From Trash to Treasure – Empowering Prisoners with Entrepreneurial Skills in Arts and Crafts in Namibia

The theme ”Educate an African Fit for the 21st Century” of the Africa Day 2024, emphasises the need to build resilient education systems that provide inclusive, lifelong, quality, and relevant work integrated learning opportunities, for entrepreneurial skills building.

The Department of Social Sciences at the University of Eastern Finland (UEF) in close collaboration with UNAM Cares, at the University of Namibia (UNAM), initiated the concept of turning ”trash” into ”treasure”, taking on a global perspective. This collaborative effort seeks to promote positive change by rethinking, recycling, reusing, and reinventing waste materials. The initiative aims to highlight the transformative power of sustainable practices, fostering environmental stewardship and economic empowerment. We hope to inspire others to adopt similar approaches and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Namibia, located in sub-Saharan Africa, faces significant challenges related to crimes caused by high unemployed, poverty, low levels of development, and substantial social and economic disadvantages. Each year, several former incarcerated individuals re-enter their communities, seeking to rebuild their lives and to integrate into society. However, they face numerous challenges that hinder their ability to seize economic opportunities and achieve stability. These challenges include social stigma, discrimination, rejection, low employment opportunities, difficulty in obtaining housing, legal restrictions, and the need to understand prevailing technology and societal changes. Addressing these barriers is crucial for supporting successful reintegration and reducing recidivism. This requires multifaceted strategies, including improving education and economic opportunities for vulnerable populations. One effective approach is providing prisoners with opportunities to attain business and entrepreneurship education to help break the cycles of poverty and crime. Namibia’s correctional facilities present a unique opportunity for social entrepreneurial skills building for empowerment and to integrate environmental sustainability and offender rehabilitation through innovative approaches.

UEF and UNAM in close collaboration with the Namibian Correctional Service are implementing a social entrepreneurial skill building project with prisoners, exploring prisoners’ experiences with active participation in solid waste management, transforming ”Trash to Treasure” using arts and crafts.

UNAM and UEF have adopted a qualitative, exploratory-descriptive case design, exploring Namibian prisoners’ experiences and the context within which they have participated in solid waste management activities. The qualitative nature of the project provides rich, detailed data that captures the nuances of participants’ perspectives. A community education model within the context of civic education, rehabilitation, and integration, framed by an eco-social sustainability perspective has been adopted. This model emphasizes the role of education and community involvement in promoting sustainable practices and fostering social change. Community plays a crucial role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners, offering the support and opportunities necessary for successful reintegration into society. Effective rehabilitation is not only about addressing the individual needs of prisoners, but also about fostering a supportive and inclusive community environment that encourages positive change.

By employing an environmental social work approach, the activities aim to contribute to both ecological sustainability and social reintegration. By providing skills in entrepreneurship and financial literacy training, prisoners can gain the confidence and capability to start businesses or secure meaningful employment, once released. Implementing effective business education training in correctional facilities supported by mentorship and post-release initiatives, can pave the way for lasting positive change, societal reintegration and promoting environmental sustainability.

Our project has highlighted the importance of collaborative approaches and inclusive participation where engaging both prisoners and correctional officers in rehabilitation programmes ensures that all perspectives are considered in creating a more holistic approach. By working together, all stakeholders can align their efforts towards common objectives, such as reducing recidivism through entrepreneurial skills building and promoting social reintegration.

Promoting positive change in prisons leads to better outcomes not only for individuals but society!

Environmental Benefits

  • Reduced Solid Waste: By rethinking, recycling, reusing, and reinventing, we significantly reduce the amount of solid waste materials that ends up in prisons.

Societal Benefits

  • Empowerment:  Marginalised communities are empowered by economic opportunities through entrepreneurship focused on waste collection and recycling.
  • Education and Awareness: Skills development and knowledge exchange on creative reuse and recycling, the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship are enhanced.

Economic Benefits

  • Job Creation: Recycling and upcycling initiatives create jobs and stimulate local economies in Namibia once the prisoners are released.
  • Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Encouraging the reinvention of solid waste materials fosters innovation and can lead to the development of new products and markets.

As we celebrate Africa Day, we want to reflect on the cultural, economic, and environmental potential that exists on the African continent. Through collaborative efforts and sustainable practices, we can harness this potential to promote positive change and build a better future for all.

Happy Africa Day!

Natalie Joubert
Project Researcher
Department of Social Sciences
University of Eastern Finland

Dr Rachel Freeman
Head of UNAM Cares
University of Namibia