Developing skills behind bars in The Gambia

26 April 2022
ITC News

The ITC Youth Empowerment Project develops skills behind bars and gives its youth a #Chance2Change

At the Mile 2 Central Prison, located on the outskirts of Banjul in The Gambia, visitors are now greeted with prisoners tending to a micro-garden and producing soaps in the courtyard.

The garden is managed and maintained by the inmates, who are expecting a bumper harvest soon.

“Mistakes have been made,” says one of the inmates. “We are convicted. We are now learning from them and ready to make amends. The Youth Empowerment Project is a life-changer, and we are happy to be benefitting from it.”

Skills for a better future

The International Trade Centre’s Youth Empowerment Programme in The Gambia allowed 30 inmates to train on micro-gardening, soap production, and entrepreneurship. The three-week long training built the young people’s skills to enable a better re-integration into the community after their release from prison. For the inmates, the initiative is life changing as it not only transfers knowledge and increases their employability – it instils hope and optimism.

“We have found solace in this,” says one of the participants smiling. “Now all of us are productive. More than keeping us engaged in prison, this initiative is making our life journey after prison an easier one. With these set of skills, we are confident of being employed upon release, so we can get a fresh start in life.”

Avoiding recidivism

Prisons should not only exist to incarcerate convicts but more importantly, to facilitate reformation and social rehabilitation. This can be achieved through training programmes to inmates, which is crucial in reducing recidivism.

“I have spent one year and 11 months in this prison,” recalls one of the young convicts. “Before this project, on a normal day at this time, I would have been locked up in my cell. My daily routine was eating, sitting, and sleeping. I was so unproductive. The idleness evoked lots of thoughts in me and it was draining me mentally.”

The inmates can now manage a garden and produce different types of soaps with little or no supervision. They made their first major sales in March with the visit of the First Lady of The Gambia Madam Fatoumatta Bah Barrow.

“We sold our first batch of soap products to Her Excellency and distributed the rest to the other inmates. Our crops are also growing, and we hope to harvest in a few weeks.”

The inmates have great plans, for instance making soap production a trade upon release from prison. The future according to them is promising.

“Before the training, I had no skills,” says one inmate. “I hope to establish a soap-making factory in the future and sell on a large scale.”

The training was designed and initiated with the belief that every person, if given the opportunity, can change and make a better life for themselves. Whereas micro gardening is an intensive agricultural solution, it makes the best use of limited space and water. Thus, it can create jobs, and increase the competitiveness of smallholder farmers and vulnerable communities.

About the Project

This initiative was supported by the International Trade Centre’s EU-funded Youth Empowerment Project (YEP) in collaboration with Africa Start-up/Myfarm.