4 December 2012

Rwanda: Serving the Community From Behind Bars

PRISON is every one's last wish in life. No one wants to step at the gates of a prison. But this is not the case for the people who flock Musanze Correction Centre to seek special coaching.

And the interesting tale is that the coaching they are seeking is being offered by the inmates at the prisons facility. It started as a simple exercise where prisons authorities started a programme in which inmates with professional skills were facilitated to teach and pass on skills to others.

Later the programme attracted outsiders who started flocking the facility, where sessions cost Rwf100 per hour for groups and Rwf500 for individual sessions. Proceeds from the programme are shared by the inmate teacher and the prison at a ratio of 10 per cent for the inmate and 90 per cent for prisons per session respectively.

A team of 32 inmate professionals, including a medical doctor have since 2001 been offering the service. "The general perception is that when a person is sent to prison, they are useless and dangerous. But it's not true," noted Dominic Gatsimbanyi a graduate teacher and the head of the teaching team at the correction centre. The beneficiaries range from primary to secondary, university students and adult education learners. Gatsimbanyi says that despite being in prison, finding something to do has helped him to remain productive behind bars and also to earn some income. The programme also helps in quick rehabilitation of inmates.

Some university students on distance learning at Kigali Institute of Education have also been beneficiaries of this service. Others are Senior three candidates, adult literacy learners and language students.

Beneficiaries speak out

"Mathematics and chemistry were my worst subjects. I used to get 40 percent and below. But since the start of the programme, I am getting 70 percent and above," explained Emerence Musengimana, a student from St .Joseph Kagbwayi who goes for special coaching at the prison during holidays.

The university students are drawn to the centre to learn English language which is currently the official mode of instruction in schools.

"We are here to learn English since the lectures are conducted in English. It is a flexible programme. You finish and start at any time of your convenience. For example, they teach English and when one feels he or she has got enough, one leaves," said a university student from Musanze.

Jean Baptiste Nsabimana, a mathematics, physics and chemistry teacher began teaching inmates in 1996.

Nsabimana, who began his teaching career in 1979, is motivated by his students' feed back after qualifying to or graduating from university.

"The worst punishment in life is to wake up with no plan for the day. Teaching saved me the agony of idleness which would cause me to meditate on prison challenges. I also acquired Information technology skills," said Nsabimana.

Gatsimbanyi, the head teacher revealed that they earn 10 percent of the money paid from students who come for coaching. The production department of the prison has a construction department that bids for construction jobs in the community and trains inmates and prison wardens in vocational skills including modern farming, tailoring, craft work, and brick laying, among others.

Musa Ntirushwa, the director of the correction centre says the programme speeds up the rehabilitation process besides making it community friendly. "Before an institution helps you, you must believe, accept and understand it. The old bias of a prison setting is no more. The true meaning of a correction centre is when the community interacts with the correction centre and sees inmates changing and being productive to the society. We are correctional and not punitive as it used to be and is still perceived by some," explained Ntirushwa, the correction centre director.

The correction centre has 1,983 inmates. In an earlier interview last month, the deputy commissioner for prisons, Mary Gahonzire, said they had submitted their vocational skills development curriculum to the Ministry of Education for approval so that inmates can start sitting for national exams.

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