Willy in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

By Willy Mufungizi Akonkwa
Willy in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi

Do you know that there is a war in Congo and the refugee crisis is a worldwide issue? The real stories of people who fled their home are often the ones people think of, when they hear that there is a war in Congo.

In fact, stories of refugees like “working hard to find food” often do not get told at all. These are the stories that need to be told. The world needs to understand what it’s like for people living in refugee camps and how they cope with their lives on a day-to-day basis. This is a true story of a person living in Dzaleka Refugee camp, Malawi.

His name is Willy, and he is one of the million displaced people who was forced to flee his home. He is a father of two children, both under the age of five. He lives in a refugee camp in Malawi Dzaleka with his wife and his family in the community. 

The camp is small, with little more than a few tents and makeshift shelters, made from timber materials. When it rains, we face all of the challenges.The majority of people are affected during the winter season. Sickness and being unhealthy with the cold temperatures community members are now accustomed to the weather. There’s also one portable toilet that’s shared by everyone living there.

Willy does not have enough food or medicine to take care of his family, so he makes trips into town every day to find work as an agricultural laborer or cleaning houses. But even these jobs do not pay much money—sometimes only $8 per day. His family is one of many who have been forced to flee their homes in Malawi. The civil war has taken a terrible toll on the country, 15 Thousands of people have been killed, millions are homeless and more than nine million are in need of humanitarian aid.  He’s been living in the makeshift camp for more than 10 years. As he says,” I will need at least $1,000 to return home and begin a new life; to rent a house in the Congo, which is now  $50 to $100 per month, and to buy furniture for the house, it will take me nearly two years”.

He also needs to start a new business, which costs a lot of money. He can not afford to go back home to Congo, because of the high cost of starting life there, but he also does not want his children’s education to be interrupted by war. “I do not know what the future holds for my family”, but when he’s asked how things are going in Congo, he pauses before replying and says softly, ”It’s very difficult.” The situation is very bad.  He does not know how long it will take for the war to end. Last month, the news confirmed the massacre of more than 100 civilians that occurred in the Congo. The rebels are busy killing everyone, and Willy seems unsure about going back home.  But he hopes President Étienne Chisekedi’s regime will be overthrown soon.

Willy’s sister was killed by an armed group in the Congo, while they were living in Congo, and now his children say that they want to go back there with him and start a new life. Willy’s children are still young and do not understand what is happening in their country, but Willy tries to explain it to them. He tells them that they will have a better life in Lilongwe than they do back home. 

Willy wants the children to feel safe and happy, but the war in Congo and poverty in the refugee camp has made it difficult for him to provide that for them. He hopes that they will be able to understand the situation in the camp so they can continue their education.

The living conditions in a refugee camp have reached a point of financial disruption. Due to a shortage of food, health services, medicines, and cleanliness, children and youth frequently have very poor health and very limited access to education. We only have 24 classes built by JRS (Jesuit WorldWide) to assist refugees with everything concerning education at the camp, which was originally designed to house up to 12,000 refugees and asylum seekers. At Dzaleka, we have limited schools, with only 1 public school helping refugees study; for others, you will need to pay money, and classes are limited for youth to have their own choices. He does not want his children to live in fear, and he hopes that one day they will be able to go back home. His daughter is 15 years old and a Form I student at Dzaleka Secondary School. His wife has been unable to finish her studies because of the war, and Willy says this breaks her heart. “My dream is for my children to complete their education and begin a new life,” says the Willis family.


19 January, 2023