Transforming Lives Behind Bars: Strathmore University’s Prison Education Programme

In the heart of Kenya’s most formidable prisons, a beacon of hope and transformation has shone for over two decades. The Strathmore Prison Education Programme (PEP), a visionary initiative that started as a modest distance learning effort in 2002, has grown into a multifaceted project profoundly impacting the lives of inmates and prison wardens at Kamiti, Nairobi West and Naivasha Maximum Security Prisons. This programme, fuelled by an enduring commitment to education and rehabilitation, stands as a testament to the power of learning to alter the course of human lives.

Over the past few years, 100 students have benefited from the programme domiciled at the Community Service Centre, with 81 inmates and 19 wardens seizing the opportunity to transform their lives through learning.

Initiated by a generous donor through the Kamaljeet Endowment Fund, the PEP began with the simple but revolutionary idea of providing educational resources to prisoners. Initially focused on distance learning, the initiative has since evolved into a comprehensive three-pronged approach including the provision of study materials, scholarships for KASNEB-related courses, and a unique sports program fostering camaraderie and physical well-being.

According to Michael Babu, Manager, Community Service Centre, education remains at the heart of the PEP. Since its inception, the programme has equipped prisoners and wardens with the knowledge and skills needed to sit for the CPA exams, opening doors to future employment and personal development.

“The PEP’s educational efforts are not limited to just providing materials; they also include setting up libraries, donating and repairing computers to establish computer labs, and ensuring that learners have access to the best possible resources. These initiatives underscore the programme’s commitment to fostering an environment where education can flourish even within the confines of prison walls,” says Babu.

Beyond academics, the programme recognizes the importance of holistic development. Sports have become a vital component of the programme, serving as a powerful tool to build trust and rapport among inmates, wardens, and Strathmore University students. Annual football tournaments, once a highlight at Naivasha, are now being extended to Kamiti and Nairobi West Prisons.

“These events not only promote physical fitness but also provide a platform for meaningful interaction and mutual respect,” adds Babu.

A critical aspect of the PEP’s mission is the reintegration of former inmates into society. The programme’s commitment to transformation extends beyond prison walls, as evidenced by the inspiring journeys of former inmates who have successfully reintegrated into society. Success stories include Moses Ngugi, who graduated from Kenyatta University; Ernest Bwire, who became a motivational speaker in Uganda after 32 years in prison; and Mark Nakitare, who is currently pursuing his CPA.

While these success stories highlight the potential for transformation and new beginnings, the programme continues to seek effective ways to support ex-inmates post-release. Collaborations with organizations like Nafisika Trust are being explored to provide better support systems for those stepping back into the community.

Despite its successes, the programme faces challenges. Frequent transfers of scholars between prisons often disrupt their education, while the continuous change in prison management necessitates constant rebuilding of relationships and buy-in from new leaders. Additionally, access to the prisons was restricted during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, these restrictions are now being eased with the support of the Department of Correctional Services.

Michael Babu is certain that the PEP remains a cornerstone of Strathmore’s community service initiatives. Plans to enhance technological learning, expand sports programs, and address the urgent need for stationery and textbooks are all on the horizon.

“Through resilience and innovation, the Strathmore Prison Education Programme stands as a powerful testament to the transformative power of education, offering a second chance to those who need it most and paving the way for a brighter, more hopeful future for all,” attests Babu.

Article written by: Stephen Wakhu

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