Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.” From there on, he started working with various civil society organisations and grassroots HRDs. In 2019, Andrew and a group of friends started Encrypt Uganda and the DIG/SEC Initiative, which both work on improving HRDs’ digital safety.

Despite growing up in an environment hostile to certain minorities, especially the LGBTI community, he has always pursued his own anti-discriminatory value system. “It’s very easy for me to work with the community and support them, because I reason differently from most people,” Andrew explains. Rather than focusing on how others are living their lives, he reasons that we should focus on ourselves and be our best version, without judging others.

If I have a skill that someone else needs to be safe, I am very happy to provide it. Many of the organisations I work with don’t have IT departments, so once I do something for them, I usually become their IT guy. Most of it is easy for me, so if I can help, I usually do it immediately and I can’t charge a consultancy fee for that.

Not fond of nine-to-five jobs, Andrew mostly works on a freelance basis and makes his living conducting digital security trainings, security audits or consultancy projects for NGOs. But his daily work consists of small requests like resetting passwords, helping out with websites or advising on IT equipment – requests Andrew mostly completes free of charge. “If I have a skill that someone else needs to be safe, I am very happy to provide it,” Andrew says. “Many of the organisations I work with don’t have IT departments, so once I do something for them, I usually become their IT guy. Most of it is easy for me, so if I can help, I usually do it immediately and I can’t charge a consultancy fee for that.”

Andrew is so passionate about his work that he even plans his holidays around it. In September, he spent three weeks traveling through Eastern and Northern Uganda on his ‘Boda Boda’ motorcycle. Rather than mapping out the route according to sights, his itinerary entailed the locations of 13 remote grassroots NGOs in need of IT support. DefendDefenders supported Andrew’s ‘Security on Wheels’ trip. “The trip was supposed to last 14 days, but it wasn’t possible,” Andrew explains, “some of the organisations had more work than anticipated and you really can’t start doing something and then leave. It will take quite a while for most organisations to get free IT services again, so I had to just take all the time I could and extended the trip to 21 days.”

The trip was supposed to last 14 days, but it wasn’t possible. Some of the organisations had more work than anticipated and you really can’t start doing something and then leave. It will take quite a while for most organisations to get free IT services again, so I had to just take all the time I could and extended the trip to 21 days.

While Andrew did not accept any payment from these grassroots organisations beyond room and board, he did not return empty-handed: he filmed 150GB of footage along the way. With the help of an editor, Andrew has turned this footage into a small documentary.

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Sandra Aceng

Sandra Aceng is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender (WHRD). She is a gender and ICT researcher and policy analyst for Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) where she coordinates the Women ICT Advocacy Group, advocating for internet access for all. In addition, she writes on various platforms such as Global Voices, Freedom House, and Impakter Magazine. Her regular contributions to Wikimedia Uganda often focus on profiling WHRDs, female politicians, and journalists.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Chantal Mutamuriza

Chantal Mutamuriza does not wait for problems to be solved. When the Burundian woman human rights defender (WHRD) encounters a problem, she will seek a solution there and then. When hundreds of thousands Burundians had to flee from political unrest in 2015, many of them were stranded in refugee camps with little economic opportunity or access to education. In her problem-solving spirit, Chantal felt compelled to act: she quit her job to put her skills and network to use and founded the NGO Light For All.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Foni Joyce

Foni Joyce has engaged in humanitarian work since the age of 20, when she joined a refugee student organisation to amplify the voices of refugees. Originally from South Sudan, Foni grew up as a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, but she makes it clear that ‘refugee’ is merely a legal definition: “I firstly define myself as a human being who has been uprooted.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Meskerem  Geset Techane

Meskerem Geset Techane has fought injustice since she can remember: as a child she was known to stand up for herself and others, whether against bullies, teachers, her parents or church. Fighting injustice and promoting human rights is a common theme in the lawyer’s life. “It’s a passion, promoting human rights is not something you choose to do for a living or as a career opportunity. It’s more of a calling for me.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Andrew Gole

Andrew Gole’s journey to become a human rights defender (HRD) was sparked by a small request: in 2015, a human rights organisation reached out to the trained software engineer about a digital security training. “I didn’t know much about the HRD eco-system or about digital security as an environment on its own,” Andrew says. “So, I did some research, and realised digital security support is just the basic support I used to provide in an internet café.”

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Onesmo Olengurumwa

Protecting human rights is Onesmo Olengurumwa’s passion. When his secondary school lacked access to water and was threatened with closure, Onesmo successfully rallied his fellow students together and protested for their right to education. While at university, he was the human rights association’s president. Becoming a human rights defender was not really a conscious choice, but just the natural course of Onesmo’s life.

Human Rights Defender of the Month: Malab Alneel

Malab Alneel was only 20 when Sudan’s revolution started in December 2018, but she knew it was the moment to get involved: “I grew up in a house that was very political. All of my sisters are activists, my parents are very involved. Activism has always been there. But for me it started with the revolution. It just felt like a time for change.”

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