When I joined the teaching field some 13 years back, I did my job with huge passion. Over 80% of my students were boys at a technical secondary school. I was not satisfied because I wanted to bridge the gap for women and girls who missed opportunities because they faced stereotypes about the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) labeled for men.
Generally, it had been a routine for me to handle the classroom with ease but recently, I was selected as a trainer for ICT skills for inmates at one of our major prison. I had to face another new and strange challenge that I had never imagined. OMG! I asked myself; "Am I sure to come out safe after going in there?" "How can I teach this kind of people?" as we had labeled them.
It was a very hard decision to accept this kind of “crazy” training adventure. I bowed down my head and prayed to God to give me the inner strength and love to handle the prison-phobia that worried me.However, I went on in good faith. It all started with the selection of the trainees which was done by the prison training officer. He called me up and handed the list of 12 inmates to me. As I walked up to the classroom with fear that I did my best to hide, I looked at the list keenly and didn't notice any female name. Well, I consoled myself because in our community, some men and women bear same names. So I finally stepped into the class to meet my new inmate students. They all stood up and looked strait into in my face.
Again! Not a single female in class! I was so angry and took it as a challenge. Being the gender activist and STEM advocate for girls that I am, I decided to use one of my successful methods to attract the ladies.I rushed to the prison superintendent to make a request for permission to go to the female dormitory to have an intimate talk with them at their camp.
I also wanted to feel secured and comfortable in class with the presence of some females. So luckily my request was granted and I quickly moved in with a broad smile on my face. Their leader smartly called their attention in the military style and they all stood in front of me looking very disgruntled. I started by making a joke to break the ice and I carefully explained to them the importance of new technologies, telling them why women in particular must be included and how it was going to change their future. At the end I asked the most interested to add their names on my list.
I walked away with 3 ladies following me and I said to myself "First mission accomplished". Unfortunately as we got to class, the men yelled at them. At this moment, I realized that I had missed a very necessary step. Oh! I had to educate these men first. Again, I took up the next challenge; I explained in simple terms why these ladies needed to be sited in this class and the numerous benefits of having them. Finally they understood and we began the lessons.
The ICT training went on for 2 months as this phase of the project stipulated. Our inmates have successfully gained marketable ICT skills. Again I said "Second mission accomplished', meaning I could overcome any other challenge as we will soon move in to the second phase.
I was baffled by how focused and fast they learned. 'The preconceptions I had about inmates have been erased. True some of them are victims of circumstances due to lack of self-control or discipline, some made bad choices and decisions, while others wanted to run faster than their shadows. But after a reformation and rehabilitation process especially with the acquisition of creative life skills and peace building talks, they will be able to reintegrate back into the society after their term is over.
It has been a great learning experience for me and I call the ladies in this class my #InmateSisters. I am proud to be part of their success stories and more inspired to make life more extraordinary to the best of my ability. I am thankful for this kind of special exposure that has further broadened my scope of reasoning. I find more reason to reach out to vulnerable persons who are really in need of empowerment.