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A hero is a person noted for special achievements and noble qualities. Gilma Bucardo is one of my heroes.

Bucardo has been practicing as a lawyer for nine years in her hometown of Jinotega, high in the mountains of Central Nicaragua. Last year she and a colleague opened House of Justice, an inconspicuous one-room office on a narrow side street. The pair offer affordable legal aid to people outside the formal justice system.

Most cases are simple, but they can have significant consequences for the people involved: land disputes, unfair dismissals by an employer, and, sadly, domestic violence. Bucardo and her colleague have handled 95 cases like that so far this year.

The day I visited the Jinotega House of Justice, Bucardo was consulting with a young man who had been beaten by the police, who later realized they had arrested the wrong man.

Although Nicaragua has an elaborate legal code, a popular saying goes: “Un pobre hasta por una gallina condena, y el rico no.” (A poor person goes to jail for stealing a chicken while a rich person always gets off.) In other words, money talks.

The recent civil war taught Nicaraguans to settle disputes by force. Corruption and ineffectiveness in the justice system often lead to vigilante justice. The people who are most vulnerable to abuse are those who are naïve or who can’t afford professional legal aid.

The Christian Center for Human Rights (CCDH), a Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC) partner, is behind the idea of the House of Justice. CRWRC’s role is to fund training events, facilitate learning exchanges, and provide training in strategic planning and networking. Partners Worldwide also contributes to the program.

Bucardo’s House of Justice in Jinotega was the 15th such office in Nicaragua. Besides offering legal advice, Houses of Justice coordinate the work of justice volunteers in outlying communities. The volunteers help communities to understand their rights and responsibilities and train people to resolve conflicts before legal aid is necessary.

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