RLP strives to humanize the plight of refugees and not just simply deal with them. The RLP is not merely responsive to the “refugee problem” but is proactive and preventive as it seeks to understand, interpret, deconstruct and integrate policy and law with practical applications which will respond to the needs of refugees. From criticizing the policy of forced rural settlement to evaluating the implications of the ICC investigations in Northern Uganda to opening up a dialogue on the troubles of UNHCR’s status determination procedures, the RLP has the energy and idealist perspective of a startup. Refugees are treated with respect as individuals, not as some number in the system. In this manner, the RLP fulfills a specific gap in the needs of refugees by providing a local voice which serves as a check on the government and international organizations.

I am quite thrilled by the opportunity to work here for the next three months. This week I am immersing myself in funding and grant application developments, which is an area of which RLP has great need. Although I lack experience in this regard, I am confident that I will be able to bring myself up to speed as well as develop a work plan and database with contact histories of prospective granting organizations within in the week, which will build on the preliminary research I conducted from DC. At the moment, the RLP lacks structure and organization in terms of grant seeking; continuous tracking and assiduous labeling are not quite the norm here. I hope to leave that mark on the office with my detail-oriented, efficiency-hungry work ethic. Bearing in mind, that could be waylaid at times with the frequent power outages (which I hear can last for days)… But then again my persistence has been known to yield some interesting creative solutions. Now if only I can figure out how to navigate through the city without getting lost.

Posted By Eun Ha Kim (Uganda)

Posted May 25th, 2005

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