Hope For Teens Behind Bars As They Get Life Skills And Education During The Covid 19 Pandemic

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The implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have affected many sectors, especially micro SMEs, who woke up one day to either to low or no income as consumer trends shifted. Many corporates and NGOs came together to support the provision of PPEs. However, there remain other sectors, less thought about, Prisons.

Early in the wake of COVID-19, March this year, Kenya prisons restricted visits, staff, and inmate movement to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Many viewed it as a lonelier state, and possibly an impossible bid as prisons are crowded, but not for Borstal institutions.

Two borstal institutions used this opportunity to look for aid that will enhance skills for teen inmates. Hope for the young offenders.

Shikusa and Shimo la Tewa Borstal institutions

The Shimo la Tewa Borstal Institution is a correctional centre for young male offenders that has been up and running for almost 50 years. There are only two Borstal Institution in the country established by the chapter 92 parliament act to rehabilitate offenders who are too young for the adults’ correctional institutions. Hence, it is more or less similar to the adult’s institution. Still, the young offenders are more comfortable and friendly to the warders, which authorities have noticed that it enables them to change quickly.

The borstal institutions include the Shikusa institution in Kakamega, and the earlier mentioned Shimo la Tewa in the coastal region. The Shikusa institution was the first to open in 1963 followed by the Shimo la Tewa institution. Borstal institution borrowed the idea from England in a village called Borstal, where they isolated young offenders for rehabilitation.  The Shimo la Tewa institution hosts 313 boys accused of crimes ranging from minor cases like petty theft to significant cases like murder. The institution designed the program to teach boys life skills. The boys wake up at 5 am, cook breakfast and other meals for themselves, leave the kitchen clean, and attend vocational skills classes.

Education and Life skills

The principal purpose of the Borstal institution is to educate and counsel the young offenders. The institution is divided into primary school and secondary school to effectively educate the offenders through the typical education system in Kenya. Hence, it enables the boys not to feel left behind when they release them to rejoin their colleagues in society. It aims to turn young offenders into useful assets in society by teaching them life skills that will enable them to avoid criminal activities in the future.

“The institution offers young offenders with technical skills and mechanical skills. All boys undergo a rigorous three months of computer training to equip them with skills that will prepare them for the competitive job market,” said Faribain Ombeya, Senior Superintendent, Shimo la Tewa Borstal Institution.

The prison authorities responsible for their daily programs can distinguish the strengths of each of the offenders and deploy them to different classes according to their strengths. Some of the offenders go back to school. In contrast, others are taught vocational skills like carpentry, masonry, automobile mechanical, and electrical skills. Hence, it allows them to lead a positive life once the institution releases them back to society.

Support from Safaricom Foundation

Recently, Safaricom Foundation supported Shimo la Tewa Borstal institution with technical training equipment worth Kshs. 1 million, while Shikusa Borstal institution in Kakamega County received 30 computers also worth Kshs.1 million to enhance their digital learning skills.

“The vocational skills these students have learned so far will add value to the communities where they come from. Adding computer literacy and digital skills is critical to their future to re-integrate successfully into society. That is why Safaricom Foundation has equipped its ICT centre with 30 computers,” said Peter Ndegwa, CEO, Safaricom.

Shimo la Tewa institution, which consists of 299 TVET students, received modern petrol and diesel engines needed in the mechanical section since the institute had old models, farm implements, wiring tools, carpentry tools, tools for mechanical training, and eight computers.

The institution also has 1-hour Poi lessons and life skill classes, which caught the interest of some of the boys. Sometimes the boys plead with the warders to increase the allocated time to learn more life skills.

Some boys who have were released from the institution into society have started businesses using their skills, which are doing well.

One of the beneficiaries of Shimo la Tewa institution testifies the benefits of the institution and how it has changed his life for the better. “I was a lost soul indulging in drug abuse due to peer pressure, which forced my mother to take me to Borstal institution after many attempts of changing schools and theft,” said Wycliff (real name withheld)

Nearly finishing his three-year term, Wycliff looks forward to getting into electrical wiring, a passion and dream that has prepared him for the society.

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