Why I gave up my education for prisoners

Why I gave up my education for prisoners

When Vickie Wambura was teaching in a class of inmates where she had volunteered in Nairobi, she was shocked by one of her students who confessed that he wouldn’t mind going back to his old ways of forging cheques. What followed was a transformational story that birthed Nafisika Trust, an organisation that works to reduce recidivism rates in Kenya by providing programs focused on behaviour change and economic empowerment of inmates while they are in prison. She is also an Ashoka and Mandela Washington Fellow.

You had been abroad before you came back to Kenya and started to engage with prisoners. What exactly happened?

After my gap year in Belgium in 2006, I returned home to renew my visa for university but in the process I watched a news feature about prison conditions. A thought of ‘who spends Christmas with prisoners’ crossed my mind. After days of asking about how to visit a prison, I met Pastor Simon Mbevi of Mavuno Church who introduced me to Nairobi West Prison and the officer in charge at the time, the late Madam Ngunjiri. I learnt about the prison and discovered that it had started an education program but didn’t have the books or stationary needed for effective classes. I offered to provide the materials needed. After a couple weeks of volunteering to teach an English and Mathematics class, I knew I had found my purpose and life’s mission.

Why I gave up my education for prisoners

Why I gave up my education for prisoners

How was your experience at the Nairobi West Prison?

At the end of that year when I asked my students what they had planned after prison. One of my most promising students told me he would go back to his former ways which was forging cheques. I was in utter shock! He went on to say that it catered for his needs. My heart broke and I started to cry. That day I left prison feeling hopeless.

You seemed to have a burden for inmates…

I resolved to do something about it. More than teach basic education, I introduced entrepreneurship workshops to mitigate the stigma ex-inmates face when looking for employment. Majority of the crimes were economically related, so Nafisika Trust was thus born with the mission of equipping inmates with skills that will enable them reintegrate into society successfully and reduce chances of re-offence.

How many people have benefited from your programs so far?

Nafisika currently operates fulltime in four main prisons and two juvenile centres. However our reach extends to three more prisons across the country. This year, 510 inmates have received our direct training and services and over 3000 inmates have benefited from our services, gifts and donations. This year, Nafisika engaged 104 volunteers in its programs.

What are some of your success stories?

Through a partnership with KCA University, 53 inmates have completed Entrepreneurship training and been awarded certificates by the institution.

Two inmates released from Nairobi West Prison last year have gone on to put into practice what they learned in our entrepreneurship programme. Both former security guards arrested for assault but exonerated three years later. One of them now runs his own clothing business in downtown Nairobi and offers professional writing services for clients who need help with tender documents and related documentation. The other one volunteers his security skills, learned at his former job prior to incarceration, at his local church in the face of terror threats in the country. Another inmate has gone on to run a successful vegetable farm in his hometown of Gatundu. A recent ex-inmate after release has gone on to pursue a Law Diploma with the University of London supported by African Prison Project. He also has a well-paying part time job that sustains him and his family.

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