Twenty-eight year old Mefthutha has faced numerous challenges in her life. Born into poverty in rural Harari Region, she did not receive formal schooling, married young, and was a victim of domestic violence that eventually led to divorce. She moved to Harar town looking for a better life, but lacking education and skills she struggled to find employment. Commercial sex work seemed like a way to make ends meet.
Increasing abuse, stress and depression, however, took its toll on Mefthutha and led her one day to seriously assault a co-worker. She ended up incarcerated in Harari state prison as a result. With support from the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP), the Initiative for Improving Standards of Prisons (IISP) is helping Mefthutha get her life back on track as part of an initiative to up-skill and re-habilitate vulnerable detainees in Ethiopia’s prison system.
IISP’s approach to reintegration
Prior to IISP’s intervention, the road to rehabilitation has been rocky, however. ‘Prison life is extremely boring’, states Mefthutha. It’s especially tough for the estimated 2700 women in Ethiopia’s prison system, that are often amongst the most vulnerable in terms of poverty, lack of education and economic opportunities. Health and sanitary facilities for female prisoners are also conspicuous by their absence.
To address this situation, IISP launched a project aimed at dealing with the challenges women and disadvantaged detainees were facing in prison through developing their skills and creating access to finance for income-generating activities.
At Harari state prison, IISP worked with prison authorities to improve the quality of education and skills training on offer – developing new training programmes for carrying out behaviour-modification initiatives, and generating new training resources to support life and entrepreneurship skills development at the prison. 275 prisoners have received life and entrepreneurship skills training.
What’s more, the Harari Prisoners Bright Hope Association, a cooperative run by inmates themselves, was established to support prisoners’ effective rehabilitation and reintegration to society; two workshops have been built and a credit fund has also been established at prison level to provide micro-finance loans to prisoners seeking to establish their own business.
Small business development
As a result of these actions, now more than 90 prisoners are engaged in different income generating activities such as food production, bricks manufacturing, baking, handicrafts and more. Business is steadily growing for the likes of Mefthutha, ‘I have launched my business plan to engage in food preparation’. This was made possible following entrepreneurship training and a loan secured from Harari Prisoners Bright Hope Association. ‘The training has increased my self-confidence and I am now able to support myself’, Mefthutha adds. Since her release from prison, Mefthutha has started to set up a home.
‘My life has changed dramatically’ states Mefthutha. ‘I am economically independent now and ready to expand my business. I want to become a role model for other women like my former co-workers, poor women and those in prison. IISP was my life school in prison. IISP saved my life.’
The successes achieved in cases such as this wouldn’t be realised without the strong relationship built between IISP, the prison administration and prisoners themselves. Mefthutha’s story is just one example of the collaborative effort between IISP and CSSP to change the lives of hard to reach people in Ethiopia.