By Dyson Mthawanji:
It was all smiles for George Mikeyasi, 26, when he was among the 27 inmates that graduated from vocational courses at Zomba Central Prison.
Although he will be released in 2023, Mikeyasi is still happy because he will be able to earn a living and support himself. This was not the case when he was entering the walls of the central prison.
“When I was at home, I had no skills through which I could earn a living. This was something that pushed me into committing crimes to survive.
“I was thrown into jail but this may be a blessing in disguise because in prison I have learnt barbering and I am looking forward to practising this when I say goodbye to prison life,” Mikeyasi says.
The 27 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 while eight have been trained in barbering. Nine inmates have graduated in tailoring and designing.
During the graduation ceremony, which was spiced up by traditional dances and a live band courtesy of the inmates themselves, stakeholders echoed each other’s sentiments that prison education can cultivate the knowledge, skills, values and motivation necessary for positive citizenship.
MPS Commissioner for Administration, Dezio Makumba, hailed the programme, saying it would reduce recidivism and congestion at Zomba Central Prison.
“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 leave prison. Furthermore, this programme will help to decongest our prisons because the skilled ex-inmates will likely not reoffend and come back,” Makumba says.
As 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 the organisation 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,” Harrington said and encouraged other inmates to use their time in prison to study and learn.
DVV’s work is motivated by Sustainable Development Goal 4, which seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
Harrington said the main objective of the programme, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, is to help reduce recidivism through education.
“When the ex-prisoners engage in income-generating activities such as carpentry, tailoring or barbering, chances of committing crimes again will lower. The need for education in prisons is enormous,” Chreaa executive director, Victor Mhango, says.
The ALE in Prison Programme was launched on November 13 2020 targeting prisoners aged 18 and above, and is aimed at equipping them 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.
They include communication 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 skills they have acquired under the ALE programme.
The inmates are fashioning items such as clothes and furniture, which can be sold outside the prison.
Through the programme, DVV International also renovated buildings which inmates use for their vocational lessons.
Panyete-Mikeyasi, says although he missed out on basic education, he has every reason to smile as he will be able to earn a living using his barbering skills.
He told journalists on the sidelines of the graduation ceremony that he would open a barbershop in his community when he leaves prison.