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My David vs Goliath Legal Battle Fund

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BENEFITING:

Sonia Carew

THE STORY:

I am trying to raise the funds for my legal fees. I want to expose the corrupt practices of the non-profit organization that I worked for.



I grew up in a very political active family; most of my family members took part in the liberation struggle of my country. Even though politics and human rights shaped my emotional core, I could not care less about activism.

Not until I was pushed into human rights activism by a personal tragedy.

I got raped. I was 21 years old. My life fell apart.

I struggled to regain control over my life. I did everything by the book; the unofficial survival guide for rape victims. I just could not shake the feeling of victimization. I could not shake the label of victim.

I needed to understand why it happened to me; how one human being could do something so horrific to another human being.

In my quest to find the answers to these questions, I started reading about rape, rape survivors and sexual offenders. I attended every available course related to sexual offences.

I became obsessed with finding the answers. My obsessions led me to a rape crisis centre.

After a short interview with one of the centre’s counselors, I decided to join as a volunteer. The decision was fuelled by my pure selfish desire to heal my broken soul. There was nothing noble about that decision.

I thought that I would find the answers at the centre. I did not find the answers. But I found peace, healing and forgiveness through my voluntary contributions at the centre.

I slowly realized that I was using my negative experience in a positive way. And I was shaking my victim label.

I joined the centre on a full time basis and started my exciting journey into human rights activism.

Even though I loved my work at the centre because it was so rewarding and humbling at the same time, I wanted to explore other avenues of human rights activism.

I moved to Mariental, a small town in the south of Namibia and took over the management of a child justice organization.

My work at The Bridge took me to the dark corners of police holding cells, and the icy cold cells in the Hardap Prison. And I had to face my biggest challenges yet. I had to advocate, on a daily basis, for the rights of children who conflicted with the law.

I came face to face with juvenile sexual offenders. I had to look beyond the crimes, saw the children, and fought for their rights as prescribed in the UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

I was shaping into the hardcore human rights activist that I am today.

But I had to move on. Again.

In May 2010 I accepted a position at NDT in Windhoek. The organization prides itself on developing rural communities.

I used to work for very small non-profit organizations that managed very small funding budgets. My new place of employment was not a small organization. The organization was juggling budgets 20 times the amount that I was used to.

The Director appointed me as the National Program Manager. But he immediately made it clear that my main focus should be the design, launch and implementation of a program, Community Links SMS-Connect. The program was a collaboration between my new employer, and three other partner organizations.

Community Links SMS-Connect is using cellular phone technology to accumulate and disseminate information about the wellbeing of orphan and vulnerable children in Namibia.

USAID funded the conception and launch of the program. We had six months to launch and pilot the program; six months to get proof of concept. We needed a proof of concept as to convince donors to fund the program.

I was excited about being involved in such an innovative program. Even though I was earning peanuts. Tiny peanuts.

When the Director appointed me, he told me that the organization could not afford to pay me a market related salary because they were struggling with funding; the organization had to rely on the funds that the organization received from USAID for the Community Links SMS-Connect program to pay my salary. As such, he offered me a program officer’s salary whilst I was being appointed as a National Program Manager / Deputy Director.

I was OK with the situation. Because it was never about the money for me. I realized a long time ago that one would not never get rich doing human rights work. Unless you would turn to corruption. And I could not imagine that anyone would want steal from the funds that were intended for such noble causes.

I was wrong. I was naïve. And it cost me dearly.

Five months later I found out that the Director was invoicing USAID 55% more than the salary amount he was paying me. When I confronted the Director, he told that he was going to use the surplus funds to cover my salary after the pilot period until the program could secure more funding.

I was not satisfied with the answer. Because I had the lingering feeling in my gut that something was not kosher. I decided to take up the matter with the American organization who was the founding partner of the Community Links SMS-Connect program; the American partner secured the USAID funding for the program.

The American partners did not want to get involve and turned a blind eye. They needed the Director because USAID insisted on a Namibian partner; they needed the organization’s cooperation and they did not want to anything to offend the Director.

I then discovered that an employee, based in a regional officer, was embezzling funds from another program. When I informed the Director about the corruption, he was very nonchalant about it and refused to take action.

His reaction prompted me to dig a little deeper. I discovered various corrupt practices by several other employees of the organization.

I also discovered that the Director was also claiming payment for my salary from another program. Thus, he was invoicing two donor organizations for my salary, and he paid me less than a quarter of the total invoiced amounts.

If that was not enough, he claimed nearly U$20,000-00, in bonuses for himself, from the Community Links SMS Connect program. Whilst I had to cover some of the program activities, such as telephone calls, from my own pocket because he kept on insisting that the funds for the program was exhausted.

When he realized that I was going to inform the board of trustees about my discoveries, he started to sideline me. He and the rest of staff members excluded me from meetings and all internal communication. Without consulting me, informing me, he demoted me; replaced me with one of his loyal followers.

He also successfully lobbied the organization’s board members; told them that I am incompetent. He created the impression that I only wanted to ruin his reputation because I was bitter that he had to replace me.

I knew that it was only a matter of time before he would terminate my employment and I started to seek legal assistance.

I was confident that the only human rights law organization would take on my case. I was wrong.

The lawyer who took my call listened to my sad story for a full 55 seconds before she abruptly told me that they are not taking on labor disputes. I guess my sad tale was not exactly headline material; the organization’s staff loved to see their names boldly printed in newspapers.

I realized that I will have to suck it up and pay for legal services; I wanted to bag a lawyer before the douche bag of a director would try to formally end my employment. A friend recommended a lawyer who specialized in labor dispute.

My premonition was not unfounded. The man called me in. Told me that he had to terminate my employment because the organization is struggling with funding. I told him to put it in writing.

Even though Namibia has a very comprehensive Labor Act, the act is not as effective in practice.

I knew that I was facing an uphill legal battle.

I did not want my job back. I had zero desires to stay on at the organization; I just wanted to expose the corrupt practices of the organization. I wanted to demonstrate that the Director wanted me gone simply because I discovered the corrupt practices and demanded appropriate actions.

My lawyer was confident that I had a good case.

The Director was dragging out the legal process, and in the process my legal bills was compounding.

In the meantime he and his loyal staff were making my life hell in the office.

It was infuriating. I was being victimized just because I had the nerve to stand up for my rights. And my adversaries were using donor funding to victimize me, to make my life a living hell.

The Director went as far as to withholding my salary and benefits.

He wanted me gone. He wanted to destroy me.

And he almost succeeded. Because in the end, I just wanted to cut all ties with the organizations as I could no longer afford the services of my lawyer. I already spent more than half of my savings on my deceased Mother’s medical care. My legal fees swallowed what was left of my savings.

And the hostile treatment that I received from at work was taking its toll.

But I took a vow to expose the Director and the ongoing corrupt practices of the organization. I have to because he is making sure that I can’t find another job. And he was trying to make a victim out of me.

He is a very powerful person in the non-profit sector, has access to funds, and makes for a sturdy opponent.

I have promise myself that I will find a way to expose him, and drag him through court. Even if I have to sell my dignity for a couple of dollars. Even if I have to beg for money to cover the legal fees. Because I certainly can’t borrow money because until I can defeat him, I will remain unemployed.

So, I am begging you to help me to legally kick his corrupt behind into eternal hell.

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