In a refugee camp the only way to describe life is “tough.” Living as a refugee isn’t easy and survival requires more effort than life elsewhere. But the greatest challenge is to maintain hope that your situation will improve—and that you can continue to overcome the obstacles life in the camp brings. In Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp, we take every day as it comes.
Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do before heading to school is read a quote from a motivational speaker. I have found inspiration in a quote from Ambrose Redmoon who says:
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that what we want is far more important than that fear.”
I keep that quote in my mind and heart as I walk around the dusty roads of Dzaleka. The thought of leading an unfulfilled life because of my status and not being able to support my family is what terrifies me the most. As the oldest child in my family, I have a responsibility to pave the way for my younger siblings. For me, the path I want to clear for them is one that leads to education and meaningful employment. I want more than my refugee status tells me I deserve.
I want more than my refugee status tells me I deserve. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees stipulates that refugees should have at the minimum the basic rights of access to public education and to wage-earning employment. However, many refugee host countries have not granted these rights and have instead limited refugees to the opportunities within the boundaries of the camps.
Dzaleka refugee camp is very small, congested and surrounded by local villages. This means that refugees lack access to agricultural land as well as the urban economy. As a result most refugees rely entirely on food aid and other external assistance. In the camp, there are individuals who were qualified doctors, engineers, and architects in their home countries. Here, they are forced to depend on others. This is why even though I always wanted to be an economist, I have become passionate about refugee education and providing the best possible support in higher education and livelihood opportunities to underserved communities. This is something that I have been doing for the past 5 years and it has been challenging, and it has been remarkable. But I am a proud refugee and make sure everyone that I work with, whom I support, and who supports me, is also equipped with the qualifications, professional skills and networks to unlock their potential.
My colleagues and I here in Dzaleka are committed to transcending the limitations of our refugee status and finding creative ways to access the rights we deserve. For me, possibility lies online. It is through the Internet that I was able to attend university, and now it is through remote work that I am able to earn a living.
Since completing my BA degree, I have seen myself transition from someone who would make uninformed decisions to an individual with innovative and entrepreneurial approaches to all challenges life throws at me. I want to foster hope for people in underserved communities through advocacy, training, and education. I now believe in creating ecosystems of educational and socio-economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities. It’s a BIG goal, it will not be easy, but I’m determined to make it a reality.
This new outlook has helped me start an RLO or NGO called ATE-Hub (Advocacy, Training & Education Hub) which aims to provide support to refugees through online higher education learning opportunities and livelihood activities. Our purpose is to provide hope to people in underserved communities via advocacy, training, and education. The digital and remote-based networks I have established and the skills I have learned through the program have catapulted me beyond the dependent life my refugee status had determined for me.
I have always wanted to center the voices of refugees in today’s world of amazing humanitarian responses and philanthropic work. Who understands the story/experiences of a refugee better than refugees themselves? So I envisioned a scenario where higher-ed programs worked with people who are at the center of the crisis. In my life, I’ve stood on the shoulders of many giants. And these giants have come in many shapes and forms. They have come in the form of scholarship organizations, in the form of refugee protection agencies, church organizations, schools and best of all, in the form of individuals who decided to show kindness, and have seen something in refugees. I want us to be held to the same standard as students from Harvard or Oxford, even though we’re vulnerable and marginalized. We can still meet expectations.
Despite endless barriers, refugees are showing how refugees can still engage and have a positive impact on the local economy. My colleagues and I are creating links between international employers and the local economy. Both myself and my peers are pursuing remote work to become self-reliant and thus contribute to the Malawian market. My hope is that one day, when Malawi lightens restrictions on the rights of refugees to work in the local economy, I will be able to take the skills I have learned online and invest in businesses and organizations here in Malawi. Access to this remote work has uplifted many refugees in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. I believe that this innovative employment pathway is a solution to the limited access to sustainable livelihoods and the lack of needed professional skills in my community. I am honored to be a trailblazer in this mission.
19 November, 2022