Bernhard Glaser Bery, 72, who breathed his last on Thursday morning at Murchison Bay Hospital Luzira in Kampala, was a German health professional who arrived in Kalangala islands in 2003 as a tourist and a social worker internee.
He did his internship with Bufumira Islands Development Association (BIDA) in Bufumira Sub-county and later became a volunteer with this community-based organisation, working with other volunteers in offering psychological support, as well as education, to vulnerable children in the fishing communities.
In 2005, both Bery and his wife, Ingrid Dilen Glaser, started a children’s home at Mwena Landing Site in Kalangala Town Council that worked as a rehabilitation centre for young girls who were victims of rape, defilement and child neglect.
Two years later, the home got registered as a community-based organisation, Ssese Humanitarian Services –Bery’s Place (SHS), after being endorsed by Kalangala District Local Government.
The organisation started getting support from local leaders and Mr Willy Lugoloobi became the board chairperson of the organisation. Mr Lugoloobi is currently the Kalangala District chairperson.
Mr Augustine Kasirye, the chief executive officer of BIDA, offered Bery a huge chunk of land at Mwena Landing Site to establish a home which was enough to accommodate the growing number of beneficiaries at the time.
Residents then started realising that Bery was trying to address the real problems emanating from the cruel behaviours of many fishermen who were much devoted to mobile fishing, thus neglecting responsibilities towards their children.
Such behaviour by a section of fishermen increased the number of school dropouts, especially among girls and this exposed them to sexually hungry men.
As part of their core activities, Bery’s Place was always at the centre of supporting such victims with legal aid, education and rehabilitation. Some girls were later discharged and reunited with their families after successful completion of the rehab period, but they were continuously followed up by the organisation staff.
Getting into trouble
However, the organisation started running into problems in 2010 when some concerned citizens initiated a move to drag Bery to court over issues related to sexual harassment.
They accused Bery of enforcing family planning to young souls by applying dangerous products as well as practicing sex tourism and child trafficking, leading to his arrest and subsequent trial. He faced eight charges of aggravated defilement and 19 counts of aggravated child trafficking.
He was first arrested in November 2013 and charged after two children under his care accused him of sexual abuse. The minors aged between 12 and 14, said Bery had repeatedly defiled them since 2007. He stayed in detention for more than two months.
During the operation in which he was arrested, police recovered a dildo and lubricants that he allegedly applied to the victims before defiling them.
The detectives found that all girls at the facility had implants, one of the options used by women in family planning. Subsequently, 21 suspected victims were relocated to Kampala for safe custody, but 19 of the children returned to Kalangala days later.
In 2015, Justice John Eudes Keitirima dismissed all cases against him due to lack of evidence. The case was reinstated in February last year after police detectives raided Bery’s home in Kalangala where they arrested his wife Ingrid Dilen and rescued at least 11 children.
The detectives did not find Bery at his home at the time, but he was arrested later when he presented himself at police.
At the time of his death, Bery was still battling the same cases. He was first tried in Masaka High Court before the case was transferred to Kampala.
He had applied for bail to seek treatment abroad for Stage IV cancer of the skin (melanoma) and diabetes.
On Wednesday, Kampala High Court judge Moses Kazibwe had granted Bery a cash bail of Shs30m to enable him travel to Belgium for treatment. However, he was sent back to prison after failing to raise the money.
When this information reached Kalangala Islands on Wednesday evening, well-wishers through a WhatsApp group, Kalangala Agaakagwawo, started mobilising money to secure his release. By Thursday morning, Shs12.4m had been raised.
According to Mr Quaraish Kwesigabo, the deceased’s aide, Bery had been receiving treatment for skin cancer from abroad where he travelled every year.
“Unfortunately, all efforts for him to get routine treatment failed after two unsuccessful bail applications,” he said.