PFI Rescues Children of Prisoners in Malawi

The quality of life for hundreds of children in Malawi is about to improve thanks to a new partnership agreement between Prison Fellowship International and Prison Fellowship Malawi. After a year of preparation, Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program launched in Malawi on November 1. The program commenced with the enrollment of the first 140 children, who will receive food, clothing, access to education, regular medical check-ups, and spiritual and emotional care.

There are millions of children around the world who have lost one or both parents to imprisonment. Many live in dire circumstances, struggling to live a normal, safe, healthy life while their parent–often the family’s breadwinner–is behind bars. Some are forced to beg for food or must drop out of school to work in dangerous conditions. And many are stigmatized and discriminated against for being associated with a criminal.

Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program works in partnership with Prison Fellowship affiliates around the world to rescue, restore, and rebuild the lives of poor and vulnerable children of prisoners. The program ensures children have safe housing and protection from exploitation, and abuse, as well as proper nutrition, medical care, access to education, and the opportunity to develop emotional and spiritual strength. In addition, the program helps children maintain a relationship with their incarcerated parent, which is vital to their wellbeing.

“Prison Fellowship Malawi has been part of the Prison Fellowship International family for nearly 20 years, and their heart and passion for prisoners and their families is at the core of their organization,” said Michele Leith, associate program manager at Prison Fellowship International. “Over the last five years, the child sponsorship program has grown to reaching nearly 6,000 children around the world. With Malawi as our newest program partner, we know that thousands of children who are currently hidden and wondering where their next meal will come from or afraid of what their future holds will be seen, known, and loved, and have a chance for a brighter future.”

The child sponsorship program currently serves 5,716 children throughout Cambodia, Colombia, Costa Rica, India, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. Over the next year, Prison Fellowship Malawi plans to expand care to 300 children of prisoners. And by 2024, Prison Fellowship International aims to expand the program to serve 800 children in Malawi. Visit pfintl.wpengine.com/malawi for more information or to sponsor a child from Malawi.

Prison Fellowship Malawi was founded in 2001 and is active in 30 of the country’s prisons. This story was originally posted on Christian News Wire.

AUBREY | Malawi

Aubrey was one of the first children registered into the child sponsorship program in Malawi. He is a shy, curious, and charming six-year-old boy who lives in a rural village with his baby brother, mother, and grandmother. The Prison Fellowship Malawi team and Prison Fellowship International staff met with the family on the front porch of their home to complete registration. The registration process collects information about children and their families to enroll children into the program. It also allows the program team to identify a child’s imminent needs and how program support can help.

During registration, Aubrey’s mother shared that she could not afford to send Aubrey to first grade, because the country’s school fees—which equates to $1 USD— were too high. She said Aubrey loved school and it saddened her that he was not able to go. That was the first time Aubrey spoke up, saying he wanted to go to school, but couldn’t. A few moments later a large group of students walked down the street past Aubrey’s home. He immediately ran to the street to watch the children walk by. It was clear Aubrey longed to be a part of that group.

Through program support, Aubrey has returned to school. His mother is relieved of the overwhelming burden of school fees. Aubrey now has the same opportunities as his peers. Through the child sponsorship program and the generosity of people like you the barriers that prevented Aubrey from attending school are removed, helping to pave the way toward a brighter future for him and his family!

 Give Now to Support a Child in Need

YVONNE | Rwanda

“I never imagined someone besides my parents would love me this much.”

Children of prisoners are well acquainted with the unexpected twists and turns life can take. One day, they’re a carefree child, and the next their father or mother is ripped from their life and sent to prison. It’s truly amazing the difference one person can make in the life of a child in need.

Fourteen-year-old Yvonne, in Rwanda, knows this firsthand.

We found Yvonne three years ago, living in the care of her older sister, because both of her parents are in prison.

Imagine being an adolescent girl and losing both parents during a time when you need them most. Gone is the security of a parents’ love and the consistency of their presence. What’s worse, in Rwanda children under 18 years of age aren’t even allowed to visit their parents in prison. Yvonne won’t be able to see her parents for another four years, and they won’t be release until she is 28 years old. 

Yvonne’s life is a beautiful, true story of how just one special person (a person like you and me) can transform a life. Yvonne’s supporter has developed a relationship with her, and she recently shared how much this relationship means to her:

“I never imagined someone besides my parents would love me this much.”

Because of that one person, Yvonne is well fed and clothed. A Christian caseworker also visits Yvonne regularly to ensure she lives in safety, has opportunities to interact with peers, be connected to a Christian community, and is able to continue her education.

“I was excited that I was going to study without being chased out [of school],” says Yvonne.

Yvonne’s education is critical in helping her grow into a confident young woman. Her supporter paid Yvonne’s education four years in advance so Yvonne will never have to worry about being able to finish school. But beyond her education, Yvonne couldn’t have imagined what more she would receive through the generosity of someone like you.

“My life has changed. Other children in the neighborhood and at school ask me about my life because they can see how happy I am and how I look good. I tell them that somebody they don’t know loves me.”

 Give Now to Support a Child in Need of Practical Care and God’s Hope

MARIA JOSE | Colombia

Maria Jose bursts with joy at a gathering for children of prisoners in Colombia.

Maria Jose’s Secret

Maria Jose is nine years old. She is bright and outgoing, and her smile cheers a whole room. But she has a sad secret: four years ago her father Alfredo was sent to prison. He won’t be released until after she graduates high school. She misses him every day—so much she’s developed severe anxiety. Maria Jose looks forward to the few hours she gets to visit him each month. Today is that day.

She wakes up early, selects her best outfit, and pulls on her favorite knit cap to cover the bald spots on her head. Here’s a secret Maria Jose can’t hide: a year ago, she started losing her hair. The doctors call it Alopecia—they say it’s caused by chronic anxiety and severe stress.

The loss of Maria Jose’s father is unbearable. The loss of her hair is embarrassing. And the stares and whispers from children in her neighborhood make her want to disappear. In Colombia, it is especially shameful to be related to a prisoner. Basic things like food and medical care are scarce, because Maria Jose’s mother Consuelo can only work two days a week, as a housekeeper, for very little pay. Maria Jose worries about her mother, too, who has been so ill she was recently hospitalized.

“Taking care of our home and raising my daughter alone are so difficult without Alfredo around,” says Consuelo. “María Jose needs a father figure.”

Weak family relationships and lack of parental support, along with hopelessness and persistent separation anxiety are shared experiences among thousands of children of prisoners around the world. Heartbreakingly, these internalized struggles are also among the leading causes of adolescent suicide.

Thousands more children of prisoners throughout the world are in desperate need. They live in impoverished, unsafe conditions; lack food, clothes, medicine, and the chance to go to school. They need to know they are seen and loved. And through our caring network of supporters and God’s grace, thousands of children of prisoners in eight countries are receiving life-saving care and the opportunity to regain their hope and understand their value in the light of God’s love.

On her way to visit her father in prison, Maria Jose travels through a steep maze of hillside shacks to where Medellín’s mountains touch the valley floor. There stands Bellavista Prison. It’s scary to walk the overcrowded, cell-lined halls that house thousands of Colombia’s worst criminals. There are also thousands of prisoners, like María Jose’s father, who desperately need to hear about the hope and love only Jesus can bring. Our supporters are helping us bring justice and healing in response to crime by sharing the Gospel with prisoners.

After hours of waiting in a small holding room, Maria Jose is taken to the prison’s courtyard to see her father. A huge smile lights her face, as she practically leaps into his outstretched arms.

“It was worth it,” she later tells her caseworker. 

Since her father has been in prison, Maria Jose has noticed a change in him. He talks about God now, and says he feels peace.

Alfredo participated in Prison Fellowship International’s in-prison evangelism and discipleship program, The Prisoner’s Journey®, which introduced him to Jesus in a personal way. Alfredo says his time in prison has given him the opportunity to search for God.

“I want to walk with God, so he can help me rebuild my life,” he says.

With our supporters help, we have now reached more than 217,000 prisoners, just like Alfredo, in 30 countries, with the message of the Gospel.

María Jose, Consuelo, and Alfredo are beautiful testimonies of how our supporters’ gifts impact an entire family. The practical help and care they receive is making a true difference for families who have so little, but are now experiencing hope and restoration in a broken and hurting world.

Now, María Jose receives food, medical care to manage her incurable Alopecia, and emotional counseling to help her heal from the trauma of her father’s incarceration. That emotional support is so vital to regaining her confidence.

María Jose also has the comfort of a Christian caseworker, who visits her regularly to ensure she lives in safety and has opportunities to interact with other children of prisoners, get plugged into a local church community, and stay connected with her father in prison. This helps to build her relationships, ease her anxiety, and feel accepted, supported, and loved. Consuelo says it gives her hope to know people are caring for her family.

“I know I am not alone in this.”

We are so grateful for the difference our caring network of supports are making in the lives of families like Maria Jose, Consuelo, and Alberto. Just imagine the eternal impact of that support.

 Give Now to Support a Family in Need of Practical Care and God’s Hope

DEEPA | India

An Invaluable Education

For many girls in India, education is still a luxury. Girls are often pulled out of school to help care for siblings and do housework—preparation for married life, which is often viewed as their ticket to financial security and stability. If they are lucky enough to continue on in school, the cost of books, uniforms, and transportation provide a further limitation to their education. But 14-year-old Deepa is receiving and education and so much more through Prison Fellowship International’s supporters!

Deepa was disappointed—as she is every year—when her teacher announced a class field trip. She knew her mother could not afford to pay the $11 (USD) fee.

Deepa brightened when her teacher and three friends surprised her with enough to pay for half the trip. But her smile faded when she quickly realized even $5.50 was too much for her poor family.

“So I told [my friends] ‘Forget about me, you all go’,” says Deepa.

Then her mother received an unexpected call from the bank, letting her know Deepa’s $15 educational allowance from the child sponsorship program had been deposited into her account.

“My mother is very strict with that money,” says Deepa. “It’s only for my tuition and educational materials. “My teacher struggled to [finally]convince her the excursion was also part of my study.”

The event helped Deepa bond with peers who once looked down on her because her father is in prison—an important experience in building her confidence and a healthy sense of self.

“It changed everything in my life. I got many friends. I remembered my father, who is in prison, at that time. I wanted to tell him that I was no longer a prisoner’s child only—I have plenty of sisters and friends who love me, too.”

“This happened because of you dear [supporters]. Thank you! And thank you to God!”

“Deepa’s story is an amazing testimony of why giving children the chance to go to school and attend fun social events can dramatically change their relationships, their status, their sense of self-worth, and their outlook on life,” says International Director of the Children of Prisoners Sponsorship Program Adam Hutchinson. “It’s evident of what I call a ‘God smile’—those moments when God makes stuff happen that brings someone joy. This is Deepa’s God smile.”

Prison Fellowship International helps ensure families have adequate support at home, and provides access to educational resources so children can stay in school and work toward a better future for their own families.

There are so many more children like Deepa; consider giving a small gift to ensure they can stay in school. As little as $15 is enough to pay tuition for one month of school.

I want to give toward a child’s education

PRISON VISITATION BAN OVERTURNED | Zimbabwe

Prison Visitation Ban Overturned for Children of Prisoners in Zimbabwe

 

Photo: Norman Nyakapadza could not hold back his expression of love for his family, after he enveloped his wife and children in an embrace.

Children of prisoners in Zimbabwe are celebrating after Prison Fellowship Zimbabwe (PFZ), an affiliate of Prison Fellowship International (PFI), successfully lobbied to overturn a prison visitation ban. This is a breakthrough for Zimbabwean children of prisoners under 18 years old, who were not permitted to visit anyone in prison—even their incarcerated parent.

“There is a growing awareness and evidence, globally, of the significant impact on children and inmates when children can visit their parent in prison,” says PFI’s International Director of Child Sponsorship Adam Hutchinson. “Studies show children who maintain a connection with their incarcerated parent report higher feelings of safety, stability, and overall emotional wellbeing. There is always a reduced likelihood of a parent re-offending after release, meaning families are stronger and children are better care for.”

After a series of meetings with the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Service to present prison visitation as a rehabilitative tool for prisoner behavior, children from five families in PFZ’s children of prisoners program were granted visitation. Some, like 10-year-old Precious, had not seen their fathers in nearly a decade.

“Feedback from these families is that the children’s behavior changed positively and they couldn’t stop talking about such a memorable event,” says Wilson Femayi, PFZ children of prisoners program manager. “The prison social workers also reported a remarkable behavioral change in inmates who met with their families for the first time.”

After the successful trial visitations, government officials agreed to institute an annual visitation week open to all children of prisoners throughout the country. The impact of this decision has encouraged Prison Fellowship International affiliates in Rwanda and Zambia to make similar appeals to their own prison visitation laws, which are already yielding similar results.

About Children of Prisoners Sponsorship:
Prison Fellowship International’s child sponsorship program helps rescue, restore, and rebuild the lives of innocent children of prisoners throughout eight countries. Through one-to-one sponsorship relationships, children receive access to food, medical care, education, safety, and spiritual and emotional support. Prison Fellowship International affiliates deliver these services through partnerships with local government, NGOs, and churches. 

PRECIOUS | Zimbabwe

A Precious Reunion

L–R: Precious, Tsitsi, and Ronald at their old home outside Harare, Zimbabwe.

Ten-year-old Precious reunited with her father earlier this year after an eight-year separation. Until now, Zimbabwean law did not permit children under 18 to visit anyone in prison—even their incarcerated parent.

But through the tireless work of Prison Fellowship Zimbabwe, the law was reversed for Precious and four other families of prisoners in our child sponsorship program.

This a breakthrough for children of prisoners in Zimbabwe. Maintaining a connection with their incarcerated parent creates emotional stability, by helping them know their parent is safe, present, and still cares about them.

Precious and her four siblings were abandoned when their father was sent away. Their mother Jacquelyn suffered a debilitating stroke under the stress of working and caring for five children alone.

Mother Jacqueline immobilized after a stroke, forcing her 5 children to fend for themselves.

Jacqueline eventually moved to town where her sister could care for her, leaving her children to squat illegally in a rundown, two-room hut in a maize field. 

The children's home in the middle of a maize field.

“My children were so young,” says Jacquelyn. “It worried me. What would they do for food, for laundry? Could they go to school?”

Twenty-two-year-old Morgan, Precious’s oldest brother, became the man of the house when he was just 14 years old. He’s been supporting his family ever since. Worries about his future and about his siblings weigh heavily on his mind.

Lord Remember Me cares for his siblings, while brother Morgan works. L–R: Precious, Lord Remember Me, Tsitsi, Ronald.

While Morgan works, 17-year-old Lord Remember Me cooks and cleans. For a long time, the children lived on a maize flour dish called nshima. Occasionally, they also had a few vegetables and were lucky to eat twice a day.

The children's makeshift kitchen at their old home.

“Some of the time we are afraid,” says 13-year-old Ronald. “The most frightening thing was mum was not around.”

Now enrolled in the child sponsorship program, the children’s situation is dramatically improved.

We helped them qualify for government-funded housing and build a new, safer home closer to town. The children re-enrolled in school, and the family receives regular food supplements. And now, with the visitation ban reversed, they can nurture their relationship with their father and begin a journey toward emotional healing.

Tsitsi and Ronald at their old home outside Harare, Zimbabwe.

Help children like Precious and her siblings experience hope for the future.

 

Donate Now  or  Sponsor a Child

 

Learn more about our child sponsorship program

VALERYN | Colombia

Valeryn from Itagüi, Colombia, just outside Medellín, stands in front of her home in one of the city’s shantytowns.
Nine-year-old Valeryn’s father has been in prison for more than half of her life. He has served 5 of his 17-year sentence in La Dorada, Calda, in Colombia—a prison largely reserved for members of political resistance.

Valeryn’s mother María is 45, and now the sole caretaker and provider of her five children. She is unemployed and receiving what little support her older daughter can offer, as well as any help from her neighborhood friends.

The family lives outside Medellín in the municipality of Itagüi. Medellín’s hillsides are lined with shantytowns—shacks piled high and cascading down into the Aburrá Valley mountain range. Their neighborhood, referred to as El hundido (The Sunken), is a foreshadowing of what’s to become of their home.

The hillside shantytowns surrounding Medellín, Colombia.

When Valeryn and her family were located by our Prison Fellowship Colombia staff, they were living in a dilapidated structure of scrap board and poorly secured wood paneling. Sheets draped over holes in the wall, exposed and tangled wires dangled from the ceiling, and corrugated sheet metal and tarps served as the roof. Their home was in danger of being taken out by a landslide, and their lives of being caught in the disaster. Support through our child sponsorship program helped move the family from their leaning shack. Their new apartment is vaulted with brick, and much safer.

In addition, the family’s health is at great risk. Their neighborhood is located in the “red zone,” where a hot bed of debilitating—even deadly—viruses are breaking out, including Zikka, Chikungunya, and Dengue. We’ve ensured Valeryn has all her required vaccinations, but even so, she’s still at risk. And María worries about Valeryn’s physical safety in the neighborhood as she grows older.

Every day is difficult for this family, but we’re helping to lift their burdens. The mere presence of our team in Valeryn’s life means María can work a little more, which is helping the whole family. Valeryn has been enrolled child sponsorship for a year now, and her family receives regular food supplements and enjoys recreational outings hosted by the program. These give Valeryn opportunities to learn about safety and health, as well as to connect with peers who understand what it’s like to have a parent in prison. This social connection and acceptance is so vital for Valeryn’s resilience.

Valeryn also receives counseling and emotional support. This is another crucial piece of care for children of prisoners, who are often ridiculed by peers and rejected by their extended families, as it’s taboo to have a parent in prison.

In 2016, Prison Fellowship Colombia conducted nearly 500 counseling sessions with children in the program. They also work to connect them with their parent in prison, as well as a local church. Nearly half of all families in the program in Colombia are leveraging support from a local church. And Valeryn and her family are gaining strength through the love and care of this new community.

Help a child like Valeryn experience love, acceptance, and hope.

Sponsor a Child

Learn more about our child sponsorship program.

KUNDA | Zambia

Kunda Finds Acceptance

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Pictured: Three-year-old Kunda, Ndola, Zambia.

At just 3, Kunda is already an outcast in his community. His neighbors laugh at him, and call him names. They throw garbage in his yard, and won’t let him go near their homes. It’s too much for someone who is so young—whose life has barely begun.

Kunda and his siblings, Lucy and Jackson, were all under the age of five when their father was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Shortly after his sentence, their mother abandoned them, too.

Help Children Like Kunda

Their grandmother, Payder, is now their primary caretaker.

Kunda, Lucy, and Jackson live in Nkwazi, one of the poorest, most densely populated communities in Ndola, Zambia. During the day, they scavenge for food as they wait for Payder­ to come home from the market where she sells vegetables. In the evening, Payder brings a pack of maize to cook a meal.

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Pictured: Nkwazi, a rural community in the north of Ndola, has some of the poorest living standards in Zambia. Here, neighborhood children eat their evening meal.

Payder puts on a brave face to encourage her grandchildren, but she knows they need more than what she is able to provide. She simply cannot earn enough for food, let alone clothing and school supplies. Payder says in private moments she cries out to God for help.

“[I tell God] not to let me down. I ask Him for wisdom on how I will [take care of] the children.”

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Perhaps most heartbreaking is the stigma attached to the Kunda and his siblings. When a parent goes to prison, their children suffer most. They not only endure the loss of a provider, but the rejection of family, friends, and community. Because their father is a prisoner, they have been deemed unworthy. Neighbors mock them, and they are the victims of vicious rumors, rejection, and even hate crimes.

“Once, we found a dead dog dumped inside [our house],” says Payder. “Sometimes we would find garbage strewn about. Neighbors called our home a garbage dump. Others called it a toilet. But I still call it a home.”

When the rainy season comes, every December through March, the little family’s home—a dilapidated mud hut—cannot protect them from the downpours.

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Pictured: A mud-brick house with a makeshift roof in Ndola, Zambia.

“When the rains come at night, our roof leaks so badly I have to grab the children and rush outside,” says Payder.

They would huddle under a tree until the rains let up.

Once Kunda was enrolled in our child sponsorship program, the family’s situation improved. Our sponsorship team visits Kunda regularly to ensure he and his siblings are well-fed, able to go to school, and they help provide any safety repairs to the family’s home.

Help the Children of Prisoners

Sadly, their neighbors continued to taunt.

“People in the community laughed at us, saying, ‘[These people] will not repair your home. That’s a lie!'” says Payder.

But the family persisted in their faith.

“I said since God is there, and He watches over these children He will never fail us,” says Payder. “And that’s when our house was rebuilt. I pray my new home is not only a safe and dry place for my family,” says Payder, “but a place of light and community for others.”

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Pictured: Kunda and his sister Lucy play outside their new home, built through the assistance of Prison Fellowship Zambia and the child sponsorship program.

Life continues to improve the Kunda and his family. They enjoy regular walks to the Prison Fellowship Zambia office, where they pick up their monthly food and school supplies, and clothing. They family is also connected with a local church and attends a weekly, community Bible study for families of prisoners, where they can learn about God, make new friends, and find acceptance.

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Pictured (L–R): Lucy, Kunda, and Payder pose outside their new home—a welcoming "place of light" for the community.

Help a child like Kunda experience hope for the future.

 

Donate Now  or  Sponsor a Child

 

Learn more about our child sponsorship program

DINESH | Nepal

Dinesh Reunites with his Father

Ten-year-old Dinesh, in Nepal, had no one to provide for him after his father went to prison. His relatives rejected him and his mother—they refused to help or even speak to them. With no income and no support, life seemed hopeless and Dinesh felt like no one cared about him.

Now enrolled in our child sponsorship program, Dinesh’s needs are being met. His caseworker visits him regularly to ensure he’s healthy, safe, and doing well in school. And he’s developed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

But the story doesn’t end there. The generosity of sponsors and supporters is changing the lives of Dinesh and his family. His father was recently released from prison with a transformed heart.

He says, “I accepted Jesus Christ in prison when the caseworker shared God’s words [with me].”

Dinesh’s family is now reunited, and your love and support—and their newfound faith—are helping them build their lives on a strong foundation.

“I got biblical knowledge through you, which helps me grow in Christ,” Dinesh told his sponsor. “Now, I am sharing the Gospel in school and to my neighbors. My aim is to do ministry work and be a pastor.”

Dinesh’s father shares a similar aspiration. While Dinesh’s mother works as a tailor for a local school, his father is preparing to become a missionary.

“My father is inspired by [our] caseworker, and wants to be like him,” says Dinesh.

Thank you for helping give this family a new beginning.

Help a child like Dinesh experience hope for the future.

Give a Child of a Prisoner the Gift of Hope

Learn more about our child sponsorship program