Several women walked into the open field as Emmy Kosgei’s award winning Taunet Nelel music played on. In a lot of ways, the graduation ceremony was identical to those ones held at other DOT Kenya partner centres. Prison uniforms, wardens on standby and the children on a day when they should be in school, all hinted at the unique ceremony taking place.
All the women who graduated earned certificates from DOT Kenya without ever leaving the confines of the Medium Prison for Women in Keongo, Kericho County. Instead, DOT Kenya facilitators Richard Mibei and Samuel Ronoh went to them. Prison Wardens came too, learning alongside them behind bars.
Spurred by its mission, to build the capacity of youth and women to engage in entrepreneurship and access employment opportunities. DOT Kenya decided to work with the women’s correctional facility and make these opportunities available to these marginalized women, as a strategy to create prosperity, make gender equality the social norm and achieve self-determination.
The programme offered 90 inmates and wardens education through our flagship programmes: ReachUp! and StartUp!
ReachUp! is DOT Kenya’s foundational empowerment program that provides participants with the tools and learning experience in ICT and 21st-century work skills they need to access education and employment opportunities. StartUp! is a flexible entrepreneurial learning program; it delivers business skills learning experience and coaching to participants willing to start, grow and/or improve their enterprises.
One warden regretted why she had not joined the training. This was after hearing the testimony of a fellow warden who said she had started her business with a mere Kshs. 200, to buy pineapples that she asked her house help to sell. She said she was earning about Kshs. 2,000 daily from the sale of fruits, vegetables, and food. “I wish I had joined my colleagues. Not only would I have received a certificate but would also have gained skills that diversify my income sources. I must enrol in this program as soon as the next batch of students is registered."
Chief inspector Susan Masai, the Deputy Officer-in-charge of Kericho Women's Prison urged DOT Kenya to continue offering the course saying it had benefitted both inmates and warders. “This training has been of great importance to us. I appeal to DOT Kenya to continue offering this programme as inmates await the conclusion of their cases,” she appealed.
She also asked other prisons in the country to incorporate entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills in their rehabilitation agenda for inmates to help them rebuild their lives when they finish their jail terms. Masai said training on entrepreneurship for the inmates created in them the need to become productive and stay away from crime.
The inmates at the Prison committed various crimes. Masai notes that majority of the cases are repeat offenders who brew illicit drinks or are there on family related crimes.
Joyce Chepng’eno, 24, an inmate serving seven years for infanticide, said she was thrilled with the knowledge on entrepreneurship and financial literacy. She said she is ready and empowered to start her own business on completion of her jail term in a few months’ time. Fellow inmates fondly refer to her as 'Mjumbe'.
Since the DOT Kenya training, prison staff say Joyce has been on her best behaviour. This, they say has made her a prefect of sorts over her fellow inmates. She is permitted to go out of the prison on short unpatrolled walks in her conspicuously different blue uniform. She poses no flight risk. “She has been here for six years. This is her seventh.” Chief Inspector Masai says.
Her fellow inmates are not only waiting for their jail terms to come to an end but they have been well equipped with skills to help them become self-reliant and raise their self-esteem.
Joyce urged fellow inmates to take the course saying it changed her life and also eliminated stigma. "I urge my fellow inmates to take part in the course because it is of great importance. If you are a changed person you change the society and overcome a lot of challenges," she explains. Besides this, she has also learned computer and calls upon people to control their anger lest it lands them in trouble. When released, most of the women plan to start their own businesses.
Masai says her role at the prison is to motivate the inmates so that they do not suffer psychological distress while in prison. "We play motherly roles so that if they have a problem, they can tell us. We also do remote parenting where their children and families visit them and spend time with their loved ones," she states. The chief inspector admits that the repeat offender rate is quite high especially for illicit brewers. “As much as we reform them...they feel comfortable here. Some of the women, once on the outside, try to return home only to be beaten and shunned. Then, even a prison can become a place of peace.” She worries about the inmates and advises communities to take them back.
We learnt that some of the children were imprisoned with their mothers. Women can have their children in prison with them until they are four years old. During the day, children stay in the nursery section where they are watched over by nannies. Currently, there are 17 children living in Kericho Women’s Prison. Once they turn four, they will be up for adoption or given to relatives until their mothers are free.
We have trained them and you have also trained them. “Some of these women could barely communicate. They did not know any other language except their mother tongue but now they are able to converse in Swahili and English. They have learnt to communicate better, so when they’re released they can fit into society more easily.”