A community of five Christian Brothers try, through a variety of ministries, to bring a message of hope to the poor and deprived in the rural town of Mongu in Zambia's Western Province. The senior member, Kevin Treacy, runs 12-week afternoon computer courses for beginners. Christopher Mapulanga teaches R.E. and Maths and is Chaplain at the CBs’ secondary school, St John’s, where Marvin Phiri, fresh from the novitiate in Cape Town, will also be taking up a teaching post in 2010. Kakoma Sakutalika teaches at Lourdes Community School, a primary school for poor children. Community leader John McCourt, who has been in Zambia for two-thirds of his 46 years as a CB, is Chaplain at the Mongu College of Education and is also involved in prison ministry.
In January 2009 I joined the newly formed Diocese of Mongu Prison Ministry. Sunday services are conducted in the prison each week. I offered my service as a teacher of English and R.E. at the prison. A recently transferred officer, Christopher Bubala, is in charge of the education programme. While in Livingstone he had worked closely with two CBs there, the late Pat Murphy and Clement Mbulo. We formed classes at three levels, prisoners were enrolled for this year’s exams, and work began in earnest.
It has proved to be a challenge and a delight. As the educational programme at Mongu Central Prison was non-existent for many years, we had to go about getting basic teaching materials to begin the work. The room assigned for class work is a small store-room off the kitchen. It contained a table, a chair, and a small blackboard. The students sat on the floor and were happy to be at school irrespective of the lack of equipment.
In early April some students and teachers from Ard Scoil Ris in Dublin came to Mongu for an immersion experience. They paid a visit to St John’s and left a very generous donation for me to use at the prison. With this donation we got desks made locally. There was great excitement among the students on the day the desks were delivered. At last the little store room began to look like a classroom.
Mongu Central Prison has roughly 520 prisoners. There are six large cells for the men and one smaller one for the dozen or so female prisoners; their cell is situated outside the fence surrounding the male section. Some cells have more than ninety prisoners and this causes obvious problems. Visitors to Mongu can see into the prison from the main road, but this gives no real notion of what conditions are like inside the prison. I would say that conditions are demoralising, dilapidated, demeaning, and depressing. There is absolutely no effort at rehabilitating the prisoners. The men just wait around all day with little or nothing to do to gainfully occupy their time. Some have small vegetable plots within the prison perimeter, but many complain that the officers steal from these plots when the prisoners are locked up each day. Lock-up time is at 16h30 and doors are opened around 06h00 each morning. During the morning each prisoner receives a plate or bowl of nshima (the staple maize stiff-porridge) which has to do him for the next 24 hours. Some add a little relish to this, when they get it.
The education programme has certainly uplifted the morale of those who joined it and now we have many others who wish to join in 2010. I encouraged one of the keen footballers to organise a league among the six cells and this is going well. These league games are played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons each week. So far we haven’t had to call on FIFA to make a ruling on any contentious decision, which is good!
I meet with a good number of the prisoners after class and listen as best I can to their problems and requests. Some of their stories are indeed heartbreaking. It is particularly sad to hear of lawyers, employed by the government to represent prisoners, asking the same prisoners for a sum of money in the region of K180, 000 (about US$ 45) for them to speak in court on their behalf. Without this money these lawyers will not say anything in the prisoners’ defence.
Prison ministry has certainly shown me another side to life in Zambia!
John McCourt cfc
published January 2010
Photograph supplied by Clement Sindazi cfc