Reintegrating for Change
CHANGE is changing the lives of people desperate to start over and lead a good life, but weighed down by the stigma of having been imprisoned or unqualified. For the lucky few who cross paths with Jean Tendai Gwenere, a future is made possible through this remarkable woman’s immeasurable compassion and commitment.
CHANGE is an independent, non-governmental organisation actively involved in uplifting the Namibian society, while contributing to economic and social development by reintegrating ex-offenders into society.
Amongst its various courses, CHANGE provides a fashion design and tailoring programme, together with business entrepreneurial training for ex-offenders and other marginalised individuals who want to get their lives back on track. One of their many CSR projects, the FNB Namibia Foundation Trust has invested over N$300 000 in the programme. Of the 44 students who underwent this training; 28 of them are now employed, including 13 who are self-employed.
Not only does CHANGE provide education, skills training and work programmes that can equip ex-offenders and others with the tools they need to succeed, but they also address one of the biggest challenges of rehabilitation: removing the stigma that ex-offenders still face in the employment market.
Fashion Design Tutor at Change, Jean Tendai Gwenere, the muse of hope behind many changed lives, explains what it is like having worked for this inspiring organisation, “I also ask myself at times, how did I end up in Change, but I’ve been with Change for the past 16 years. I started when I was 21, I was very young, but I think the passion, working with people, hearing their stories and seeing at the end of the day what they are doing; and then their comments and they send me pictures of what they are doing. “Oh Miss, you changed my life, this is what I’m doing” and “I can’t believe I bought a car Miss” – and I’ve got so many students of mine who have shown me their cars that they have bought with money that they earn by doing what I taught them. I sometimes think this is my last year. I also want to buy a car.”
“But at the end of the day it’s the satisfaction knowing that I am changing somebody else’s life. Somebody will tell you, I was in prison for 15 years and I didn’t know what to do, where to start, where to go. They have looked for employment in vain and at the end of the day they got into this programme, [their] family have bought machines for them and they’re doing things for themselves, they’re selling, they are earning a living, their life has been changed, so that is what gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
“The hardest part is when my students drop out. We are only based in Windhoek and some people don’t have accommodation in Windhoek. Family members can only accommodate them for so long and life in Windhoek is not easy.”
“So if they say ‘Miss, I have to go back to the North, because my uncle said he can’t take care of me anymore’, or maybe because somebody was in prison other families are like ‘no, you can’t stay with this person because they were in prison’, so they have to go back. I wish I had a big place where I could accommodate them to finish up. That’s the most heartbreaking part of my job, but when they finish and they graduate and they go out there and show what they have, that makes me happy.”