As part of Tostan’s Prison Project, inmates at five prisons in Senegal participate in an adapted version of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). During class sessions they learn about their human rights, democracy, health and hygiene, literacy, and math, as well as receive practical training in skills and project management that will help them better reintegrate into society upon release. Recently, Tostan offered a shoemaking training in one of the participating prisons, the juvenile prison of Fort B in Dakar, with the main goals of providing constructive activity for inmates and teaching the young participants useful skills for the future.

In collaboration with Prison Project Coordinator Aïssatou Kébé, a local professional shoemaker, Mamadou Seck, led the biweekly training sessions. Fifteen inmates, aged 13-18 years, participated and learned the different steps of making shoes such as drawing lines, cutting, gluing, stuffing, doing the finishing, and creating designs and patterns. This training not only taught participants a trade but also served as an income-generating activity; participants were able to keep any profits made from sale of the shoes.

Beyond just teaching about the process of shoemaking, Mamadou also taught about the shoemaking business, relating in particular the importance of understanding the evolution of fashion and a shoemaker’s obligation to constantly renew stocks. These discussions ensured that inmates acquire not only technical skills in shoemaking, but also the knowledge required to manage a small business. This additional knowledge will help the participants, who would otherwise be out of the prison with few skills, earn money through their business and ideally avoid recidivism.

Speaking about the shoemaking training, one inmate said that it was neither easy nor difficult – for him the trade is about creativity, it is an art. He said that the most important thing is one’s willingness to put in the effort to succeed. Another detainee stated that shoemaking is a trade that is full of potential and is very different from the bad activities he was engaged in before his detention. He also said that trainings like these are important because they help inmates refresh their existing skills and build new ones while in prison, instead of being idle.

Seen as a source of inspiration and role model to the inmates, Mamadou Seck encouraged and motivated the participants to recognize that life in prison is simply a challenge to overcome. He found them to be very gifted and advised them to learn from their mistakes, to raise their heads with confidence, to stand up and do everything they can to move towards a promising future. Impressed by the potential of these young people, he is ready to hire training participants who are interested in working with him once they are released.

Story by Maïmouna Sougoulé, Assistant to the Prison Project, Tostan