Tostan’s Prison Project strives to provide comprehensive assistance, resources, and skill trainings for detainees in Senegalese prisons, assisting them to change and better their lives. Recently, the Prison Project facilitated three trainings on local cereal production. Not only do the skills learned in the trainings allow detainees to earn a living and support themselves, they encourage improved health and nutrition as these cereals provide an essential food source for Senegalese communities.
The Dakar Women’s Group graciously funded these trainings for female inmates in three prisons in Senegal where Tostan works – Dakar, Rufisque, and Thiès.
The prison in Dakar houses women who have not yet been tried, convicted, or sentenced by a court. They can often stay more than a year before judgment, and as such, constructive activities are essential to help pass time and gain skills whether they are released after judgment or later on in their lives.
The prison in Rufisque houses women who have been convicted of a crime and who will serve sentences longer than one year. Some are sentenced to more than 10 years, meaning that they are very much in need of constructive activity to occupy their time and build skills that will assist with reintegration upon release.
The Thiès prison is a combination of both those awaiting judgment and those already sentenced. Women are housed in the same prison as the men and are only allocated a small courtyard for activities. Because the women in the prison are greatly outnumbered by the men, services are often not directed to them. With the trainings, the women are able to leave their courtyard and work outside, along with the trainer and the Tostan supervisor, as they learn skills that are specifically directed at helping them.
In the trainings, female detainees learned how to make multiple types of couscous from millet and rice. Senegalese families eat this couscous with yogurt in the mornings or as a dessert and with a sauce for dinner or lunch. Participants also learned how to make “lak” a traditional dish also made of millet that is often served at special occasions, such as baptisms, weddings, and holiday celebrations. Detainees learned how to prepare and package these products in a way that they can be stored for up to a year without spoiling.
At the end of the training, detainees added their own labels, signifying their prison to the packages of cereals. Detainees sold the packages for 250-500 CFA ($0.50 – $1.00) depending on the weight and product to prison staff, visitors, and the general public right outside the prison. When there were products left over, the Tostan supervisor and prison staff sold them in the market. In all three trainings, most of the produced cereal was sold by the end of the training, demonstrating the feasibility of local cereal production as a successful income-generating skill. Detainees plan to use the money earned to buy more supplies to continue the local cereal production that they mastered during the training.
Female prisoners truly benefit from these trainings and activities. Without them, there is little to break up the monotony of prison life and to aid in the reintegration process. Many of the women in prison in Senegal committed crimes due to economic and social difficulties, not because they are bad people. They face significant societal stigma and often struggle to reintegrate into their families and communities after incarceration. Women can use the skills they learn in these trainings to show their families that they can be productive members of society and that they can support themselves and contribute financially to their families.
Learn more about income-generating workshops by the Prison Project on Tostan’s blog: