By Dyson Mthawanji, Communications Officer
On 26th November 2021, it was all smiles for Twenty-Seven inmates at Zomba Central Prison in Malawi who have graduated in vocational courses. The male inmates acquired skills in carpentry and joinery, barbering, and tailoring and designing which will help them engage in income generating activities when they go back home after finishing serving their prison sentences.
The courses were provided under the Adult Learning and Education (ALE) in Prisons pilot programme which Malawi Prisons Service (MPS) is implementing in partnership with DVV International and Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA).
Ten inmates have acquired carpentry and joinery skills while eight have been trained in barbering. Nine inmates have graduated in tailoring and designing.
During the graduation ceremony, which was spiced up by various traditional dances and a live band courtesy of the inmates themselves, key stakeholders echoed one another that prison education can cultivate the knowledge, skills, values and motivation necessary for positive citizenship.
MPS Commissioner (Administration), Dezio Makumba, hailed the programme saying it will reduce recidivism and congestion at Zomba Central Prison.
“I am very impressed with this programme and I thank all partners namely DVV International, CHREAA and Malawi Prisons Service for this impactful programme. Let’s continue working together so that more inmates benefit. Prison education is an essential prerequisite for successful rehabilitation and social reintegration and offers a real prospect of a future without crime to the incarcerated. The skills which these inmates have acquired will help them earn a living when they go out of prison. Furthermore, this programme will help to decongest our prisons because the skilled ex-inmates will likely not reoffend and come back here [prison],” said Makumba.
Considering that lack of access to learning opportunities is a key obstacle for prisoners’ transformation in Malawi, DVV International Regional Director for Southern Africa, David Harrington, said it is the desire of DVV International to see that the ALE in Prisons programme is one day replicated in all of the prisons in Malawi. Malawi has a total of 32 prisons.
“Education is important because it helps us when we leave prison. Education does not solve all of our problems but it helps. We want more programmes like this in all prisons in Malawi. DVV International will continue working with MPS and CHREAA on this programme,” said Harrington, encouraging other inmates to use their time in prison to study and learn.
To improve educational opportunities, especially for disadvantaged groups, is a central concern of the work of DVV International. The organisation’s work is motivated by the Sustainable Development Goal number 4 which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
The main objective of this programme, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), is to help reduce recidivism through education. This is based on the fact that many ex-prisoners recommit crimes due to poverty and lack of skills to use for income generation. Therefore, when they have skills like these, the inmates will be able to engage in income generating activities to support themselves, thereby avoiding reoffending.
“When the ex-prisoners engage in income generating activities such as carpentry, tailoring or barbering, the chances will be reduced that they will commit a crime again. The need for education in prisons is therefore enormous,” said CHREAA Executive Director, Victor Mhango.
The ALE in Prison Programme was launched on 13th November, 2020 targeting prisoners aged 18 and above, and is aimed at equipping prisoners with hard and soft skills that will enable them to support their after-prison life as well as learn some skills needed for smooth integration back into society, such as communication skills and conflict resolution skills. The programme also offers psycho-social counselling for the inmates.
During the graduation ceremony, MPS, CHREAA, DVV International officials and journalists toured the prison’s workshop where inmates are applying the various skills that they have acquired under the ALE programme. The inmates are making various items such as clothes and furniture which can be sold outside the prison. However, Mhango, complained that the proceeds from the sales of these items go to Government Account Number One, a development which frustrates progress of the inmates’ work as they lack funds for raw materials.
Through this programme, DVV International also renovated the buildings which inmates use for their vocational lessons.
Like all citizens, prison inmates have the right to education. Considering that most of the inmates missed basic education, ALE is the only hope for them to prepare for post-prison life. Most inmates are adults that need skills beyond reading and writing. They need to find something that will help them earn a living. The United Nations stipulates that prison education should be aimed “at the full development of the human personality.”
One of the inmates that graduated in barbering, George Panyete Mikeyasi, said although he missed basic education, he has every reason to smile as he will be able to earn a living using his barbering skills. He told the journalists at the sidelines of the graduation ceremony that he will open a barbershop in his community when he leaves prison.
“Before I was sentenced to prison, I had no skill that could help me earn money. But now I am happy that I have skills in barbering. The barbershop will enable me to support myself and relatives,” said Panyete-Mikeyasi.