March 28, 2019



1st March, 2019 It was the school half term break and my two teenage daughters were home for a few days so I decided to take them to ‘work’ so that they could experience a job shadowing experience. The assignment for the day was to visit juvenile teen girls at Kamae Borstal Girls Institute at Kamiti Maximum Security Prison and do some journalistic stories of the experience.

Confidence Sanitary towel, a brand under local manufacturer in hygiene and personal care products, Kim-Fay East Africa, had partnered with Clean Start, a local NGO aimed at providing sustainable second chances for women and girls living in prisons, to give them confidence to face life. These two teams gave the girls mentoring sessions on menstrual hygiene and essential life-skills on how to be confident, how to build resilience, a session which gave the girls a reason to dream and hope again.

I was facilitating the session on How to be Confident and noticed that the girls at the Borstal Institue talked with their faces looking down, voices drawn in. Perhaps out of regrets or bearing the stigma of being in an institute.  So, I quickly changed my content.  How about teaching them how to speak.  And just like that we did an impromptu tutorial on ‘Public speaking,’ We taught the girls to project their voices, maintain eye contact, keep their chin up and smile.   In an exercise called ‘I dream to be,’ the girls practiced their newly found public speaking skills and some dreamed of being surgeons, another dreamed of being the first female president of Kenya, yet another dreamed of becoming a model.  After all, our dreams are valid or so Award-winning Lupita Ny’ongo says. My daughters interacted with the girls and gave them peer mentorship which helped bridge the age gap between the adult mentors and the girls at the Borstal Institute. They also got some hands-on experience and a lesson on media ethics of taking photographs of vulnerable minors as well as story writing and photo captioning.

In true African tradition, Confidence Sanitary Pads Marketing Manager did not come empty handed. Attending the Confidence Behind Bars event, Risper Oluga, Marketing Manager of Confidence Sanitary Pads says, “we brought the girls sanitary pads and personal effects like tissues, underwear and wash cloths and educated them on body hygiene.  Menstruation is an aspect of womanhood yet girls in prisons do not have a constant supply of sanitary towels and hygiene products and this has a negative toll on their lives and can contribute to low self-esteem. Some girls confessed of tradition menstrual management methods used in the village ”Back home, we used dried cow dung wrapped in a cloth or cut up washable blankets to use during periods.”

Truphena Naisukwa, welfare officer at Kamae Borstal Girls Institute, says that ‘the institute offers a three-year reform program for girls aged between 15 – 18 years and has a capacity for 200 girls. During the reform tenure of the program, the girls receive formal education as well as vocational training in catering, beadwork, dressmaking, hair and beauty skills to enable them to have a tradeable skill once they are reinstated back into society.  Those who show reformation can be released after a year.

The Borstal Institutions Act Chapter 92 was enacted in 1963 by the Country’s first Parliament with an aim of providing detention for youthful offenders who have been involved in high risk crime offences. Borstals are administered by Prison’s department and are part of the Penal system in Kenya, unlike other children’s’ custodial institutions, which are managed by Department of Children’s services (information cradle).

Other mentors included CEO of Clean Start, Teresa Njoroge who has first-hand experience of prison after she was sentenced to a year in Langata Women Maximum Security Prison in 2011 for a crime she did not commit, says ‘Being behind bars can be a traumatising experience and can lower one’s confidence.

“Clean Start’s vision is to restore hope, dignity, self-confidence and self-respect to girls and women as they leave prison, enabling them to break the cycle of poverty and imprisonment. We equip women with life skills and employment training, supporting them to find sustainable livelihoods post release.”

Mentors who came to the Confidence Behind Bars event included talented Kenyan female rapper, Femi ONE, of Kaka Empire, cancer victor, Sharon King’ori, Dan Matakaya, a policeman who experienced gender-based violence incident that resulted in lifelong blindness after facial acid burns, spoke to the girls on the importance of building resilience in life despite our circumstances.

Other mentors who inspired the girls were, Grace Ndegwa from Kenyatta University who spoke on life after paralysis, while Duncan Wanyama spoke on getting back his groove in life after becoming visually blind as an adult.