Justice turned helena into an inspiration


Helena Kantimbo, left, who inspired other women to form an entrepreneurial group after securing the house she fought for several years to keep through legal aid. Together these women make soap bars in her backyard that they sell and in so doing improve their families’ economic fortunes. 

One of the three main thoroughfares out of the town of Songea heads south towards the town of Mbinga, where soft-spoken Helena Kantimbo welcomes us into her quiet home situated on the upper side of the street.

Her backyard is a hive of activity, where several other women gather to produce home-made soap bars that, they distribute to small shops around the town. This small enterprise is Helena’s brainchild, a deliberate group initiative designed to increase her income and that of other women who need to enhance their small fortunes. In addition to soap-making these women also raise chickens to supplement their income.

“This business has been a remarkable help to me in the obvious sense that I’m now able to earn income that allows me to run my life, and also engage in other worthwhile activities all because of this house that is back in my hands,” says Helena with a grin.

The house she is referring to was at the centre of a protracted conflict that threatened to turn her life upside down. She was married in 1991 and lived happily until 2005, when her life began to be rocked by her husband’s unreasonable behaviour that included beatings, humiliation and death threats.

He persistently demanded they sold the house, which she refused to do, and that elicited further abuse forcing her to return and live with her parents.

One of her husband’s close friends was Daniel Chindengwike, a local paralegal, to whom he went and narrated the conflict.

“Helena’s husband informed me that she had left and he didn’t know why, but when I examined the matter having spoken to both of them I discovered that she had left complaining of beatings and being pressured to sell the house they shared. I also learned that, she built the house before they were married, thus making it her own property;

“Repeated efforts to dissuade her husband from demanding the house be sold couldn’t convince him until legal proceedings became necessary. Seeing no way out, he relented and returned to her the title deed, which he had snatched from her, and then turned his anger against me,” says Chindengwike.

Threats, intimidation and false accusations by Helena’s husband intended to smear Chindengwike’s public image became the order of the day, however, the paralegal was never cowed. This experience illustrates some of the challenges that paralegals who work on a voluntary basis encounter with some going beyond verbal threats and turn into actual acts of physical harm.

Helena represents a broad spectrum of women across the country, who have harnessed sufficient confidence to stand their ground and pursue their rights, especially with the available assistance of legal awareness extended to them by paralegals.

These women often share the fruits of their toils for justice with other less fortunate women, and in that process become not only a source of inspiration, but the first step in the journey to transform their lives, and build foundations for the futures of their families.

Tabia Rashidi says her neighbour, Helena, invited her to join the soap-making enterprise because she believed it provided an avenue for changing their lives for the better.

“Helena’s case was a sad episode in her life, and it certainly had a negative effect on us. The successful end of her ordeal brought joy to us because we value her, and always wished good on her. My group colleagues were trained in this trade and paid for the lessons, but I was lucky because when I was invited all I had to do was emulate what they did and that I learned the craft,” says Rashidi.

Laita Ismaili adds that, in the few months they have been in the enterprise have been rewarding; “I feel there’s a bridge I have crossed and today I’m able to use new-found skills to uplift my own life. When we women stand firm our rights cannot be lost, we need to follow Helena’s footsteps and seek the readily-available help from paralegals,” she insists.

“Honestly-speaking, I lived through very difficult times and there were moments when I simply wanted to give up. Deep in my heart, I knew my experience wasn’t what I deserved, and when I was called to explain my side of the story, and eventually rewarded with what was rightfully mine all along I felt tremendous relief”, recalls Helena.

“The tenants that live here, the chickens I raise and the soap-making enterprise all help me live a more comfortable life a far cry from my awful experience”, she adds.

Women empowerment sits at the core of LSF’s Access to Justice Program due to the fact that, most women are victims of social-economic sidelining. In a case such as this, where one woman’s attainment of justice morphs into a huge benefit for other women and consequently contributes to long, honourable efforts of economic transformation and ultimately alleviating poverty.

LSF continues to see the enormous value of having paralegals right at the grassroots level of Tanzanian society, and thus facilitates the program’s sustainability.

What other beneficiaries say