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The Justice Desk: Creating a more just and equal world

High unemployment, poverty and widespread crime and corruption denies communities in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia a safe environment within which to thrive. The Justice Desk works to address such issues through educating and empowering otherwise vulnerable groups to better advocate for themselves and others.

The problem

The human rights agenda is focused at the institutional level leaving vulnerable communities behind

Although there are a number of NGOs acting in the human rights space, their work is almost fully concentrated on government lobbying and effecting policy change. Although admirable in its efforts, this work was not trickling down to local communities or effecting the lives of those who lived in them. This meant that those who needed to know the most, still had very little idea of what their human rights were, let alone how to defend them.

The solution

Empowering local leaders and community members

The Justice Desk helps to bridge the gap between governmental policy and real-life experience, by educating, training, empowering, advocating for and mentoring local school and community leaders to become human rights defenders in their own right. With a wide range of training, networking and advocacy programmes, they are leading the way in community-led activism. By empowering local people, the Justice Desk is raising awareness of human rights violations throughout South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia, while providing sustainable tools for action at a grassroots level.


The Justice Desk promotes the power of everyday activists within communities

The impact

Thousands of individuals supported and empowered

To date The Justice Desk has directly assisted over 35,000 individuals, schools and communities to help them better understand the meaning of the word justice, the processes of advocacy as well as providing effective, practical ways to lead the way forward and challenge the injustice they face in their communities.

Jessica Dewhurst

Founder and Executive Director, The Justice Desk
Jessica Dewhurst

With an undergraduate, honours and master’s degree in Social Development, Jessica has extensive knowledge of the socio-economic challenges facing Central-South Africa.

How did it all start?

My dream to educate others about their human rights was ignited when I was 18 years old. I was attacked by four men – one of whom was eventually arrested. After a few months, I was asked to attend the court hearing and face the man who had hurt me. When I saw him I was shocked because he didn’t look the same. He was so skinny I could see his bones, he smelt like nothing you could ever imagine. His clothes were torn, and he was terrified. I have no idea what came over me, but all I wanted to do was hug him. All I wanted to do was say that I was sorry for the life he had to live.

This man was born in a broken-down shack in Khayelitsha. His father left when he was five and his mother was unemployed. He hadn’t had an education because his school was overcrowded and he couldn’t afford books or a uniform. His home frequently collapsed and didn’t have water, electricity or security. He was continually harassed by gangs threatening to kill him if he didn’t join them, and because he didn’t finish school, he couldn’t find a job.

Every morning at 4am, he made the long trip to the city to beg for money so he could feed his mother, who was dying of HIV/Aids. He begged, and begged, and his dignity was chipped at again and again – until one day, he snapped and he did something terrible. But what dawned on me in that moment, was that not for one second did I believe that HE was the problem. His actions were wrong, yes, but this man was not his actions.

He was a young man who had grown up unprotected and forgotten, forced to live in unimaginable conditions. He grew up having his rights violated on a daily basis and was failed again and again by those who said they would protect the children of this country.

It was in that moment that I realized I could no longer simply engage in charity work, handing out food, clothes, making children smile, and then send them home. What was the point if I was sending them back to broken homes and dysfunctional communities where people had little to no respect for the rights and dignity of others?

Instead, I started The Justice Desk in order to challenge systemic injustice, and make sure that no child would ever have to grow up and live a life they would not choose.


What was your greatest challenge?

Funding. Human Rights work is not popular, it’s not ‘pretty’, and you don’t feel good and warm inside after completing it. Its hard work, traumatic, and consuming. Because of this, many donors shy away from funding this type of work. It continues to take an immense amount of effort to help funders understand the vital importance of justice work, and that if we don’t engage now, nothing will ever change.


What's been your greatest achievement?

Despite these challenges we have been able to directly impact the lives of over 35,000 people, and indirectly over 90,000 through 17 education, advocacy and training projects across 3 countries.

Our educational materials and campaigns are used all over the world; and we have thousands of students, teachers and parents building safe and just communities.

We are influencing the policies of countries and mobilising thousands of people to be everyday activists. Human traffickers are being caught, corporal punishment is being abolished and police stations are being built. Relationships with the people we work with and their representatives are stronger than ever.

People, young and old, are being equipped to recognise that ‘yes, I can lead my own change’ – and its working!

What’s next for your project?

The long-term goal of The Justice Desk is to continue to build strong ties and relationships with local community members. We hope to one day open a safe, self-sustainable, community-run, eco-village that can provide for the needs of some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, providing a safe space for all. This will all be while continuing to work alongside community members to advocate for long term change in the current systems that perpetuate the cycle of poverty and injustice.


What top three things helped your venture succeed?

Adaptability and resilience: Our team is able to adapt to a variety of different circumstances and contexts.

Ability to mobilize young people: We highly value, trust and celebrate the knowledge, skills, passion and dedication of young people. We give them opportunities to take initiative and create truly wonderful programs

Partnerships: We thrive by working alongside people, supporting one another as together, we transform our world.

The Justice Desk

To donate to this project, learn more or find out how you can help, please get in touch.


+27 60 627 1963





Working together to make a difference

Working with Jessica and the team at The Justice Desk has been inspiring in many ways. The story of how The Justice Desk came to be is the perfect example of how positive results can emerge from challenging situations. Her commitment to empowering local leaders and community members means that the work of The Justice Desk is making a real difference to the lives of many otherwise vulnerable people in Central South Africa.

Although still early on, the impact the team have already been able to demonstrate is impressive. There is still a long way to go before we can say that all individuals are living in a fair and just world, but The Justice Desk has already made it's mark way beyond it’s base in Cape Town. This is just the beginning, and we are so thrilled to be part of the journey.


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