When we work as a group, we feel empowered as women

Betty Kusemerwa was forcibly evicted from her home, along with the rest of her village, in August 2014, in order to clear land for industrial development. Her husband was blinded in the confrontation, and she and her 9 children had to live in an internally displaced persons (IDP) encampment. However, with the support of National Associations of Professional Environmentalists, she has been able to reclaim her rights through speaking publicly about her treatment, and now has some land to build a new home.

Betty - Reclaiming Stolen Livelihoods

"It started on 25th August 2014. It was Monday at 6am. We heard gunshots, people making noises, and shouting. Everyone was rushing; fleeing with whatever they had put on the night before and still half asleep. I have 9 children; I just ran with my children into a bush at a nearby farm and was separated from my husband.

We stayed there all night without anything to cover ourselves. When it started raining I left the bush with my children and started walking along a path – I was looking for my husband. I hadn’t seen him [since we left]. When we found him, he was walking blindly and we had to carry him to the [displacement] camp.

Since the eviction, we have faced many challenges. We have been pushed into poverty. At the camp, that’s where we were suffering the most.

As a woman, I would wake up early in the morning at around 6am to go to look for a job. Whenever I would get food that would be a blessing, but sometimes I would go to work and wouldn’t get any food, we would eat just cassava leaves.

Many children in the camp were malnourished, others would die because of malnourishment. We were not living a happy life.

I didn’t know NAPE until we were evicted. NAPE helped us. They came to the camp to start collecting voices for radio, and even court. They started empowering us by helping us to know our rights and how to fight for them.

Now because of NAPE, I know my rights, I know I’m free to go on the radio and talk about our issues and be listened to.

We were also taught skills; like how to plant trees and to conserve the environment. Especially on how to save energy, even the challenge of firewood; how we can make charcoal out of kitchen waste, and cooking on energy saving stoves that use less firewood.

Now that we are back on the land, life is somewhat improving. At least we have a place where we can get our own food, without buying – not like those days when we were in the camp. When we were in the camp, our rights were being violated. We worked on the land but sometimes we weren’t paid. Now we can plant crops on our own land and we get crops from our own land.

I would advise all women to work with NAPE. Whatever we don’t understand, NAPE comes to empower us, teach us and we get help. With our continuous work with NAPE, I feel the future is bright because they are training women, especially on our rights.

When we work as a group, we feel empowered as women. We can fight poverty, we fight with one voice and if we work together, we can get titles for our land. Because if you are more secure, you can educate your children and live in peace. 

I can’t say now that they will not take more land because there is a pipeline affecting some of us. If they come in good faith, they can sit with the leader and find a way to make sure we are well compensated. If they come in bad faith, we have to go to court. Overall we have to make sure we work together."