Training Human Rights Officers: Aidah Mnyolmo’s experience in Kenya

RWI and the Kenya Prisons Service (KPS) recently provided a basic training in the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, targeted at KPS staff members proposed for the position of Human Rights Officer (HRO).

Aidah runs an exercise for trainees on the importance of rules and regulations

Previously, this training would have been delivered by RWI’s external experts, but as part of our joint strategy towards sustainability and handover, it is now conducted exclusively by experienced KPS HROs with RWI support and assistance.  We spoke to Aidah Mnyolmo, who served as co-trainer this time.

Tell us about yourself

My name’s Aidah and I work at Shimo La Tewa Women’s Prison in Mombasa.  I’ve been a KPS officer for 10 years now, and since last year I’ve been a qualified Human Rights Officer.

How did you start working with human rights?

Last year I was proposed by the officer in charge of my prison to undergo the HRO training course provided by RWI and KPS.  First of all I attended a basic training on the Standard Minimum Rules (SMR), just the same as the one I’ve been involved in now.  The group was assessed all the way through, and most of us made it through to the next round, which was human rights audit training.  That took two weeks of very hard work, and for me it took place at Manyani Maximum Prison, where we audited them for compliance with the SMR and helped them develop action plans.  Finally, I attended Training of Trainers, also two weeks, and in the second week we actually had to deliver training to officers in Athi River Prison.  After that I was a Human Rights Officer!  It feels really good to be an HRO, despite the challenges, and you keep learning as you go along, training your colleagues, conducting assessments and following up on action plans.

How did you find it becoming not just an HRO, but a trainer for new HROs?

It was really encouraging.  When we started, the participants thought I wasn’t a prison officer!  They couldn’t imagine that KPS officers could be doing this, and I think they found it really positive to see that we have this capacity ourselves now.

What was the best thing about it?

Seeing people change.  You see some participants, they come in with a different idea about human rights, that it’s not something for them and not something for KPS.  But after just one week, you see them leave with a different mindset, and you know it’s going to have a real effect back in their prisons.

And the hardest thing?

You really have to be on top of everything!  You get so many questions from the participants, so many difficult questions, that you really have to know the subject matter, and not just the SMR but also other international standards, as well as the Kenyan prisons law, the Constitution and so on.  And you need support, it’s very hard to do this alone.  Luckily my co-trainer Deny’s, from Shikusa Borstal Institution in Western Kenya, is very experienced, we worked very closely together all week and I hope we were able to do a good job.

So what’s next for you?

I’ve loved being a trainer and I just want to do more training!  We have 19 new recruits arriving at my prison so starting next week I’m going to deliver a course for them on the SMR, together with my colleague Betty who is also an experienced trainer.  I’m looking forward to seeing them realise that human rights implementation isn’t so hard, it doesn’t always need money, it’s just trying to put things right, and we can really do it!

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