I started as Fundraising and Business Development Intern in January, moving to Uganda from the UK to pursue an opportunity that was too appealing to overlook. What captivated me about Product of Prison (POP) is the notion of ensuring everyone gets a second chance at life. Everyone makes mistakes, and most of us have been in the wrong place at the wrong time at some point in our life. But that doesn’t mean our life is over; we learn from our experiences, we move on, we do better.
For many who are in prison, they have few prospects of moving on to a better life when they are released. The stigma against prisoners in Uganda is severe and there are few employment opportunities available to former prisoners. That’s why POP seeks to educate prisoners through a range of courses – not only to bring practical knowledge and guidance, but to give hope and encouragement that life outside of prison will be alright.
The courses we offer range from career skills and reintegration skills – which cover the basics of applying for jobs, writing CVs, managing budgets, and conflict resolution – to vocational training in candle-making, jewellery-making, tailoring, hairdressing, and computer skills. Additionally we offer a number of social and creative activities, ranging from breakdance, to creative writing, yoga and sports tournaments – all of which enrich prisoners’ time while in prison, and help them engage socially with one another.
Because we work in prisons all over the country – from Kampala the capital city, to Jinja towards the east, Fort Portal in the western region, and Gulu and Lira in the northern region – there is a bit of travel involved in our work, and we visit the prisons quarterly to monitor progress and maintain relationships with our local coordinators, as well as the prison officers who grant us access to prison.
Just a few weeks after starting my internship, it was time to tour around to monitor the projects in Fort Portal, Gulu, and Lira – it was a great time to join the organisation! I had never been to the western or northern regions before, and was looking forward to seeing how the country differed elsewhere, as well as gaining a better understanding of the work we do in these prisons further afield.
Fort Portal was the first new town I visited, and it is a really beautiful part of the world. After a lengthy journey (around five hours) we eventually arrived into a gently bustling market town, with the famous “Mountains of the Moon” (Rwenzori Mountains) looming on the horizon. The climate is quite different in this area, and although the day was still hot, by nightfall it got a lot cooler, and when we woke in the morning, it was a chilly 8˚C with the ground soaked in heavy dew, and mist obscuring the distant mountains. It was also incredibly peaceful in Fort Portal, which is a stark contrast to the frenzied congestion of Kampala city.
The first order of business was to connect with Bosco, our local project coordinator, who diligently supports POP on a voluntary basis. Bosco was once a prisoner here and in Kampala, who – when undertaking our courses – not only excelled in the courses and taught them in prison, he also made an important friend behind bars, a local radio manager. Bosco was offered a job when he was released from prison and now works for the foremost radio station in the region, Voice Of Toro, and has proven his worth so that he now manages the station when his boss is not there. We are so pleased that Bosco has found a fulfilling job to support his wife and young daughter, and that he makes time to ensure our projects are running efficiently and effectively.
Fort Portal Prison is a new addition to POP’s portfolio, and while there are regular courses running which cover reintegration and career skills, we are discussing options for establishing vocational training for the women’s prison. When we arrived at the prison we met with the Welfare Officer, who – along with Bosco – ensures the courses are running on target and that course participants are attending and progressing. We were able to then meet those enrolled on our course, where we shared a few words and Bosco delivered an inspiring speech of encouragement and hope for a better future outside of prison. He speaks with authority and is trusted by the prisoners, many of whom remember him from when he was a fellow cellmate.
The women’s prison is much smaller, and a lot more serene, with beautiful gardens and a well-maintained compound, which makes the prison look, surprisingly, quite homely. Several prisoners who are mothers have their children with them, and this adds to the homely feel somewhat. I enjoyed meeting these enthusiastic ladies, who shared many great ideas for vocational projects which could be established.
Before long we had to hit the road again, to avoid getting caught in the rush-hour traffic of Kampala. We said our farewells to the prisoners and prison officers and, before departing, had the pleasure of meeting Bosco’s wife and baby daughter.
It was my first glimpse into the variety of work which POP oversees, and although it was brief, it was invaluable.
Fundraising and Business Development Intern