"Mwai wosinithika…a chance for change”
Venture Trust began its international work in 2010 specifically working on a project in Kachere Juvenile Prison in Lilongwe, Malawi in Southern Africa. We did so at the request of the Scottish & Malawi Governments, who recognized that Venture Trust’s distinct approach to supporting young people in need of ‘a chance for change’ offered something of real importance to the evolving criminal justice sector in Malawi.
Many people in our organisation at that time wondered what the relevance of working in a prison in some country in the middle of Africa, that many could not place a pin on the map! It was a reasonable question to ask.
At that time Venture Trust was an organization that worked with vulnerable people only in the UK, predominantly in Scotland and not across all local authorities. (When I started with Venture Trust we had only one main programme called “a chance for change” which focused on young peopleon probation (aged 16-24) and was based in Applecross with less than 10 staff.) Now Venture Trust works with many more local authorities in Scotland and supports a far greater range of people.
The blog from Malawi and more recently our facebook page has hopefully kept you up to date with how the project “mwai wosinthika”…or … “a chance for change” (in the national chewa language) has evolved and changed in Malawi. From specifically working within the walls of Kachere Juvenile Prison with one permanent member of staff in 2010-11, we recruited Tom Sanderson from his prison background in the UK.
As we built partnerships with a range of Malawian agencies (including the police, social welfare, courts and traditional authorities) we were asked to extend our outreach work into the communities in and around Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital). Perhaps as importantly it enabled Venture Trust to further develop the programme, offering a far stronger ‘change for change’ through using the catalyst of a “wilderness” journey, albeit it in a significantly different (and somewhat hotter) environment than in Scotland!
Many people back in Scotland probably wonder if the programme looks anything like those that Venture Trust offers young people in the UK. Well, apart from the heat and the language many of you would recognize the “syllabus” which has three phases,is centred on a willingness to change and helps individuals unlock the skills and competencies to achieve this. It starts with heavy support, and retains a constant focus upon transferring new skills back into day-to-day life. Our outreach workers (jointly with Malawian social workers and a small number of Malawian volunteers) continue to offer support to participants as necessary back in Lilongwe after their wilderness experience.
Living Wild: “Dziko labwino”…space to think about your world
The wilderness journey has now been offered to over a hundred vulnerable young Malawians in 2012-2013 either from Kachere or at risk of been sent there from within the Lilongwe area.
A willingness to change is perhaps the only thing that we ask of our clients (and ourselves) whether they are Scottish, from elsewhere in the UK, or African.
The 18th July 2013 will mark another “first” for Venture Trust as an organization as we have succeeded in being accepted as a nominating organization with the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship Scheme. This offers five Malawians with whom we have been closely working over the last three years “an opportunity of a lifetime” (their words not mine) to come to Scotland and see and share our work,compare experiences and deepen the skills they need to sustain ‘Mwai Wosinthika’ in Malawi’s criminal justice sector long after Venture Trust staff have left. They represent the main sectors we have been working with in Malawi; The Malawi Prison Service, The Malawi Police Service, The Social Welfare (Ministry of Gender, Children and Community Development) and the Courts (Ministry of Justice).
More will follow on this nearer the time with biographies and a work exchange plan over July August and September. We are sure you will welcome our colleagues from Malawi and give them a “warm welcome” from the significantly colder heart of Scotland. (Malawi is known as the warm heart of Africa).
A community reaching their goals.
Our work in Africa with no prior experience as an organization has shown that Venture Trust is itself flexible and willing to change (not to mention highly effective!). This is something we must continue to be if we are to be true to our clients and colleagues.
Venture Trust Malawi
Reach for your goals
A short verse that a few of our participants may recognise from their time on exped, but one that will doubtless resonate with many more of those we've supported:
Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do
I am he and she is she but you're the only you
No one else has got your eyes, can see the things you see
It's up to you to change your life and my life's up to me.
The problems that you suffer from are problems that you make
The shit we have to climb through is the shit we choose to take
If you don't like the life you live, change it now - it's yours
Nothing has effects if you don't recognise the cause.
If the programme's not the one you want, get up, turn off the set
It's only you that can decide what life you're gonna get
I am he and she is she but you're the only you.
Ever wondered if your support for Venture Trust really makes a difference? If it really does change lives? Well, we're handing over to our participants, who we think make the point rather nicely...
When I was a teenager, I think that’s when my troubles began. I was living in children’s units. People think that kids in the care system will never make anything of themselves – they think they must be bad people. I
was in a complete dilemma – you had your own problems and other people had their problems too. I just thought aggression and drugs was normal – you don’t have anyone to turn to and you don’t see your family much. I was taking drugs, self harming.... all kinds of things. No-one helped me.
I’ve been working with Venture Trust in Edinburgh – a charity that helps people like me learn new skills and think about what they want out of life. I got lots of one-to-one support, and spent all my time outdoors. I climbed, went wild camping, canoed, kayaked, and went on expeditions for weeks at a time. I was enjoying what I was doing and starting to achieve something with my life. People were noticing what I was doing well; I could do something positive and get noticed for it, where in the past I’d have to get into trouble to get noticed. I started to change; I realised there was more to life than taking drugs, and that I could use my experiences to help other people.
I realised how happy I was. I realised I show my experience to other people and help them to change their lives like I changed mine. I can give other people support and help them to make a difference. I’ve done it all – I think I’ve done more in 17 years than most people have in a lifetime – and I can say to people ‘you don’t need to do that’. Most people who get through the care system end up taking drugs or going to prison. If I can show people the other options, the other route they can take, then they can choose to take that path too.
Feeling inspired by Vicky's story? Find out how your support made it happen...
[At first] I was very closed off and kind of kept to myself, simply because that’s what I was like back then! As the days went on, I got to know the participants and staff more which I was enjoying as everyone had different backgrounds to me. I realised on that trip that it was more than just doing activities and playing games, it was also a way of getting to know myself a little better.
I found out that I had bottled a lot of stuff up over the years and that I had a pretty negative outlook on life. Once the staff picked up on this, they were so supportive and really took the time to talk and get to know me, which I eventually really appreciated.
The trip as a whole was such a challenge but nothing I couldn’t handle (I didn’t know this at the time though). We done so many activities and team building games which really helped me get along with my peers. During the trip we had support groups and this was the hard part for me. It involved setting personal goals and weekly goals, which I had to try and achieve as the days went by.
Overall it was a fantastic experience, one I’ll never forget and since doing it I’m a brand new person. I couldn’t thank the staff enough for putting up with me and cracking through that big wall I had up. They got me to open up and speak about things I’d been hiding for many years. The feedback sheets I got from the trip I still read to this day because whenever I’m feeling down or being a bit harsh with myself, those sheets never fail to cheer me up. They prove I am a strong person and I am able to overcome any kind of obstacles that might come my way. Since then I am much more positive not only with myself but with my outlook as well. I help out a lot more at home and I have gained lots more confidence... this won’t be the last you see of me!
Feeling inspired by Michelle's story? Find out how your support made it happen...
My life’s changed dramatically, everything’s changed! Every little part of my life has changed, for the good. Because before, it was just lazy – drugs, that was it. Arguing with everyone, not doing anything. But now it’s off the drugs, getting a job, going to college, baby on the way – it’s all positives.
I learnt to calm down. I learnt that if I’m feeling a bit pissed off, or angry, or a bit down, to go and talk to people, cos people might not know how I’m feeling. [The course] has affected me in a lot of ways. It’s helped me get more motivated, communication. Getting along with others. Understanding that people have got their own problems as well, and when I’ve got my problems, I should work through them, not just bypass them. So the course has helped me a lot.
My action plan was really good, cos it helped me actually do stuff, instead of sitting doing nothing. And it kept me away from the trouble. I just took it step by step, one by one. I just planned it – ‘do that one, then that one’.
Now, if I see people out, like, arguing and fighting, I can approach it much easier than I did before. Before, it’d be nerve wracking, thinking ‘what’s going to happen’, but after the course, it’s easier to calm people down, talk to people more, helping them, figuring out what’s bothering them, and chilling out a lot quicker and easier.
I’ve got a job interview, next week, it’s for the cadets. I’m starting college at the end of the month, to do Computing Support, my girlfriend’s pregnant, we’ve got a baby on the way – we’re going to find out if it’s a boy or a girl next week. I’ve got a steady relationship, I’m off the drugs, don’t drink at all. Family life is a lot more mellow and chilled out, everything’s just running a lot smoother now. I feel brilliant, great. My ambitions are to settle down, with a proper family and my own house. That’d be a perfect start to a good future. A good job – even if that means going to lots of interviews still – I want a good job, a steady job, not a dead end job. A job I can progress in. Finish college, get good grades, healthy baby, a steady relationship – the perfect life.
Venture Trust helped me with my communication – understanding that people’ve got their own problems, and helping them with their problems. Motivating others; when they’re feeling down, helping them get back on their feet. Keeping everyone looking at the positives, rather than the negatives, keeping everyone on their own path, going positive places.
[If I hadn’t gone on the Venture Trust programme] I’d be totally opposite. I wouldn’t be at college, I wouldn’t have a job interview, I wouldn’t have a girlfriend, I wouldn’t have a baby on the way, I’d still be on the drugs, I’d have no money, I’d still be arguing with my mum, I’d probably be kicked out...
Feeling inspired by Gordon's story? Find out how your support made it happen...
Tammie was referred to Venture Trust in March 2013 by referral partner Impact Arts.
The Venture Trust outreach team organised a climbing day for a group of young people involved in the Impact Arts Programme and Tammie became interested in what the IYF programme had to offer. Tammie summed up her own approach to life at that point saying that “my life was a bit aimless, with little to no motivation and no idea how to achieve what I wanted in the future.” She had been diagnosed with ADD and struggled with concentration and socialising. She also struggled to make plans, make decisions and to remember appointments.
With the support of her Venture Trust outreach worker, Tammie began to identify the areas she would like to work on during the programme. These included overcoming her shyness, developing her social skills, building new friendships and developing leadership skills.
Getting out into the wilderness
In May 2013 Tammie attended and completed a wilderness expedition in the Cairngorms. Completing this journey was a huge achievement for her. She was particularly concerned about being away from her family, but she was focused and determined, and with the support from the Venture Trust field staff was able to complete the seven day journey. Tammie later explained her experience:
“I found the wilderness journey quite tough through a mixture of the activities, being away from my family for a week and the weather being a bit rubbish. I gained a lot of support from the staff and made some new friends.”
The Venture Trust field team staff writing Tammie’s course report identified that she “arrived with a willingness to challenge herself... This determined attitude helped her complete the course successfully.” During the journey she really worked on developing her social skills and meeting new people:
“At the beginning of the course she kept to herself, but through successful goal setting and supportive talks with staff she became part of the group and joined in with jokes and discussions... Tammie successfully integrated with the group and by the end of the course was able to make her voice heard.”
The wilderness challenges and experiences developed Tammie’s independence and encouraged her to believe in her skills and abilities.
On return home the one-to-one support and help with action planning from Venture Trust helped her identify areas to work on and encouraged her to look into new opportunities. As Tammie herself said recently, “I now have more things to do, have more ideas for my future and feel a bit better about myself.”
Tammie has just finished the Venture Scotland programme, where she developed her outdoor and leadership skills. She is volunteering at the Broomhouse Vegetable Co-op in their fruit and veg shop, serving customers and organising stock. She is also volunteering at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital Library designing promotional material, and has recently applied for another voluntary position as a librarian there. Not only this, but Tammie is also doing a Textile and Jewellery design course at Edinburgh College, and is starting the Dance Base Great Feats programme next week. In addition to these activities, Tammie is passionate about Venture Trust and has contributed to fundraising events.
One of her biggest achievements with Venture Trust was at our DVD premiere event, when Tammie wrote a wonderful account of her time and achievements, and spoke publically about this to an audience of 60 professionals and funders. This took a lot of courage and confidence and was a huge success. Her speech made such an impact, and was the highlight of the night.
There has been a remarkable transformation in Tammie’s life as she has worked hard to develop her social skills, her ability to organise and plan her time very effectively, and her motivation to get involved in volunteering and education and training activities.
A report published today highlights the importance of additional support for children in care, to enable them to improve their prospects, aspire to positive and successful adulthoods, and avoid negative pathways of offending and disengagement.
The Inspectorate of Probation, along with education watchdogs Ofsted and Estyn - which inspects standards in education and training in Wales - examined the cases of 60 children who required supervision in order to stop them from committing crimes.
Inspectors said one of the "most disappointing" findings was the lack of thought given to the emotional impact on children of being in care and, a lack of appreciation of the extra support needed for them to address their problems. The report describes youth offending team workers' aspirations for the children as "depressingly low", and highlights that young people in care "rarely have anybody who stays as a kind of consistent adult".
The director of the Prison Reform Trust, Juliet Lyon added "There is a well-trodden path from care into custody".
Venture Trust's direct experience of supporting young people who have been in care - though our specifically designed 'Inspiring Young Futures' programme, backs up these findings. One of our participants recently told us about her experience of being in care, and its connection to her life taking a negative pathway:
When I was a teenager, I think that’s when my troubles began. I was living in children’s units. People think that kids in the care system will never make anything of themselves – they think they must be bad people. I just thought aggression and drugs was normal – you don’t have anyone to turn to and you don’t see your family much. I was taking drugs, self harming.... all kinds of things. No-one helped me.
But Venture Trust's personal development support - via long term outreach support and intensive wilderness journeys - can help these young people to transform their futures:
I got lots of one-to-one support, and spent all my time outdoors. I was enjoying what I was doing and starting to achieve something with my life. People were noticing what I was doing well; I could do something positive and get noticed for it, where in the past I’d have to get into trouble to get noticed. I started to change; I realised there was more to life than taking drugs, and that I could use my experiences to help other people.
We provide long term, personalised support for what today's report describes as "the most vulnerable children". With our help, we're able to help young people to envisage a more positive future for themselves, and to develop the skills they need to make their ambitions reality. Last year, we supported over 500 young people with experience of being in care. Three quarters of looked-after young people on our Inspiring Young Futures programme maintained or made better use of services and opportunities in their communities, and seven in ten were more employable.
Perhaps as the ultimate proof of our sucess, our 'graduates' are able to support other young people to help them make more positive choices in life:
"I realised I can show my experience to other people and help them to change their lives like I changed mine. I can give other people support and help them to make a difference. I’ve done it all – I think I’ve done more in 17 years than most people have in a lifetime – and I can say to people ‘you don’t need to do that’. Most people who get through the care system end up taking drugs or going to prison. If I can show people the other options, the other route they can take, then they can choose to take that path too".
You can read more about the report on the BBC website, and find out more about Venture Trust's Inspiring Young Futures programme - specifically designed to meet the needs of young people who have been in care - on our website.