Troubled life pushed Twembi to human rights defence

Twembi stayed home for a month and was instead enrolled in a rural school where her family hoped she would sink into oblivion and possibly hate studies

Human rights defender. Teopista Twembi in Mbarara recently. PHOTO BY RAJAB MUKOMBOZI 

BY Rajab Mukombozi


  • Phenomenal. Teopista Twembi almost didn’t make it to school because her father wanted her to get married instead.
  • This experience and more inspired her into protecting human rights, writes Rajab Mukombozi


Teopista Twembi, 45, is the Uganda Human Rights officer in charge of Mbarara office. She oversees human rights work in 16 districts in the region. Her troubled background propelled her to take on human rights protection.
At about 4pm, Ms Teopista Twembi is coming out of a meeting. She points at what should have been her breakfast, “See the tea they brought in the morning is right here.” Twembi only drank a glass of juice in the morning as she took her child to school. She missed lunch.
Nevertheless, Ms Twembi says serving people is a calling and passion for which she would sacrifice anything. Well, everything except her family.
“My family is the first office, I cannot concentrate when my family is not right. I am very considerate that despite the heavy work schedule I do not abandon my family responsibilities and roles,” says Ms Twembi.

The road to staying in school
The mother of three was born in Ibanda District in south western Uganda where the only value previously attached to girls was having children and as a source of bride wealth.
Twembi excelled in her Primary Leaving exams and was admitted to Immaculate Heart Girls’ School Nyakibale, her first choice and one of the prominent schools countrywide. However, she did not join the school because her father and uncles wanted her married off as was the culture then.
But Twembi and her mother were against the idea. She stayed home for a month and was instead enrolled in a rural school where her family hoped she would sink into oblivion and possibly hate studies.
Troubled, in Senior Two Twembi wanted to be a nun seeing this as her only hope. However, that could not be as her parents were not wed in church. She concentrated on her studies. At the new school, she performed well, hoping to join Immaculate Heart but the ghosts from her past surfaced again.
After O-Level, her father told her off, advising those encouraging her to join A -Level to pay her school fees.
As luck would have it, her cousin Patrick Matsiko wa Mucoori stood with her, not only in convincing her parents but also securing her a vacancy in a good girls school nearby, Kibubura Girls School.
The determined girl emerged the best in her A-Level and was offered government sponsorship at Makerere University.
Twembi recalls a disturbing ordeal her mother went through for producing girls.
“I am the fourth in a family of nine children but the first four were girls. I was told of how my mother was scorned, degraded, abused and how my father wanted to divorce her because she was “finishing off” the clan by producing girls,” says Twembi.
These experiences of discrimination based on gender built in her a strong resolve to fight for equality at a young age.

Joining human rights practice
Twembi joined the Uganda Human Rights Commission in 2004. On leaving Makerere University where she graduated with a Bachelors of Social Work and Social Administration degree, she worked as a Community Mobilisation Officer with Community management and Property Elimination Programme Uganda (COMP-PEPU) and as a researcher in various organisations including the Centre for Basic Research. When an opportunity in human rights came, she saw this as her chance to fight injustice and discrimination in society.
Having joined as a human rights officer in charge of receiving and investigating cases in Fort portal, Twembi was appointed the Uganda Human rights western regional head in 2008.
As head of the regional office, she is charged with overseeing all the operations of the office by efficiently managing the human, material and financial resources attached to the office. She supervises and ensures that Mbarara Regional Office effectively carries out the mandate of the Uganda Human Rights Commission of promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms of all citizens.

What her work entails
When she gets to office, she first clears her desk of pending work, especially feedback from her colleagues, and then switches to attending to clients and appointments.
On average Twembi handles five people daily minus those who call in. And every day, she has a case to mediate.
In this office, she has had an opportunity to counsel couples, children and re-unite broken families.
Twembi recognises that family as a social unit is facing a lot of challenges that is why families are torn apart, children are rebellious and immoral.
“A family ripped by domestic violence, drunkenness always produces a replica of that. Most of the challenges families get, especially with children, have to do with the example sown in these children,” says Twembi.
Twembi also does a lot of sensitisation on human rights protection; telling communities about their rights and guiding them on where to go when their rights are abused. She is often on radio and television communicating about justice and human rights. She also travels a lot and interacts with communities deep in the villages to create awareness.
“I visit places prone to human rights abuses such as detention centres. When I visit such places and get these cases, I try to mediate, secure release, bond or bail. Here an innocent soul may be saved at times from long incarceration and suffering,” she says.

Tomorrow read about Maria Baryamujura, who creates opportunities in tourism for rural women.

Beyond human rights

Other roles in society. In addition to her campaign against human rights abuses, Twembi is also engaged in church work. She is the leader of Uganda Martyrs Catholic Women Organisation, an organisation that unites women on different fronts ranging from social to economic transformation.
“Most women used to run to RDCs, police when they had family issues but under this organisation, we have helped families to handle their issues privately and sensitised women on their roles irrespective of status,’ says Twembi.
The organisation also has a revolving fund where women can tap into a pool of cash collected at each meeting to enable members invest in business. The group has 187 members.
Ms Twembi holds numerous responsibilities including; Member of Faith Commission Mbarara Archdiocese, Mbarara Archdiocese synod and the school boards of Mary Hills Girls and Nyamitanga School of Business Studies as well as St Annes Secondary School in Ibanda, where she is the chairperson.
Future plans
Away from her work at Uganda human rights commission, Twembi hopes to start a counselling centre.
“There is a place where my heart feels comfortable and that is having a platform to get in touch with people, to tell the world that there should not be any discrimination,” says Twembi.

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