He was sent to prison to be reformed, little did he know that he will be transforming the lives of others there.
In 2005, Gregor Mahemani was found guilty of theft by public service by monetary grounds and was sentenced to serve 10 years at Zomba Maximum Prison. Initially, he had worked as a social worker at the Ministry of Gender, Child and Social Welfare.
Be it luck, chance or coincidence, in the same of year of his conviction, prison reform schools had just started taking ground in the Malawi prison system and when there was a need for teachers at Zomba Prison he jumped at the chance.
“I was sent to prison for misappropriation of K450 000 (about $1 800). I jumped at the opportunity and have since rose to the position of head teacher here at Zomba Prison,” said Mahemani.
Since 2005, Zomba Prison Reform School has achieved a 100 percent pass rate for the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE), Junior Certificate of Education (JCE) and the Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations respectively more than three times with over five students, each year, sitting for the University Entrance Examinations (UEE) every year.
According to Malawi Prison Service (MPS) education coordinator, Inspector Kondwani Mzumara, among those who made to university, have come out teachers and nurses.
The exceptional results at the institution are not a one-person show. Mahemani works with a team of 10 teachers, all inmates of Zomba Prison and some of whom are graduates of the same school waiting to finish their sentence. None of them has ever gone under teaching trainings.
Like most schools in the country, classes start at 8am and go as far as 4:30 in the afternoon while observing breaks after three or four lessons.
“There are really no incentives on our part for teaching. Our only motivation comes when we see the lives of fellow inmates changing. Because of these classes, most prisoners can now read, allowing them to spend some time reading their bibles.
“Every year, we see the numbers of those enrolling for the classes increase. Like this year, we have 308 students spread across all the classes from Standard One to Form Four. While we enjoy doing what we do, and yes we are prisoners, we would still appreciate it if government allocates some sort of allowance that when we leave this place, we have somewhere to start from,” said Mahemani.
Alongside the phenomenal results are challenges. According to the 33-year-old Mahemani inadequate teaching and learning materials, especially chalk and text books are the worst challenges.
“Because there are a lot of classes, chalk is the biggest challenge. At the same time exercise books, pens and textbooks are also a challenge. You find that a student has to use one exercise book for more than one subject. This is okay for the other classes, but for the examination classes, it is important that they are organised.
“We need at least two boxes of chalk daily which is far from happening,” said Mahemani.
When news of these challenges reached Kalibu Ministries, together with their schools they settled on making a donation. Early this month, some of Kalibu Academy students visited the prison and made a donation of books, note books, pens, pencils, mathematical sets, chalk, cooking oil and rice worth about K850 000 (about $3 400).
“We are determined on improving the quality and standards of education in the country, not only to in our school and to our students but where possible we will cheap in. We are well known for our elderly projects, but we have decided to diversify and go bigger,” said Andrew Kavala, Kalibu Ministry projects coordinator.
To Kalibu Ministries, education is a pillar and major catalyst for personal community and national development. It is for this reason that the school thought of making the donation.
“This is not the first time that we have donated education materials to Zomba Prison. Last year ,we came with additional reading materials and we were impressed with what we saw that is why we are here again.
“The prison reform schools are doing wonders and we would like to encourage them. We have gone a step further in awarding a scholarship to Mishek Gondwe an inmate at Mzimba Prison who scored 10 points in the last MSCE examinations. As soon as his sentence is done, we are getting in touch with him,” said Kavala.
MPS commissioner of administration Wandika Phiri said the reform schools were introduced to offer a second chance to inmates and give them hope for the future. Since the introduction in 2003, the schools have produced phenomenal results while faced with various challenges.
It is her hope that other organisations will come to the rescue of the schools because government cannot do it alone.
“The challenges are many, but we are holding on and going by with the little that we have. There is need for the increased learning and teaching materials and the Ministry of Education provides us with what it can. I hope that more and more organisations can come in and fill the gap,” said Phiri.