Update from Toamasina juvenile boys prison

Avonbrook continues to fund interventions in Toamasina prison’s section for convicted minors. This project is a collaboration of the prison administration, the financial support of Money for Madagascar and the SAF/FJKM Toamasina (FATAOM) unit. This project continues to prepare the children for the return to social and professional reality.  The aim is to improve their technical and relational skills, allowing them to better network with stakeholders such as: other young people, prison administration officers, the parents of the minors and FATOAM.

The number of children present in the minor’s quarter fluctuates between 40 and 52. The space is intended for around 30. The numbers vary every day due to constant discharges and newcomers. The length of a minor’s incarceration is very variable, starting from 3 months. Only the minors having committed a serious offence stay longer.

FATOAM maintains the following training :

  • Community life: this consists of games and simulations or lessons on behaviour from which individual and relational behavioural expectations are learned. The aim is to improve the relationships between the minors themselves during their time in prison as well as for their future relationships following their release. This has been very successful. The relationships between the boys has improved markedly. Previously the new boys were badly treated when they arrived, but now the established in-mates are more welcoming to new boys. The boys are also noticeably less violent. In addition the games the boys play also improve other skills like their powers of recall and memory.
  • Worm farming: this concerns the production of worms via vermiculture/vermicomposting or ‘worm composting’. It entails showing the minors how to prepare food for the worms using degradable rubbish and the making of vermicomposters using bottles and other packaging. The theoretical and technical training is followed by practical application. Long-serving boys have successfully passed on their skills to new arrivals.
  • Soil-less farming: this consists of providing the techniques of agricultural production in plastic bags. Boys have been successful in acquiring the theoretical understanding of how to grow food. This is a very important skill to have acquired for life after prison. However boys who only spend a short time in prison, for example 3 months or less, do not really have enough to time to get much experience in hands-on growing food themselves.
  • Recycled fuel pellets: this involves making combustible pellets from coal dust or charred organic materials like leaves and then mixing this with earth or clay which acts as a glue. At the beginning FATOAM supplied all the materials necessary to make the fuel pellets. We are pleased that the prison staff are now taking increasing responsibility to source the materials needed for this activity. This is a good indication that the staff appreciate the value of this activity. The boys have also proved very interested in this activity as they can see the direct use of their produce in cooking their daily meal. Some boys are starting to understand that is will be a useful skill to meet their daily needs and to generate an income once they leave prison.

Since FATOAM started to work with Toamasina Prison other organisations have also become involved and interested in helping the prisoners. The team from FATOAM goes into the prison every Tuesday and Friday to work with the boys. Once on site the FATOAM team receives regular support from the prison staff which adds to cooperation and shared learning.

The transfer of knowledge and skills is also facilitated by the children who pass the knowledge between them. FATOAM use a ‘cascade’ system whereby the children who have followed the course demonstrate what they have learned to newly arrived inmates. This helps to reinforce the learning and confidence of the longer term inmates as well as helping the learning of the new comers.

Toamasina Prison for boys

In 2014, Avonbrook agreed to fund a 3 year programme to bring about lasting improvements to the conditions and prospects of boys incarcerated in Toamasina Prison.

This programme was supported and monitored by MfM and delivered by the Malagasy NGO ‘SAF’ in cooperation with the Malagasy prison authorities.

In Madagascar the prospects for a child accused of a crime, even a petty crime like stealing food, are grim. Firstly the judicial system assumes guilt until proven innocent. Outside of the capital few towns have special facilities for children, so frequently minors are incarcerated in an adult prison until they are either found innocent or until they have served a sentence.

Toamasina prison is located in the large regional hub of Toamasina, on the East coast of Madagascar. There is no remand service for boys in Toamasina so instead the boys live in cramped ‘juvenile’ quarters within the main prison compound. Before SAF and MfM got involved the boys had stark quarters with a small bare concrete yard. There were no organised activities for the boys at all apart from occasional literacy lessons provided by church groups. Food rations were miniscule.

Following successful programmes in 2012-13, part-funded by Avonbrook, from 2014 new activities were introduced and existing activities strengthened. Transfer of skills to dedicated prison staff and specialised social-workers was central to the approach. New collaboration with the prison farms were explored and a major emphasis was placed on the successful reintegration of boys into society.

The programme activities included:

  1. Literacy & numeracy classes
  2. Play and educational games
  3. Horticulture – vocational training
  4. Improved diet through harvesting and eating crops
  5. Worm breeding – vocational training
  6. Solar food-drying – vocational training
  7. Training boys in conflict resolution and interpersonal skills
  8. Transfer of skills from SAF to prison staff
  9. Extension of crop cultivation using the prison farms
  10. Engagement of parents
  11. Support and follow-up for released boys re-entering society
  12. Pilot workshops and training to ‘prevent’ delinquency and incarceration.

The engagement of key stake holders such as the prison authorities and the juveniles’ parents bring the prospect of a deeper and more enduring impact.

Akany Avoko children’s home

Avonbrook was delighted to agree funding for its first project in 2008. Akany Avoko, a children’s home in Madagascar, was established in 1963 and is home to over 120 abandoned, orphaned, abused, impoverished or troubled children aged between six months and 21 years old. Centres such as this providing residential care and education for destitute children are exceedingly rare in Madagascar. Through funding provided by Avonbrook, and working in conjunction with ‘Money for Madagascar’, Akany Avoko was able to extend its Childcare Centre and guarantee the salaries of two teachers for four years.

In 2010 Avonbrook made an additional grant to another centre for teenage girls who have either become pregnant or are seen as at risk. This centre provides them with food, education, counselling and in the more extreme cases accommodation.

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Akany Avoko Children’s Home, 2010

In 2008 Avonbrook made two grants to Akany Avoko, one to fund a new childcare centre and another to cover the salaries of two classrrom teachers. Simon Kirby – then Project Development Manager at Akany Avoko Children’s Home, and now an Avonbrook Trustee – provided Avonbrook with a report on how these grants have helped them in their work. An extract from Simon’s report is below. Avonbrook continues to support Akany Avoko, with a further grant in 2009 to fund the two teachers.

The intervention of Avonbrook Projects Abroad has made an enormous difference to the quality of education that Akany Avoko is able to offer to its youngest residents.

“Thanks to the support of the salaries of two primary school teachers Akany Avoko was able to record for the fourth consecutive year, a 100% pass rate for students sitting their secondary school entrance exams. When one considers that many of these children had been deprived of education for years of their childhood this is an incredible achievement on their part. Of all the activities taking place at Akany Avoko the primary and pre-school classes remain those of which we are most proud. Alongside the other four teachers employed by the school the two Avonbrook sponsored teachers oversaw the education of sixty children in the academic year 2008-09.

In the new childcare centre extension daily pre-school lessons have taken place throughout the year, giving our smallest children a head-start in literacy, numeracy, art and structured play. In 2008 -9 pre-school class size was 15, and the number of beneficiaries will rise in the 2009-2010 term to 17. At the end of this year’s pre-school education programme nine children were able to move up to begin their primary education at Akany Avoko’s on-site school.”