Last Thursday we were kindly invited by an Scottish organisation called Venture Trust to the Kachare Juvenile facilities' Christmas party. The Venture Trust project helps the young men in the facility to change their behaviours, through time, space and intensive support in carefully designed programmes, which gives them the confidence, motivation and life skills they need to make those changes.The programme used in Kachere is designed to reduce re-offending among young men and boys released from Kachere. In reality they do much more for the guys in the prison and organizing this party for the boys was just one of additional things that they do on a daily basis. We've been privileged to work with them over the past few months and hope that it long continues.
Christmas Tree painted on the wall of the prison
The purpose of the party was to showcase some of the skills that the boys have learned to a variety of the organisations that work with them during the year. The party started with some choral songs from the prison choir. Then a nativity play was put on by the boys and I have to say that the sight of a teenage boy dressed as Mary give birth to a baby jesus inside a juvenile prison in Malawi was not the way that I had planned to kick off my Christmas festivities but, like a lot of things since I've arrived here, it was unexpectedly excellent. The boys really took to their roles and had written the dialogue themselves with the help of a local drama group who work with the prisoners. The drama group, who are from Area 23 in Lilongwe, then put on a play which was centered around the story of two young men leaving the facility at the end of their prison sentence and the difficulties they could encounter once released. On leaving Kachere, young men often find themselves displaced from their families and communities, and with very poor prospects for employment or education. Without support, many are at risk of falling into patterns of re-offending, disadvantage and poverty. The play while touching on some very serious issues was done in a very lighthearted manner and went down a treat with everyone present. We even got to see an amazing sight of a prison guard play the role of....a prison guard.
Area 23 Drama Group performing at the party
Finally we got a visit from a Malawian style Santa Clause, even dressed in an altered chitenge (this is an African garment similar to sarong, often worn by women wrapped around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf, or as a baby sling). I believe the photo has to be seen to be believed.
Venture Trust had also organized for a few of the groups attending to bring some sweets, drinks and soap as a present for the detainees. For many of the young boys in the facility this will be the only gifts that they will get this Christmas. However I was surprised and uplifted by the spirit on show during the day. The boys cheered and laughed during the performances, there was a great spirit of comradery between them and most positively there was a massive sense of respect and trust for both the prison guards, staff and indeed for the Venture trust employees. While everyday is obviously tough in a prison which is so significantly overcrowded and I could talk in detail about the difficulties these boys face and the harsh sentences they are getting from the courts, I want to leave that aside for just one day and focus on the positive work that is going on there and the changes that good people are trying to bring about to improve the lives of the boys living there. They have been significant in trying to guide young men towards positive destinations on release. It's not often on this blog I get to do such a things so I'll ask you to bare with me just for this one blog post, even the Grinch can be positive now and again!