Before beginning work in the Zambian justice system, we, the six Baylor Law and four Northrise University interns, sat down for an orientation session. It was helpful to learn about the how and why behind UP Zambia before diving right into the next few weeks of working with juveniles in custody. Sara Larios, one of the UP Zambia co-founders, explained that the program operates with four core values in mind: proximity, problem-solving, professionalism, and passion. These four words are more than just abstract ideals – they are values that the entire team actively practices every single day. I can say this with confidence because I’ve been a witness to “The Four Ps” in action each day that I’ve been with the UP Zambia team.
UP Zambia strives to be close to clients in every relevant field – in prison, in the community, and in court. Each Saturday, members of the UP Zambia team meet at Kamwala Remand Prison, where several of the juvenile clients are held in custody as they await their sentences. On one Saturday in particular, we lugged in backpacks filled with flour, sugar, oil, and other baking supplies and commenced a morning of making fritters. As it turns out, cooking enough fritters to feed 70 kids takes a while, so we were able to spend several hours just hanging out with the juveniles in custody, who are really just normal teenage boys. They performed raps for us and taught (or tried to teach) us bits of Bemba and Nyanja, cracking up when we butchered simple words and phrases. I liked being able to hang out with the kids as friends rather than being restricted to seeing them only in a stuffy, serious courtroom, and I could tell that the Saturday visits positively impact the relationships between the UP Zambia team and their clients.
To say juvenile justice in Zambia is hard work would be an understatement. There are frequent bumps in the road – missing witnesses, lost files, overwhelming caseloads – that make it difficult to make progress at times. Thankfully, everyone on the team is an expert problem-solver and adept at finding alternate paths to resolve issues. Giving up on a case is never an option they consider. On one morning in particular, I was in court observing Mpaso, one of the staff attorneys. A case came up for trial that had been continuously been reset; the juvenile had been sitting in custody since his arrest in January. The matter was about to be reset again because the complainant, whose presence was required, had not shown up to court. As the magistrate announced that the case would be adjourned yet again, Mpaso stood and said that she would go and find the complainant herself in order to see that the juvenile would not have to return to custody again without any progress being made on his case (through no fault of his own). Sure enough, after a few hours of searching as other cases were heard, Mpaso was successful! She found the complainant and brought him into court so that the case could proceed. If it weren’t for Mpaso and her willingness to see the case through, who knows how much longer the juvenile would have had to sit in prison, waiting for his case to be heard.
During our first week in Lusaka, Baylor Law’s very own Dean Toben spoke to the entire UP Zambia team about professionalism. Dean Toben posed the question, “What does it mean to be a professional?” The general consensus was that it means to be well-trained and an expert in the field. Every Thursday at the UP Zambia office, the staff participates in a legal training to hone their skills. Sarah Rempel, one of the staff attorneys, speaks on topics like interviewing, fact investigation, and client-centered lawyering. Then, everyone on the team gets a chance to practice the skills learned about that day. I’ve enjoyed these in-depth sessions on important legal skills and have been able to put them into practice, especially while interviewing clients in prison. One day in particular, we discussed the four stages of a client interview: the introduction, the open-ended “tell me everything” stage, the probing questions, and the recap. As I was recapping the story of the boy I was interviewing, he was able to point out important details that I had missed the first time around. This interaction made me understand why it’s necessary to learn and practice legal skills frequently. The importance UP Zambia places on professionalism and staying sharp when it comes to necessary legal skills ultimately benefits their clients in the long run.
I see passion for juvenile justice every single minute of every day in every person on the UP Zambia team. The way they tirelessly fight for their clients – spending hours digging through file rooms in the court to find papers that have been forgotten, traveling to the outskirts of Lusaka to track down parents of juveniles in custody – demonstrates that the work they are doing is important and justice for these kids is something worth fighting for. I think that it would be fairly easy to get caught up in the day to day tasks like interviewing clients and submitting forms and forget about the bigger picture, but everyone on the UP Zambia team constantly reminds each other of why they do what they do. Their passion is contagious and makes me excited to wake up each day and head to the prison, the court, or the office. I am so thankful for this passionate group of people that pour their energy and drive into obtaining “one day freedom” for their teenaged clients.