By Frederico Marchiolli
During my voluntary experience in Malawi I had the opportunity to work in the Dzaleka refugee camp, seeing the harsh conditions that refugees have to deal with every day. The refugee camp was established by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1994 in response to a wave of people fleeing wars, genocide and violence in Burundi, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Dzaleka is also host to refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Most of them spent years in camps in Zambia and Tanzania while some lived their whole lives in UN refugee camps. Dzaleka is just a big area situated in the Malawian District of Dowa where local people are not happy and quite unwelcoming towards the refugees. Also, Malawian laws are very restrictive, not allowing people to leave the camp if not in possession of a temporary permit which is difficult to get. The camp itself is a very poor place; a big filthy slum. The activities offered by the organisations are not adequate to keep 26,000 people busy and the food donated by the World Food Programme is never enough.
Whilst working in the camp I had the chance to know different people and hear their tremendous stories. Drinking is a common practice for those who want to forget the atrocities of the war. In fact, after all these people have been through, they have to bear another burden represented by isolation and frustration.
When I first arrived in the camp I was meant to assess the needs of the people living in it and I met an inspiring man. His name was John and he was a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He saw me hanging around looking confused and came to my rescue, kindly guiding me through the camp and being a great interpreter. After a very short time, John and I became good friends, and he was ready to tell me his story. John was a qualified high school teacher and, like thousands of other people, he was forced to flee his country because of the war. His parents were killed in front of his eyes and his wife was displaced somewhere else; he never heard from her again. John also saw his brother and sister in law brutally murdered but was able to save his three young nephews, two of them HIV positive from birth.
John was able to reach Malawi and bring the kids up giving them the best he could. He started volunteering and studying in the camp, always maintaining a positive attitude, being a great example for his nephews. John got a certificate in Community Development and kept working in the field, helping his people to solve daily problems. This great person is only one example of the many people who, after losing everything don’t give up. They could be angry at the world but; instead, they decide to react and smile. They decide to fight against injustice by being socially active.