MASERU — The Juvenile Training Centre (JTC) in Maseru might not be home for Thabo Mahomo (not his real name) but this is where he has been nurtured and changed.
When Thabo was sent to the JTC in September 2009 after being convicted of house breaking by the Juvenile Court he was only 15 and in Form B.
Poverty had driven Thabo, an orphan, to steal M700 and a bag of maize meal from a neighbour.
Times were hard and Thabo wanted to feed his young sister Mpho who had been left in his care when their parents died.
“Relatives had turned their back on us after the death of our parents,” Thabo recalls.
And when he was sent to the JTC he thought his world was crumbling on him.
To him the JTC was a jail for criminals still too young to be sent to the “real” prisons.
“When I first arrived at the centre I thought I was going to be tortured for my bad deeds,” he says.
“I was miserable and I was always thinking of my sister.”
Yet eight months into his sentence Thabo’s perception has tremendously changed and so too has been his approach to life.
He has realised that he is not at the JTC to be punished but to be helped to reform and rehabilitate back into the society.
The JTC has given him hope, he says.
“We normally commit crime unaware that we will end up at the JTC,” Thabo says.
“For me this has been the most important lesson in life.
“The JTC has given me a chance to continue with my studies and other practical courses that will help me fend for my sister when I go back home.”
Thabo is now in Form C, doing woodwork as one of his subjects.
He also attends HIV and Aids workshops.
“When I go back home I would be able to educate my community about HIV and Aids because most of them lack information concerning this disease,” he says.
Thabo now has big career ambitions: he wants to study social work at university.
“I want to help other children who are vulnerable,” he says.
“I have learnt my lesson the hard way but I want other children to learn their lessons before they come to the JTC.”
There are nearly 100 inmates and 46 workers at the centre.
Thabo was one of the 68 children from the JTC who toured Thaba-Bosiu Cultural Village on Friday under a programme funded by the Lesotho Tourism Development Corporation (LTDC).
The visit was part of the centre’s rehabilitation programme and the LTDC’s policy to educate children about Lesotho’s heritage.
“The programme is under the Lesotho Haeso policy whereby every single child has to be a tourism ambassador of this country,” LTDC public relations officer Ts’iu Shale said.
“When we received the proposal from the JTC to sponsor them with a tour to Thaba-Bosiu Village, we were really impressed because they too deserve to know about their heritage.
“Most children at the JTC are disadvantaged and might not have had a chance to learn about our heritage.
“So we took this opportunity so that they too can get a chance to learn about our culture.”
“The idea of the tour is to help children reintegrate back into the society and learn that they too can contribute to their communities,” said Mookho Motheo, a senior rehabilitation officer at the JTC.
“When these children go back to their communities they will teach others to appreciate their heritage.”
It’s not an easy job though, Motheo says.
“When they get to the centre for the first time they normally give false information about themselves because they would not have learnt to trust people,” he says.
“We do home visits so that we can get information from their community members who know them better.
“That gives us a chance to understand their primary motives of committing crime.”
The objective, Motheo says, is to break the myth that the JTC is a jail.
“When they get here they have this myth that this is a jail and they are going to be tortured but they are just being rehabilitated,” he says.
One would expect the children at the JTC to feel miserable but they are not.
Instead they say the centre has given them a new lease of life.
“Had I not been caught my life would have been in danger because I might have committed serious criminal offences by now,” said 16-year-old Limpho Lebesa (not her real name) from Mapoteng who was sent to the centre after stealing her grandfather’s money.
“We commit criminal offences unaware of the consequences that we would suffer.”
The JTC has helped her become a better person, she says.
“I am now doing Standard Six and a tailoring as a practical course,” Limpho says.
“I am now a better person. I can face my peers and educate them about the dangers of committing crime.”