How did you get to know Bery Glaser and when did you realize his ill intent.
I got to know Bery Glaser through Facebook. He always admired my work and he was always among the first people to comment on my Facebook posts. But in January 2017, he sent me a message on Facebook Messenger requesting me to take over his shelter and outreach in Kalangala. He said he was a cancer patient who was supposed to have died 2 years ago and was looking for someone to push his legacy forward.
After a few weeks, he called me and said you didn’t respond to my message. That’s when I told him I was going to be in Kalangala to witness the official hand over of medical equipment from Med Share, Atlanta Georgia USA to Kalangala Health Center.
When I posted on Facebook that I was coming to kalangala to witness the handover event, he came to my inbox and requested me to stay the night at his shelter called Bery’s Place located in Mweena, Kalangala (Kalangala is an island district located in the middle of lake Victoria). When I reached Lutoboka Landing site, I was received by Bery and his wife; this was my first time to meet Bery in person. That time we didn’t speak much because I was very tired but I had dinner with the girls. I left the following morning at around 8:00am to attend the handover event at Kalangala district headquarters. After the event, I traveled back to Kampala through Masaka (Masaka is a town 140km south of Kampala city).
After two weeks he called me and requested me to spare some time and go back to Kalangala so we could discuss a few issues. Within a month, I went back and this time I was received by Bery and one of his young girls. The following morning, we had a meeting of three people – I, Bery and Andy Wilkes, a British volunteer. The meeting started with introductions and I also shared my business cards with them. Bery further introduced me in a way I didn’t really appreciate at all: “This is Asia, the mother figure in this house and she is going to be helping me to groom these girls……..” We had not really talked about this at all. Before we discussed anything, Andy angrily left the meeting and never came back. Bery out of frustration, called 3 young girls who were the eldest by then, I think they were around 17 or 18 years to come for a meeting. I was however surprised by the girl’s reactions when he called them for a meeting!! None of them wanted to be part of the meeting. They were all despising him and disrespecting him in front of me, which is not good in the Buganda culture, and when the girls finally came, surprisingly Bery also left the meeting. When I spoke to the girls about their behavior towards someone who is providing them shelter and education, their response was very shocking “We have been told you are the mother figure in this house, right, take your time. You will definitely understand what happens in this house”.
Later after like 30 minutes, Bery came back with a copy of the house rent agreement that was expiring in December 2017 and handed it over to me. After two minutes, he went back and picked his will and a monthly expenditure for one month and handed them to me with no explanation. After realizing all this drama, I requested to leave and returned to Kampala that day but with a desire of wanting to know more about what happens in Bery’s house. And this when I got to know that something fishy was happening in the house.
After a few days, I received an email from Andy Wilkes. Andy was trying to describe for me what happens in Bery’s house at night. How Bery sexually abuses the girls in his care (I can share the email if you want to look at it). I however asked Andy to meet with me and we meet at Café Javas on Kampala road where Andy was able to elaborate more about what Bery does to the girls. It was really very shocking.
Focusing on what I observed on my visit coupled with what Andy shared with me, I really wanted to report to police but I also realized I didn’t have enough evidence. Secondly, none of the girls knew me by then. I decided to review the 2013 defilement court case against Bery and why it failed. I noticed that Police treatment of the victims at the time of Bery’s arrest was very frustrating. Following Bery’s arrest, over 30 children under Bery’s care were initially transferred to a home in Kireka, under police custody and were taken to different locations around Kampala for questioning and forensic examinations.
According to the victim’s testimonies, they were treated poorly in police custody and not given regular meals. The investigation officers did not attempt to establish a trusting relationship with the girls and did not enlist the assistance of child psychologists or counselors to reassure the children and assist with collecting their testimonies. Rather, they resorted to intimidation – with some of the older girls charged alongside Bery for being accomplices to child sex trafficking. These girls were in fact victims of sex trafficking themselves. Some of the older girls even report being sexually assaulted and revictimized while in police custody. Faced with these difficult challenges, the girls sided with Bery and refused to give testimonies to the police and even refused to attend court sessions.
I also realized that the police also did not try to understand the circumstances under which these girls had ended up in Bery’s custody. In fact, the girls were taken back to their communities by Uganda Police in 2013, where they had previously been sexually abused. Many of these children had been defiled, sold or prostituted by their own parents or close relatives. To many, Bery’s place provided stability in the form of school fees and some meals: basic needs that were unattainable in their families. So, many of the girls made their way back to Bery’s place. Many parents/guardians received calls from Bery’s lawyers, urging them to support Bery and ask their children not to participate in the case or withdraw their testimonies since Bery was paying their children’s school fees. The social stigma of sexual abuse in Uganda also played an important role, with parents concerned about the future of their children if they were to appear in the media. Even though many victims had been identified, many of these parents refused to allow their children to testify.
After reviewing the 2013 case, I came to a conclusion that Bery was high and mighty in Kalangala but I was determined to expose him. I designed a strategy that included the following strategies;
1) Working very closely with Bery, post constantly on Facebook complimenting his work, and requested him to share with me his registration certificate for the children’s home. And when I insisted that I wanted a registration certificate, then he suggested that I take over completely or we do a merger. One day he invited his lawyers (without informing me), who presented documents for me to sign but I told them I cannot sign a document with someone with no registration certificate and later we agreed that we give ourselves two years to understand each other. And by the time he died, we had not signed any binding document between my lawyers and Bery’s lawyers.
2) Working closely with Kalangala district leadership. Bery was so helpful to the district authorities because he was always available to help. So, it was really so necessary to have a good relationship with the district leadership.
3) Get close to the girls. Understand their challenges and their day to day lives, including school life. This meant that I had to frequently interact with the girls. I would visit Bery’s place two or three times a month and I would stay between 3-4 days. I would use this time to connect with the girls and to hear their stories. It took almost two years to win most of the girl’s hearts and that is when most of them opened up.
On 24th May 2018, I organized a stakeholders meeting on child sexual abuse prevention in Kalangala, with support from the Her Voice Fund. I wanted the victims to speak directly to the Kalangala district leadership. I wanted the district leadership to hear the girl’s voices and the pain they are going through at Bery’s place and do something to support the girls. Indeed the girls spoke and it was from this meeting that the Kalangala district probation officer mentioned that he had been instructed 3 times to close Bery’s home by the ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development and that they have always instructed Bery to register the home and he had refused (Report and recordings available). The probation officer also mentioned that they cannot give Bery support, including support supervision, because the home is not registered by the ministry. I saw the girls trying to express their pain but the Kalangala district leadership didn’t realize this!! After realizing that the district was not ready to help, I engaged the commissioner of Child Protection at Naguru Police Headquarters, Atuhairwe Moreen who handled the matter as a Child Protection Officer.
My personal observations while at Bery’s place from 2017-2018:
1) Ssese Humanitarian Services & Bery’s Place was not a registered children’s home. A home of over 35 girls was operated by one man, Bery Glaser himself, with no social workers, case managers, mentors, or mothers. He was the only adult in the home as a male authority figure. This home was not receiving any support from the government because it is not legally registered, and the district was not receiving any budgetary allocations to support Bery’s place. Additionally, the district couldn’t supervise or provide any input in how the home was operated because it was not registered. On several occasions, Bery Glaser had been advised to register the home by Kalangala district leadership but he refused to register the home.
2) Bery’s place was a re –victimization center and a sex trafficking operation
Many of the children and young girls that lived at Bery’s place were defiled or sexually trafficked in their communities, by their parents, close family relatives or identified “fit persons” in their community (most often a relative to the survivor). Beyond housing and education, the home did not provide any psychosocial support services. The girls lived in crowded rooms, sharing the house with Bery. Many of the girls reported to me how they were sleeping in Bery’s bedroom when his wife was away. As indicated by Kalangala district officials, these living arrangements are inappropriate – culturally and developmentally because the girls were living primarily with a male figure in the absence of any adult maternal figures. These living arrangements also raised several questions about possible re-victimization of these survivors among community members and volunteers. Additionally, the lack of a permanent local adult caretaker and psychosocial support services raised questions of whether the home provides the appropriate environment to raise and rehabilitate these young girls.
One day, a group of 6 girls, aged 4-8 years, disclosed to me how Bery forced them to participate in a range of sexual acts including masturbation, erotic massage and penetrative sex, all for Bery’s pleasure. These young girls were also forced to massage his entire body including his penis. I couldn’t afford to keep quite anymore, I confronted him directly and he denied everything. He later sent an email trying to explain himself. He copied me, his best friend Pastor Douglas Kyaligamba (Kyaligamba is also accused of child sex trafficking at Buganda road court and two sponsors.
“………the only time I touched my girls in an intimate way, is when I apply medicine in their private parts ……..” This response made me angrier (I can share the email with you if you are interested). Bery was by his own words a father and a caretaker, not a doctor. Most of these girls had sponsors that pay for their school dues and other basic needs, but for them to access their sponsorship, they needed to first make Bery happy by having sex with him. Those that refused to have sex were chased away from home and denied an opportunity to go to school (I can share some of the letters written by the girls to Bery and sent to me by Bery himself. I can also share some love letters sent by the girls he had chased away from home – sent to me by Bery himself in defense).
Failure to have sex with him or to meet his other expectations also meant no access to food. It is also very important to note that after chasing away these girls from Bery”s place, he again follows them wherever they go and blackmail them, intimidates people who seem to be helping them and many times terminates their educational scholarships because he was the one in direct contact with their sponsors.
3) Bery’s place also served as a guest house to various tourists and volunteers including males. The role of the volunteers at Bery’s place was not structured and there was no evidence to show that these volunteers are appropriately vetted, given their ready access to vulnerable girls. I saw girls at Bery’s place preparing and serving meals to the tourists and volunteers, including alcohol. The volunteer guestrooms are connected to the girl’s rooms, which increased their risk of re-victimization. There have been instances of where volunteers have “ran away” with a girl. Given the boom in sexual tourism in the East African region, there was a reason to worry that this unrestricted access to young vulnerable girls could be promoting child sex tourism.
4) Bery Glaser might have been practicing sex tourism.
Many girls told me how they sleep with Bery on the same bed and in groups of 3 or 4 especially the young girls (4-8years).These girls massaged him from head to toe including his penis. But again, Bery’s bedroom had an inbuilt wall camera, a laptop and a desktop computer that seemed to be connected to each other. I have a feeling he was recording videos while playing sex with the girls and sales the videos to some online sites as an income generation project.
5) Food security at Bery’s place was a challenge.
Food security was also a challenge for the girls at Bery’s place as they have two meals a day – breakfast (maize porridge) and dinner (posho and beans). Bery was getting money from their sponsors for food and other basic necessities. However, it did not appear to directly benefit these children. Attempts to provide the home with food were often met with resistance, with the food being donated to other people despite the dire need for food within the residence. I remember on Idd Elftri 2018, I received a donation of 3 cows from HEAR Uganda and decided to take 80kgs of meat to the girls at Bery’s place. But my surprise, as soon as the ship from Kalangala set off from Lutoboka, he donated all the meat to Serwanga Lwanga senior secondary school, in Kalangala. Bery was always portraying himself as a Good Samaritan when actually the girls in his house were starving.
Where the girls now? How many of them still support him?
Bery was rearrested in February 2019. 25 of the girls who lived at Bery’s Place are taken care of by the Government of Uganda. They are all safe and attending school. However, there are three girls who escaped from the government shelter and went back to Bery’s Place. Currently these girls support Bery, even after his arrest and death.
It’s very unfortunate Bery died before taking plea and this very painful to the victims. Honestly these girls have been to court 8 times, ready to testify against Bery Glaser but the case failed to take off. Bery himself refused to attend some of the court sessions, first declaring his lawyers are not ready, then citing health problems to claims that he didn’t understand English and therefore needed a Flemish interpreter. It’s important to know that Bery communicated with the girls living at his shelter exclusively in English for over 10 years. It’s also important to note that court delays took a grave toll on the mental and physical well-being of the victims. These girls were traumatized every time they were pushed back. These girls repeatedly questioned if they will ever get justice!!! Indeed these girls didn’t receive justice!!! How would you feel to know that your childhood has been stolen and your future is determined by past trauma?? How would you feel if after you are strong enough to talk about your worst experience of your life, your own community/parent abandons you? How would you feel to show up in court again and again, ready to do the hardest thing you have ever had to do, only to be taunted and sent home? Let us all support these girls to understand that their past trauma is part of their strength -https://www.lilyofthevalleyug.com/donations
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