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Theodosia Borbor: A Passion for Justice

  • Theodosia Borbor is a community justice advisor in Liberia, providing free mediation services to citizens. Borbor has the highest case load of any advisor – she’s resolved roughly 95 cases in the past two years. (Photos: The Carter Center)

  • Borbor on her trusty motorbike, which she uses to travel from community to community in Liberia, teaching citizens about the law and serving as a mediator.

Theodosia Borbor may not be a lawyer, but she knows Liberian law. And she’s passionate about making sure others do, too.

Borbor is a community justice advisor with the Carter Center-supported Catholic Justice and Peace Commission. She provides free mediation services and organizes community awareness sessions for the people of Margibi County, which sits about an hour from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. She travels the county on a motorbike, sometimes spending the night in the village where she has been working when she wraps up too late to safely travel home on Liberia’s unlit – and often unpaved – roads.

“As a CJA, I educate community members on the law of Liberia,” she said. “All of the laws. Marriage. Child support. Property. Divorce. Rape. Inheritance. And I help people settle disputes out of court.”

Of the 54 or so community justice advisors spread across eight Liberian counties, Borbor has the highest case load, according to her supervisor, Cora Hare.

“Theo is overrun with cases,” Hare said. “She loves her job. She’s fearless and energetic, and she has a knack for getting people to trust her.”

In two years, Borbor has resolved roughly 95 cases, though the number of people she’s helped is much higher because she often gives legal advice without opening a case. Clients and advice seekers find her through her awareness sessions, through her Tuesday evening radio show, and through word-of-mouth.

Though CJAs make their services available to both sexes, the majority of their clients are women.

“The biggest issue the women I see face is lack of child support,” she said. “We have women with three, four, five children, and no father to take care of them. Many of the women don’t have jobs. Child support includes food, clothing, shelter, education, medication. Can the mother alone provide all of these things? No.”

Borbor tracks down fathers and encourages them to sit down with her and the mothers to figure out how they can contribute to their children’s survival.

Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get the men to the table. Sometimes they are angry. But Borbor persists: “I tell them I am working for the best interest of the child. Most of the time, the father agrees because it’s important to send the children to school.”

If he refuses, she helps the mother pursue a criminal case against him.

Another issue women frequently confront is denial of property – for example, a father dies and a brother tries to squeeze a sister out of her rightful inheritance, or a couple who are not legally married split and the man kicks the woman out of the house they bought together. (The issue of marriage is a tricky one in Liberia, because many people engage in customary marriages, which are recognized by their families and by village chiefs, but not by the government.)

Borbor helps women get the property to which they’re entitled.

She also handles rape cases. Because these are criminal cases, she doesn’t mediate, but rather refers them to the courts. She does, however, counsel the women and help them make their way through the court system.

“We know what trauma is, so we counsel them for the stress and trauma they are going through,” she said. “Sometimes they want to blame themselves. And we say, ‘You are not responsible for what happened.’ So we counsel them, and we give them hope again.”

Often, Borbor’s assistance goes beyond basic legal advice– she’s helped women figure out ways to support themselves by starting their own small businesses.

“The work is helping to empower women a whole lot,” she said. “And that travels down the line. When a girl sees that her mother is empowered, that she is able to bring some money home — this girl, she has hope again. There’s hope that if her mother can do it, she can do it.”

Working as a CJA can be stressful. The job frequently takes Borbor away from her five children for long stretches at a time.

But, she said, the rewards outweigh the sacrifices.

“I’m very proud, and I’m very grateful to the Carter Center for the training,” she said. “I gain strength because I have passion for this job. If someone tells me that they have paid $1,300 but the other person refuses to give them their land, and I can advocate for them, that makes me feel great. I have the passion to help somebody.”

 

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