[Individual articles from the Summer 2018 issue of Intersections will be posted on this blog each week. The full issue can be found on MCC’s website.]
The peace clubs model, first developed by Issa Ebombolo, founder of Peace Clubs Zambia and now MCC Zambia peace coordinator, has been widely adopted in schools across Zambia and has been adapted in over a dozen countries across Africa and even beyond. Through peace clubs, participants learn nonviolent conflict transformation techniques and develop leadership skills. Three years ago, another MCC Zambia peace coordinator, Mturi Kajungu, had the idea to utilize the peace clubs model in a different context within Zambia, founding a peace club within the Choma Correctional Facility in Zambia’s Southern Province. Kajungu had a passion for victim-offender reconciliation work and was inspired by the peace club curriculum module, Journey Toward Reconciliation. The adoption of peace clubs in Choma Correctional Facility has increased the potential for rehabilitation and reintegration.
Much of my work in the Choma Correctional Facility is a continuation of what Kajungu started. In these efforts, I have enjoyed a lot of support from the facility’s top leadership and the inmates. As I give leadership to the facility’s peace club, I work alongside the prison chaplain inspector, Fred Musiwa, a committed Christian who is loved and respected not only by the inmates, but also by his colleagues.
The need for peacebuilding work in Zambia’s prisons is great. Inmates experience violence in Zambian correctional facilities through corporal punishment and bullying. Zambian correctional facilities are also overcrowded. For example, Choma Correctional Facility was meant to accommodate about one hundred inmates, but most of the time it houses over three hundred people. Prison officers in Zambia too often have negative stereotypes and prejudices towards inmates. For example, many officers believe that all prisoners are criminals and dangerous to society and in turn relate to prisoners in a punitive and fear-driven manner. These negative beliefs about and attitudes towards prisoners in turn serve as justification for corporal punishment, the imposition of longer sentences with hard labor and the denial of food, all in the misguided belief that such punitive measures will promote rehabilitation.
Given these prison conditions, many inmates experience traumatic stress, expressing feelings of shock, fear, grief, anger and difficulty in feeling love. This traumatic stress manifests itself through varied behaviors, such as low energy, eating too much or too little, poor hygiene and poor impulse control. Some inmates experience suicidal thoughts. Upon their release, returning citizens regularly experience feelings of distrust, irritability, rejection and abandonment and may withdraw from or get into increased conflicts with others.
The peace club at the Choma facility is designed to transform the attitudes of correctional officers and to equip inmates with skills to cope with the challenges of imprisonment and to prepare for reintegration into society. Training prison officers is critical for transforming their attitudes about prisoners and for equipping them to promote and support rehabilitative outcomes for prisoners. While I provide overarching training for inmates and officers, inmates themselves give leadership to the peace club on a day-to-day and week-to-week basis. All peace club members meet at least every Friday. Together, they work through the peace club curriculum to learn about alternative ways to address conflict, the problem of gender-based violence and how to walk along a journey toward reconciliation in their lives. This past January we trained a total of 50 people (45 inmates and five prison officers) in peace and conflict resolution. Several months later, 36 of the 45 prisoners trained continued to participate in the peace club, while the remaining nine had been released.
In my role supporting the peace club in Choma, I visit the correctional facility at least twice a month, and more often as the need arises. My primary role with this peace club project is to provide counseling to inmates in the Choma facility. I try to provide a welcoming space for prisoners, listening to their feelings, accepting them in genuine care and remaining respectful of their experience. I assist them in remembering past experiences of getting through difficult times, inviting them to tell stories of themselves, their families and their communities and encouraging them to both to express gratefulness for victories and to mourn and share feelings of loss. In our conversations, inmates imagine life after prison and we discuss opportunities and challenges they will face after release. I also advocate for them to the higher authorities and help connect them with their families and friends for moral and material support.
The Choma peace club has had a positive impact during its short lifespan. The facility has the highest percentage of early releases in Zambia, due to inmates’ good behavior, which prison officers attribute to the positive impact of peace clubs at the institution. Outside the prison, five former Choma peace club participants founded a government-registered organization called the Popota Peace and Environment Club. Former inmate Zebulon Mwale explains the reason for founding Popota thus: “We have chosen to live for the sake of others.” Through Popota, the five former Choma inmates share the conflict transformation techniques they learned in prison, training civic, traditional and religious leaders as well as teachers and farmers. Using the peace club curriculum, the group meets twice a week to discuss issues affecting the community and to brainstorm alternatives to violent conflict.
In addition to strengthening interpersonal relationships and reducing violent conflict between people, Popota promotes better relationships between people and the environment. Group members plant trees and sensitize the community to the importance of environmental protection. Popota’s members are all volunteers, meeting after normal work hours. Since Popota’s founding, the community has witnessed a reduction in crime. Popota also hopes in the future to introduce the peace clubs model to Zambian correctional facilities beyond Choma.
Issa Ebombolo and Mturi Kajungu are currently in the process of adapting the school peace club curriculum to the prison context with the hope that the Choma model could extend to other prisons throughout Zambia. As MCC continues to support work for peace in Zambia’s prisons, capacity building for prison officers will be especially critical, helping them understand their correctional services role as rehabilitative. MCC must also focus on how best to reintegrate returning citizens into their communities and to find ways to assist returning citizens in supporting their families after serving their sentences. The peace clubs pilot at Choma has shown promise: now MCC must work to build on that promise.
Keith Mwaanga is peace and justice coordinator for MCC Zambia.
Peace club curricula from Zambia, South Africa, Kenya, Burundi and Mozambique can be found here: http://apcc.mcc.org/home/peace-club-materials.