Latigi Fiona Lamaro, Co-Founder, Team Amito Foundation: We should not belittle or make ourselves less of what we are just to accommodate society’s expectations of us

Latigi Fiona Lamaro, Co-Founder, Team Amito Foundation: We should not belittle or make ourselves less of what we are just to accommodate society’s expectations of us

“…you can actually be whatever you want to be and excel in that. So I don’t think there’s a man’s job or a woman’s job, it’s about whoever can do it – whoever can do it, can do it and should do it. You shouldn’t be restricted and say “oh, this is a career meant for guys, there shouldn’t be any lady mechanics” … if I want to be that, if I want to be a mechanic, why shouldn’t I regardless of my gender. I believe we are all capable!”

Having co-founded Team Amito Foundation, a community-based organization based in Uganda that focuses on enhancing the socio-economic status of the community dwellers, Latigi Fiona Lamaro stands out as an exemplary and influential leader among her youth within and beyond her community. She is a lawyer by profession and with soaring ambition, she is indeed making progress step by step in the corporate world and moving closer towards her career goals. She shared details of her journey through professionalism in her field of work as well as the background of work with Team Amito Foundation.

“You never know what you can do until you try” – the words of this English proverb stand true for Fiona whose dream to impact her community began as a moment of curiosity sparked by the sight of young girls who were her agemates tending to children and staying at home instead of going to school. This moved her to want to make life better for them and support them.

“I think I was 15 at the time or 16 and it was like my S.4. so I had not really been to the village so much and then this one time I was moving around the village with my mum. I asked a question – it was an honest blunt question. There were so many young girls moving around and they had kids, and they were carrying children. So, I asked a question and I was just like “why are these young girls not in school? They’re younger than me … why aren’t they at school, why’re they babysitting these little ones? And my mum was like “they’re actually not babysitting, those are actually their children and they cannot afford to go to school, so most of them have dropped out. And I looked at these young girls and they’re younger than me some of them, they’re children themselves and they have other children. It really disturbed me and I kept pressuring her like what are you people -what is the community doing, the teachers in schools, the elders and everything, what are they doing and she was like “people really don’t care, this is a normal thing. Like if a family doesn’t have money, they’re going to get married, some of them are raped in the villages, and I think that was one of the things that drove the organization.”

Together with her family, they’ve since been able to lobby for both financial and moral support for their community; and over the years have worked on projects that involve mentorship, charity programs which have enabled them to touch the lives of the people and through community service of this nature, Team Amito Foundation was born. The organization is named after Fiona’s late mother in honor of her unwavering support towards the initiative and her role in laying the foundation for its establishment.

Working closely with people in her community together with being in position to initiate and oversee projects that are tailored to improving their lives has not left her the same and, in more ways than one, she is of the view that it has made her a better person.

It has brought me closer to the community in the village. Initially we didn’t really have time to engage with the community but with the organization, I get to engage with them, talk to them and actually get to know what’s going on and what they’re facing. It has pushed my direction of thought from just wanting to give a helping hand to what can we actually do to make a lasting change.”

Aside from her role as a humanitarian, Fiona is a practicing lawyer having recently graduated from Law Development Centre on completion of her diploma in law. She has always wanted to pursue law, even though her family so often got concerned that perhaps her career of choice might be rather dangerous for her as a woman, she didn’t let that discourage her and has eyes set on becoming a reputable figure in her field. One too many times women are urged to tone it down when it comes to career goals and ambitions, they’re expected to rejoice upon thriving in mediocrity, but Fiona won’t let herself settle for small dreams simply because she is a woman. To her, being a woman doesn’t determine one’s capabilities and neither does being a man, thus she doesn’t conform to the mindset that women can only go so far in life.  

The women who have inspired her to aim for being the very best in her field are none other than Hon. Dr. Miria Matembe and Engineer Winnie Byanyima.

Growing up, when I was in my secondary, my role model at that time was Miria Matembe because one; she was a lawyer and two, she was very vocal. I think she had attended some of the career days at school and I was just like “wow! She’s really standing up in front of us and just like speaking to us.” She had no apologies for who she was and I loved that about her. I just liked that she was very vocal, she stood up in front of us and I think for most of the conferences and career days, she was the first female person to address us and for me, I was just like “wow!” The whole time she was speaking I was so inspired. And then growing up further, I think my role model is Winnie Byanyima. I’ve just admired her – especially the time when she was in parliament. The whole time of the debate on gender equality and how she pushed for gender equality in parliament. I think for me that was iconic, because not many people were being vocal about that, not many people were standing that ground and she is brilliant. She is a brilliant person, she has done engineering but she has also moved more into politics, law, justice and all that. And for me, it stands for breaking the barriers because where she has reached now, it’s very hard for one to achieve that one; being a woman, two; a Ugandan woman who has reached up those ranks so it’s really inspiring that you can actually be that. Even as a Ugandan lady, it is possible to go beyond the borders of Uganda so for me, that’s really inspiring.”

Even amidst efforts to make the most out of the opportunities presented to her and getting on track for the future of her career, Fiona’s journey hasn’t been short of challenges especially those entrenched in misogyny. Even with her expertise and commendable skills, she has still had to deal with clients that treat her with disregard because she is a woman. “…within the profession, there’s a lot of bias against what women can do as lawyers so they’re limited to certain things and when you like say introduce yourself as a lawyer, they’re going to expect you to know only a small bit of the law and not everything.  I remember there was a client that came to our law firm and he said “eeii, my matter is a bit complicated, don’t you have any male people I can speak to?” I said, “what do you mean? I’m also a lawyer, why would you prefer to speak to the male partners.” And for most people, they have this bias of women are not good at the law or they’re not…”

From her experience, this attitude towards women is embedded even in schools where the highest position on the student leaders’ executive cabinet is reserved for a male and the vice role for a female, similar to law school where the title of president is exclusive to males. The fact that from earlier in life, women are expected only to take on roles that are second to the lead roles, hence it brings about gender-based segregation not only in the work place but also in homes. “Women are in positions like you might enter into an office, yes, you’ll be hired and everything but when it comes to time to make someone a leader in a position within the workplace say manager, or CEO, most times they’re looking for “who is the male person to do this?” even if they don’t have a big CV or even if their CV isn’t as big as yours or even in terms of capability, they’re not significantly better than you, they’ll always think the man will do a better job than the there’s that bias and segregation. Also, another thing is the lack of respect and yes, you can be in an organization, yes, we’re men and women in the organization but there’s a certain level of respect that people will give to the men compared to the women.” These circumstances have impacted her in various ways but mostly leading her to always have to work even twice as much purposely because she is required to continually prove herself as a woman that she is fit and capable in her profession of choice.

Regardless of the hurdles in her way, she is more than determined to achieve her dreams and advance in her career, in addition to contributing to making the world a better place with Team Amito Foundation.

Message to our readers

“One, as a woman, you’re capable of anything you put your mind to. Two, if you really want to see it through, you should really try and put in all the effort-do not leave room for them to say “she’s just in that position because she is a woman” or “she got it all for free” because you’ll have earned it for yourself and they’ll have nothing against you. Your effort and your work will speak for itself. Be intentional about what you want to be and work towards it and even when there are challenges, stand tall, have a support system of other women and always have people you can actually talk to.”