SINGAPORE - After serving 13 years in prison for drug offences, Nurin (not her real name) is looking forward to her release this year and starting a home-based bakery.
The 39-year-old was one of 18 female inmates in Changi Prison Complex who graduated from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) Micro Business Programme on Wednesday (March 3).
AMP has been running the programme, for low-income Malay and Muslim citizens, at its office in Pasir Ris since 2005.
This year, AMP worked with Yellow Ribbon Singapore (YRSG) to extend the six-week programme to prison, for female inmates with children. It aims to equip them with the skills to run a business at home while caring for their children.
Nurin said she felt uneasy at first, but over time she began to feel more confident of herself and her baking skills. When asked about her specialities, she said she is now able to bake cookies and make sliced cakes with ease. And she added: "I would rate them 10 out of 10!"
Madam Sjuffriani Abdul Khalid, who mentors the baking courses, a former beneficiary of the programme herself in 2014, said the inmates were much more eager to learn than others she has mentored.
She was so impressed with their dedication and hard work that she told the inmates she was willing to offer them an internship at her baking studio, Lydia's Oven, if they wanted to gain more experience.
The programme also had modules for the inmates to learn the various aspects of running a home-based business. The subjects covered included marketing, accounting and Microsoft Word and Office.
"I'm glad that IT skills were part of the programme because I have definitely lost touch with technology over the years... especially with social media and all that," said Nurin, who believes that the skills she picked up will help her better reintegrate into society.
Following her release, Nurin hopes to do her O levels while running her home-based bakery part time.
This will also allow her to spend time with her 21-year-old daughter, two sons, aged 14 and 15, and her mother, 71, who has been taking care of the children during her sentence.
Business advisers from SME Centre @ Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry will mentor Nurin and the other graduates beyond their incarceration period to further guide them in setting up their home-based businesses.
Nurin also said she may pursue further studies, either taking the A-level examinations or tackling the polytechnic track. "I have not thought of a particular course, but I do like maths and principles of accounts," she said.
AMP Singapore and YRSG stated in a joint interview that they felt the introduction of this programme to female inmates in January was opportune, as it has come during the pandemic. With the job market getting more competitive, even people without a rap sheet were struggling to make ends meet.
However, home-based businesses have been doing well during the pandemic, and the AMP programme could help upskill and reintegrate inmates into society.
YRSG's spokesman said a decision on a new intake of inmates for the programme will be taken only after checking on the progress of the current batch.
Correction note: This story has been edited for accuracy.