A Zimbabwean law student who faced a long legal battle to get into the UK now helps others for free to 'give back' to those in need. Matilda Kapala, 29, came to the country 10 years ago and will graduate with a first class degree in Law this summer from Nottingham Trent University.
Matilda said she went through her own “terrible” legal battle to come to this country and is grateful to the lawyers that helped her. Matilda said: “The lawyers put many hours into helping me. My immigration case was quite complicated with a lot of refusals. My dad was already here in England.
“There were a lot of appeals because I had the right to be with my family. It was terrible and this is why I wanted to give back, I want to help anyone in any way that I can.”
She now volunteers at the Legal Advice Centre at NTU. Whilst volunteering with the Legal Advice Centre, the student has also done pro bono work at the Women’s Centre giving legal advice to mainly vulnerable women. Pro bono work allows people who may not be able to afford legal advice getting it for free.
Matilda said: “Pro bono work is free so it’s not something that everyone wants to do but I want to [in the future] whilst working for a firm, it makes me feel good and when someone’s face lights up, it makes it worth it. I admire the work that they do at the Women's Centre.”
Two or three times a week Matilda and a group of students give legal advice to people at the Women’s Centre, under supervision from solicitors. Whilst doing the outreach project at the centre, Matilda earned the title of outreach project leader.
At the Women's Advice Centre, a lot of women seeking advice are those suffering from domestic abuse. Matilda spoke more about this and said: “A lot of women in terms of the centre were suffering from domestic abuse, in a lot of the cases, the police weren’t doing anything unless their abuse was physical.
“Many women come in and we start giving legal advice and they may come in with a housing issue but when you dig deeper, it turns out there’s underlying domestic abuse.”
Matilda feels strongly about all domestic abuse victims getting more support from the police. She said: “Why wait until somebody is killed to do something? We shouldn’t have to wait until that point.”
The team also signpost people to other services to help solve their problems. Matilda also dreams her own country of Zimbabwe starts to take domestic abuse more seriously too.
Matilda said: “In Zimbabwe, it really bothers me that domestic abuse isn’t treated seriously and as a crime. For me to say I’ll go back and fix it would be naive. In Zimbabwe, a lot of women accept domestic abuse and don’t speak up but that’s a part of their culture, there’s a lot of work to do.”
Matilda continued speaking about the many things that she had learnt from working at the Women's Centre. She said: “I didn’t realise the amount of benefits people need, I didn’t know about personal independence payments which is when someone needs assistance such as bathing themselves or assistance with walking. I just thought people would go to the job centre for those things.
“There’s things that I take for granted that are life changing for other people. People don’t just sort themselves out.”
Matilda would “100% recommend” students to study law at NTU. Matilda said: “Studying law has made me understand why I want to do this after everyday being involved with the wider community. I’ve learned skills like identifying how to help clients when the law doesn’t necessarily help them to give them that client after care.”
Matilda will now go on to do a Master's degree. The graduate’s overall goal is to become a solicitor continuing to give legal help to the community.
Andy Coppins Community Engagement & Volunteer Manager at Nottingham Trent University has said: “The Community Engagement and Volunteering team in the Centre for Student and Community Engagement (CenSCE) have a record of approx. 560 students that have volunteered during this academic year in over 75 different organisations across the city and county.
“We encourage them to do this by having ongoing, mutually beneficial relationships with organisations that enables them to link with the universities, so as well as advertising opportunities for students to volunteer they are also able to get involved in other areas of the University. Students are able to see these opportunities on our website and opportunities are regularly posted through the students intranet to encourage timely uptake of relevant volunteering roles.
“CenSCE also helps students who are not sure what kind of volunteering they might like to do by offering drop in sessions to discuss the opportunities available, and to to help to explore what the right options are for them. We also support them during their time volunteering and recognise their efforts through holding a recognition event at the end of the year. Our student volunteers are an important way that our University community contributes to our local communities, and is vitally important to our civic mission."