During my first week working as a project officer for Advance Afrika, I was privileged to visit Erute prison farm in Lira district which is located in Lango sub-region in northern Uganda. It is a small prison unit housing about 160 male inmates. The visit was arranged to appreciate Advance Afrika’s interventions in prisons around Acholi and Lango sub-regions where they are economically empowering youth prison inmates by training them in entrepreneurship and life skills. Advance Afrika also provides start-up kits to some of the trained inmates upon release to enable them start small scale businesses.
During the visit, I had an opportunity to interact with both prison officers and prison inmates especially those that underwent entrepreneurship and life skills training courtesy of Advance Afrika. My main objective was to establish the prisoners’ true motivation for enrolling in these trainings. Typical of a person from my background where we believe that any meritorious assistance should be tangible, my conviction was clear that the distribution of start-up kits by Advance Afrika was the major contributing factor, and my considered view was that it posed a threat to the sustainability of the initiative since Advance Afrika is a non-profit making organization and could not sustain the start-up kits distribution forever. I should also mention that my objective was somehow driven by relentless questions lingering in my head about what options are available to ensure the sustainability of the intervention. The first step was to establish whether my assumption that start-up kits distribution was indeed the driving factor or not and this could only be determined by interfacing with the prison inmates
Present during the brief meeting with the inmates was the Officer-in-Charge of Erute prison Mrs. Norah Faith Malinga and Mr. Emmanuel Opio, the Community Liaison Officer for Advance Afrika. He is responsible for Advance Afrika’s interventions in all the districts in Lango sub-region and has done a commendable job orienting me on the prospects and achievements of the intervention. I was poised to show the two that my hypothesis was true and if not timely and carefully addressed could somehow negatively affect the sustainability aspect of the intervention.
Barely five minutes into our discussion with the inmates, it was quite clear to me that the inmates treasured the acquisition of knowledge and skills more than anything else. Speaking to a group of 10 inmates, it was amazing to hear the inmates speak highly of the intervention and what it meant to them. They cited many examples of ex-inmates who had not benefitted from the start-up kits distribution but went on to utilize the knowledge and skills acquired and had managed to drastically change their lives for the better with the little available resources they had. This was also substantiated by the growing number of inmates anticipating to take part in similar training in the following phase of the same project.
Thus, my assumption was proved wrong and ironically it was great to learn that Advance Afrika had successfully managed to put in place a sustainable programme that effectively addresses the issue of recidivism in prisons as well as promote self-reliance among youths especially ex-prison inmates. I for one consider this initiative a leaf worth borrowing by other non-governmental organizations with similar interests especially in Africa where resources are scarce yet we have high population of unemployed youths who perpetually commit petty crimes whilst trying to make a living. As an FK participant, this is a beautiful and perfect lesson cementing my belief that it is possible to effect positive change in people’s lives through sharing of knowledge and skills. I am inspired!!
PROJECT OFFICER – ADVANCE AFRIKA
FK PARTICIPANT FROM MALAWI