Saturday, April 15, 2017

Dzaleka Refugee Camp - Malawi

The YWAM team spent four days ministering in the refugee camp. The DTS students had already done quite a bit of preaching the previous week so they were well informed and used to the very unique and interesting ways of the Africans. 

For me, it was a first time experience! 

"Mosungu" - I keep hearing the small children calling out this word. They tell me that it means "white person". If you respond to them then they will eagerly say "How are you?" and giggle a lot if you tell them you're fine thanks. 

The church service is about five hours long, with a very long and intense praise and worship session of about two hours straight. They have a "choir" of children of all ages and young women - all looking very beautiful in their Sunday best traditional coloured head wraps and dresses. African worship is nothing like our worship - here they all sing very loudly and every song is accompanied by a massive home made drum that is beaten with a large stick. They jump and sing and clap and bang on the drum and it's crazy but the presence of God cannot be missed. He is there with us - making a joyful noise!

Our team leader, Wikus eventually gets his turn to preach and he does a short teaching about provision and trusting God. Whenever we talk to the people there is a translator as all the people speak either Swahili or French. Very few are able to speak and understand English. 

On the Monday straight after our church service for the morning I decide to take the young women who sang and danced so beautifully during the service for a worship dance session. I teach them my very Western way of dance and then I also dance for them to their drum beating. They join me very enthusiastically and once we are done I ask if they would do me the honour of wrapping one of their colourful head scarves around my head. They laugh as they give me a few "styles" but their eyes sparkle to realize that they are teaching me something. Humbling. I wished that they could see the beauty that I saw in them that day... 

For the first few days I am unable to write anything - I just have to observe and take in everything that's happening around me. It's a culture shock but it doesn't shock me. I expected to wash out of a bucket and not to have electricity. I expected to be met with a people living in poverty. I expected dust and traumatized people. What shocks me is something I did not at all expect... 

As we spend time with the people I quickly learn that I am quite safe walking around our village (Dowa) as well as in the refugee camp. There is peace. I don't have to clutch my handbag like I do when I walk around in a city in South Africa. I also learn that the children and teenagers are all exceptionally clever and talented. We hosted an art workshop with the smaller kids and older youth and we were all rather surprised at how well-disciplined and intelligent the children are. The older youth showed a great sense of ambition and hope for their futures (even though they are pretty much stuck in the refugee camp indefinitely). Some of them want to be lawyers, others want to preach the gospel in all of Africa and others want to be evangelists. Big dreams!

I taught the middle group of children some worship dance and they all followed me with ease, giggling a little as the soft and graceful movements were very foreign to them. I took along a few "veils" which is a large sheet of chiffon to dance with. To my amazement, the girls and the boys enjoyed dancing with them!


 We met a man called Henry - he is a tall, twenty-something-year-old Congolese man who used to be a performing arts teacher in the Congo. He has taken it upon himself to manage a recreational center for children aged 3 to 18 and also young women who are widows, orphans and single mothers. He has about five young men helping him as volunteers. At the center he takes the children in groups, according to their age, teaching them art, poetry, dance and English. For the ladies he gives them a bit of wool to start off with so they can learn how to embroider and crochet. He tells me that this keeps them busy during the day, then when they get home they are tired and then he gives them some homework to do as well. This keeps them away from sexual endeavors which are not good for them. 

Henry with one of his volunteers

I ask Henry what he gets paid to do this every single day... I get tears in my eyes as he tells me with a chuckle - as if I'm a little stupid for even asking such a question - that what he and his team do is voluntary. He does this for the love of it. And he has just about nothing with which to do all these activities... a little paper, a few pencils. I immediately wonder how I can try to get a whole container with art supplies duped in front of his door. 

As we are saying our goodbyes I ask Henry if he always dresses so smartly or if it is only because we came to visit today. With a twinkle in his eye he says: "I do not only teach the children art and poetry, to stand before them each day I teach them about life." Just. Wow. 

There is another man we meet who is doing an amazing service within the refugee camp - Alain, also from the Congo. He is the director of the Dzaleka Youth Congress. On Wednesday we are guests of honour at the Dzaleka's Got Talent show. With front row seats we are entertained with very well trained youngsters who do a few dance numbers and also a beauty pageant. I can see that the young ladies are very self-conscious and even though they try to express some confidence, in their eyes there is brokenness. The entire show is very well choreographed with music and outfits. I am impressed. Indeed, Dzaleka has got talent. But where will it ever go? Who will ever get too see it?

The youth's "Trainer" - a very strict
but also very proud French-speaking
Congolese man.

Dance and fashion show youth with Alain on the far right. 

After the show I chat briefly to Alain and he tells me he will send me his project proposal for the Miss Dowa and hair salon. A week later I am reading these proposals and I am deeply moved. His intention for doing the beauty pageant is to give the young women motivation to become something as arranged marriages is a big problem in the culture. The young girls drop out of school and later have nothing to offer for the development of the community. The hairdressing school's purpose is to give young men and women a skill which can be used to earn some money within the refugee camp, teach them responsibility and develop who they are. 

The girls of the fashion show.

I stare at my laptop screen as tears roll down my cheeks - because I see a plan, a hope, an attitude of want and desire to build - but there is no funding for these hopes and dreams. 

I decide that I want to help these people in some way - any way. On our second day in the refugee camp I start to write as much info as I can about the life here. 

These are some of the facts I collected during my visit: 
  • The camp is about 5 kilometers squared in size. 
  • At the moment there are about 28,000 refugees in the Dzaleka Refugee camp. 
  • There are people mostly from DRC (Congo), Burundi, Rwanda, Somalia and Ethiopia. 
  • Once a month each person gets rations as follows:  
  1. 12 kg's of maize
  2. 3 kg's of beans
  3. 1 kg porridge flour
  4. 0.5 liter of oil
  5. One cup of Sugar
  6. Half a cup of salt
  7. 1 cake of soap
  • Only Malawians are allowed to have jobs within the refugee camp. 
  • Refugees may work for a donation on a voluntary basis - there are not many of these "jobs" and therefore very few actually have "jobs".
  • Some of the them have small businesses such as restaurants or hair salons or selling their rations in the market place. 
  • Malawian people are allowed to sell fresh vegetables and meat like chicken, beef and goat meat in the camp. 
  • There are 64 churches in the camp - from all denominations.
  • Upon arrival at the camp, you are on your own and have to find your own way. Some churches make provision for accommodation until you are able to buy your own house or build. 
  • Refugees are given land for free but housing and electricity must be paid for. 
  • Most refugees depend on the money that gets sent to them by their families who have been lucky enough to be "resettled". 
  • Families may apply to get "resettled" but this is only granted to very few of the people. There is an application process to be followed and not all applicants always get chosen for resettlement. 
  • Due to the lack of facilities, teachers and the various languages spoken, less than half of the children are able to go to school.
There is a small part of me that feels a little ashamed and sad for my own people. I feel like we are so spoiled - we have so much - and yet we love to complain. Oh how we love to complain about the little we don't have! Last year the university students burned down their own universities, with a demand for free education. Children throw tantrums when they cannot have the latest cellphone or tablet. We complain when our steaks are slightly overdone. 

I notice that the children ALWAYS wore shoes, no matter what condition they are in!

Suddenly I feel ashamed. I am just as guilty of being spoiled and ungrateful. We spent Wednesday afternoon with another group of youngsters, just playing games with them. I notice that the guys playing soccer are using some kind of plastic bag filled with something as a ball. They don't even have proper soccer balls, but they are not complaining. They are playing soccer, with what they have. And they are laughing and smiling. 

Playing "Vrot-eier" with the kids and youth.

It is not so much their state of poverty and brokenness that touches me. It is the attitude of these people. Regardless of their poverty and brokenness, they appreciate, they have respect, they have discipline, they have big dreams, they have ambition, they are positive, they are busy doing something! 

Overall my trip to Dzaleka Refugee Camp and Malawi changes me a little. I have now seen another side of life. It is a life I slightly envy - a life of simplicity and appreciation. The people whom I met who serve the Almighty God serve Him with wild abandon, without shame or inhibition. They hunger for more of Him and they are eager to learn more and more. They are humble. They have taught me so much!

Returning home, I also feel thankful. I am thankful for the life that I have. I am thankful that in my country war has not yet broken out and I am not forced to flee. I am thankful that I have the privilege to have a steak and go to dance classes and sleep in a very warm bed and take long, hot baths. But whatever did these people do to deserve the hand they have been dealt? I struggle to make sense of this.  

Riette doing an art project with the little children - "Fruit of the Spirit"