One year ago, we launched work in The Gambia at Mile 2 Prison.
Despite the country's small population – around 2.4 million people – the prisons are overcrowded. Filled with people who are marginalised and can't access fair justice.
After training our first cohort of paralegals, the impact they could have was evident. Working with the judiciary and government we've been able to expand to all three prisons in the country. We’re looking to train more paralegals and serve more clients over the next year. But it’s not just about the numbers.
To celebrate the milestone, we’ve caught up with three of our paralegals in The Gambia. Hear from Terrick, Jacob and Sheriff.
In 365 days in The Gambia:
Terrick was one of our first paralegals to be trained while incarcerated at Mile 2 prison.
Motivated by helping others, he shares what drives him: "Working as a paralegal is good because it’s like it helps me to be able to help other people that are here. You see, I wasn’t opportune to get what they are having now [access to legal services], so I find it to be much more of a joy to be able to help… I find joy in that.”
Terrick has seen first hand the impact his legal training has for his community.
“With the existence of Justice Defenders, we now give them the steps to fight this injustice…I have encountered people who have faced injustice in the past, who vowed on their lives to take revenge.
“You need to be able to talk to such persons first because at that point, revenge will not reform them, instead, the person has to be strong, face it and know how to get to a place to leave the prison…most of these people have left the prison now.
“My hope for the future of Justice in The Gambia is that the layman on the street will be able to know his rights.”
Jacob is a prison officer and paralegal at Mile 2 prison. Trained as a paralegal, she defeats stereotypes and works collaboratively alongside the incarcerated people she serves. Jacob most enjoys being able to actively help people who don’t have access to justice: “I feel very happy to help them,” Jacob explains.
“We exchange ideas amongst ourselves as a team and we also consult the law books and try explaining things clearly to inmates."
Providing legal services is new for Jacob. Excited by her work, she has high hopes for the future of The Gambia.
"I want justice in The Gambia to grow bigger, so more people can be helped, like the inmates. In The Gambia, most don’t have the money to pay lawyers and Justice Defenders being in The Gambia will help many people, because right now, lawyers are costly and for the poor population in Gambia that cannot afford it, Justice Defenders is playing an important role."
Jacob is dedicated to those she serves and would most like to see her clients go home and join their family. "When someone is happy, I’m happy. When someone is okay, I’m okay."
During his sentence at Mile 2 prison, Sheriff also trained as a paralegal. "When I started [my training], I was not actually in for it, I’ll be honest. But when I started serving people, that was the time I loved doing what I do. I love helping. It motivated me to strive more because when I hear from people and hear their stories, I want to help.
"Actually, I think working with [the other paralegals] is a great thing, and I actually learn from some of my mates and some of them also learn from me...Honestly, we are working as a team.
"For the future, that would depend on us. If we keep up the teamwork, I think the future would be bright. For me, the sky is the limit. I want to do many things."
Sheriff hopes to pursue further studies in law when he is released from prison, with the support of his family.
"When my family knew I was a paralegal, they actually wanted me to further my studies on law. They are even waiting for me to do it after my jail term."
Equal access to justice.
People who need justice most are least likely to be able to access to it. And people with lived experience within the justice system are least likely to be heard.
Our new legal offices, run by the people who best know the need for access to justice, are fighting the status quo. Our paralegals are proud to ensure that every person that walks into the office is able to access quality, accessible legal services. Regardless of wealth, status, religion or age.
When the law is placed in the hands of the people with least in society, they can be agents of change and reform. We cannot wait to see what they do next.
Learn more with an inside look into how we launched our work in The Gambia from our Director of Growth Matteo Cassini.