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A Chance Outside of Prison

Carpenters, stonemasons, and construction workers are what the youths in the COWA courses become, youths who outside of prison risk living alone in the streets. We talked about this with Corrado Corradini, who makes Venetian-style furniture in Kampala.
Paola Ronconi

In Kampala, Uganda, the Company of Works Association (COWA) is working in collaboration with the Association of Volunteers in International Service (AVSI) on vocational training for youths who have come out of Remand Home, a juvenile detention center. Police dragnets are a daily affair in Kampala, and often kids who are guilty of petty crime or simply of living on the streets end up in jail. They may even stay in prison a couple of years before coming to trial. “COWA has an office inside the prison and offers the youths very simple activities–painting, working with clay, creating videos–to occupy their time.” Corrado Corradini, who has worked on the project for years, tells us about it. He says that he has done a bit of everything in his life, “even being a stonemason in Nairobi!” Now he makes the only rustic furniture in the Venetian style in Kampala and teaches COWA youths how to be carpenters.

But once they are out of jail?
Most of these young people come out and do not know how to do anything. Those who want to can take our courses in carpentry, metalworking, and reinforced concrete construction at the COWA Vocational Training Centre. These are two-year courses, and at the end of the second year the youths have the opportunity to work for three months with a company, doing what we call industrial attachment (internships). In many cases, this period ends with the person being hired by the same firm. But the problem of work is not the only one.

What do you mean?
When these youths get out of jail, many of them are left to their own resources; it is hard to find their families. You have to go into the villages, investigate, ask around. The dramatic moment comes when the families will not take their child back because what he has done is a dishonor. If, however, with time, he learns a skill, this can make his relationship with his family easier.

Where do they live in the meantime?
The COWA social workers deal with this problem, too. The youths live together in groups of three or four. They choose among themselves one to be the responsible head of the house, under the supervision of a worker who follows their progress, helps them reintegrate into society, and keeps the local authorities informed about what is going on.

How do they support themselves?
They are supported economically by long-distance adoptions until they are able to support themselves. These two years of study are fundamental for them, to become useful to themselves.

COWA also supports a school for girls orphaned by AIDS who have to take care of many brothers and sisters. They are given courses in cooking and sewing. “You see,” Corradini concludes, “working is not just bringing home a salary.”