In celebration of the Day of the African Child, June 16th, Tostan and the Fort B Prison in Dakar, Senegal arranged a day of festivities for its juvenile detainees on June 19th. According to Prison Director Thierno Sow, the prison’s top priorities are security and education with the overall mission of full reintegration into society. With this educational emphasis in mind, the Tostan Prison Project implements a modified version of the Community Empowerment Program (CEP) within Fort B Prison, Senegal’s only youth prison that houses boys ages 13-18. Participation in the Tostan program can make a crucial impact in these young lives, building their knowledge of human rights and equipping them with training in practical skills they can use after they leave the prison.
On the importance of celebrations in a prison, Director Sow reflected that it allows the prison’s 71 detainees distraction from their incarceration and a chance to act like other youth. It gives them a glimpse of what a future life without crime could be like.
As part of the morning activities, the boys gathered in the prison courtyard as four fellow detainees stood in front of their peers and presented their human rights, using images depicting these rights from CEP class sessions. Next, Aissatou Kebe, Director of the Tostan Prison Project, proclaimed that young people “are the hope of the nation” and this includes the boys at Fort B. The focus of the event was the importance of education as a means to reintegrate into life outside the prison walls and become contributing members of Senegalese society.
Assane Diagne, Assistant Director of Fort B, counseled the detainees, “If you don’t take advantage of your education, you risk coming back to prison.” Detainees who participate in the modified CEP learn of their rights and responsibilities and are motivated to strive for meaningful careers instead of falling back into criminal activities.
One popular skills training facilitated at the prison is the Aviculture Project. With the help of Tostan and the project director, Mademba Thiam, detainees are trained on how to raise chicks and sell them, providing needed income during and after their incarceration. The project has the capacity to make a lasting impact; one released detainee who continued raising chickens told Mademba that this training changed his life.
The Tostan Prison Project encourages learning and economic growth through engagement—active participation in classes, projects, and dialogues. When the detainees learn about their human rights, such as the right to a fair trial, they are also informed of their responsibilities, such as obeying the law. With the right to an education, they have the responsibility to use that education to better their lives and the lives of others. This awareness-raising is carried out in conjunction with family mediations facilitated by trained Tostan team members, increasing the chances of a successful reintegration. Detainees who participate in the CEP are asked to sign a pact agreeing to continue the positive practices they have learned in prison, stay close with their families, and strive to contribute to society instead of returning to criminal activities.
While the morning activities at the prison were centered on the importance of education and the gravity of choices made in and outside prison, the afternoon was more lighthearted. Families came to visit and share lunch with their children, skits were performed, and a lutte—a Senegalese traditional wrestling match—was orchestrated. On this sunny Wednesday afternoon in Dakar, these boys were able to be children just like all the others who celebrated the Day of the African Child.