Over the past 20 years, the number of female prisoners around the world has increased by 33% according to new research by Penal Reform International. Papua New Guinea is reportedly home to some of the most under-resourced prisons in the world, even more reason for MAF’s Harriëtte Knigge to visit the female inmates every week…
Harriëtte Knigge – wife of MAF pilot Wilfred Knigge – has been visiting female prisoners in Wewak Prison in Papua New Guinea for the last three years.
Prisoners in PNG often go without blankets and beds. They have a hole in the ground for a toilet, fed a meagre bowl of rice once a day and live off an intermittent water supply.
Many inmates are still wearing the clothes that they arrived in and are so far from home, that families cannot practically help them with their personal needs.
Rehabilitation and spiritual renewal
Based in Wewak with her family on the north coast of PNG, Harriëtte decided to give something back to the community and make an impact while her husband is out flying:
‘I was searching for options and one of my missionary friends said that she regularly visits the women’s prison.’
Harriëtte supports the women’s prison ministry set up by the Evangelical Brotherhood Church:
‘I visit the ladies every week. We open in prayer and ask them what they want prayer for. They obviously miss their children, family and friends and often need prayer for their court cases too.
‘Then we alternate between religious studies and a rehabilitation programme. We’ve also taken them through a trauma healing course and taught them different recipes like how to make banana pancakes and jam.’
‘One week we memorise Bible verses and talk about the Word of God, and the next we reflect on the past and focus on the future for their rehabilitation.
‘We find out what’s important to them and explore how they could make a living in future and contribute to their community. How can they help other ladies in a similar
situation? We are working on self-love, self-respect and courage to reach others in need.
‘I’m also teaching them some conflict management skills.’
Harriëtte marvels at the women’s resilience on the inside:
‘Despite being in prison – no matter where they are or whatever circumstances they find themselves in, they make the best out of life and make time for each other. It’s really beautiful to see.’
MAF’s Harriëtte Knigge and member of Evangelical Brotherhood Church Women’s Prison Ministry
Low literacy in prison
Harriëtte and the team also help prisoners improve their reading and writing skills:
‘Eight out of the ten ladies I visit, cannot read or write fluently. Their literacy levels are very low so – with the help of some Tok Pisin materials – they are learning how to read and write in prison.
‘We started a pen pal letter writing project with some Christian ladies back home. I found some ladies online who were willing to write letters to the female prisoners.
‘Their English letters get translated into Tok Pisin and then we help the female inmates to write something back. It’s really good practice and also very encouraging for both parties who share their lives and favourite scriptures with each other.’
Taking God’s light into a dark place
Harriëtte explains how a little bit of hope can go a very long way:
‘We want to bring light into a very dark place. We want to bring these ladies God’s love and show them that whatever happened in their life, they are still loved and are daughters of the almighty God. When they are released, they still have a whole life to live so we want to give them hope.’
Harriëtte also finds the whole experience personally fulfilling:
‘The most rewarding thing for me is the smiles on their faces when I walk into prison. They know that I come every week and give me so much love. We just share life – it’s really nice to just be available and share God’s love with them.’
MAF Technologies PNG regularly donates audio Bibles, printed Tok Pisin Bibles and reading glasses to Evangelical Brotherhood Church’s Women’s Prison Ministry.