Young Christian improving conditions for prisoners in Africa

A young Christian whose heroic efforts are transforming the lives of inmates living in appalling conditions in prisons throughout Africa is currently on a mission here in the UK to raise funds to support the work of the charity he founded at the age of 18.

The African Prison Project (APP), founded by Alexander McLean in 2004, has built and refurbished libraries, clinics and health centres in prisons in Kenya and Uganda, supplying more than 60,000 books and other educational materials and running educational programmes and workshops.

It has also worked in Sierra Leone, where it taught prisoners how to set up a farm so that they could grow their own food, and carried out inspections of prisons in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

McLean set up the APP during his gap year after travelling to Kampala, Uganda, to do voluntary work in a hospice.

"Whilst there I visited Kampala’s largest prison Luzira Upper Prison and saw the appalling way in which sick prisoners were treated and decided to do something about it," he said.

"I did try and provide comfort to the prisoners by praying for them and comfort them whilst they were dying, but wanted to do more.

"When I arrived back in the UK, I raised some money with the support of my church, the New Testament Assembly in Tooting, south west London, and went back to Luzira prison and refurbished the sick ward.”

It was McLean's work at Luzira Upper Prison that whetted his appetite to work in other prisons on the African continent.

Such has been the impact of his work that he was named Charity Volunteer of the Year in 2006 and won the Beacon Prize for Young Philanthropy in 2007. The African Prisons Project was a runner up in the New Charity of the Year category at the Charity Times Awards in 2008.

McLean, who is a law graduate, Justice of the Peace and studying to become a barrister, is also in the throes of completing his PhD where he is looking into the death penalty in Africa, so that he can provide legal representation to African prisoners.

He said, “Knowing that God has a heart for prison inmates and those that are treated unjustly helps keep me motivated to do the work that I do.

"There are times my staff see people being beaten, hear them screaming and crying, but can’t do anything about it because we could be removed from the prison as a security risk.

"However, my faith gives me the courage and the ability to carry on when things seem overwhelming.”