Monday, December 13, 2010

Dzaleka Refugee Camp Dowa Diststrict, Malawi

Some Ethiopian refugees
Malawi is called "The Warm Heart of Africa." This title is well earned! Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, not just in Africa, but it is very peaceful, safe and hospitable. The people are kind and helpful. However, there is another reason that they deserve to be known as "The Warm Heart of Africa."  Malawi has given generous help to her beleaguered fellow Africans from war torn parts of central and eastern Africa: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Somalia.

Scharlie and Sam waiting for the music to start.

In 1989 1.2 million Mozambican refugees were taken in during a period of severe crisis. That means 1 out of 10 people in Malawi were refugees! Not only did the Malawian government and people allow them to come into the country until such time as they could peacefully return to Mozambique, but within a few years, they were all resettled! This is an amazing feat. Then as now, the refugee aid was being administered by the UNHCR--United Nations High Commission for Refugees.
             The Emmanuel Full Gospel Choir

On 20 November, the Carlisles [including Gwen and Sam] and about 50 African Bible College students, ABC professors, ABC Christian Academy and Clinic staff drove 1.5 hours to the Dzaleka Refugee camp. This trip was organized by one of the college students. We were able to drive two students in our car and had a nice time getting to know them on the way there and back. Normally when I think of a refugee camp, I think of lots of tents, temporary shelters, feeding lines, and people waiting to go back home. The Dzaleka Refugee Camp is more like a permanent village. The people are not going anywhere anytime soon. Many have been there 10 years or more. Some do not remember their age when they left their homes, but have since married and started their own families while at the camp.

                            Soccer Skills!!

The purpose of our trip was just to take time to listen to people’s stories and find out more about them and try to encourage them. The College's super talented Mingoli Singers were going to be putting on a concert followed by a time of preaching. So as we talked to the people, we also wanted to invite them to the concert and preaching time. We set out in groups of 6-8 total--the college students were mixed with the ABC staff folks. We had our four plus four students in our group. Many of the people at the camp would learn Chichewa, but maybe not English. The first language of most of the refugees would be some form of Swahili. The people would speak to the translator in Swahili, and translate into Chichewa for the college students, and then they would translate into English for us. Then the process would be reversed if we had a question to ask or wanted to contribute to the conversation. We were able to speak with two women. The first had been young when she left the Democratic Republic of Congo and had been married at the camp and had two children. The other woman that we met had started out in Burundi and fled to the DRC. While she was in the DRC she was seriously abused by a group of soldiers and contracted AIDS as well as other chronic health problems from their treatment. She then had to flee from there and came to Malawi. It had been over ten years since she left Burundi. She told us that had accepted Jesus as her personal Savior. I asked her what portion of the Bible or what story from the Bible that comforted here most. She mentioned the story about the woman with the bloody issue. She said that she had experienced many times that the Lord had helped  her when the doctors were not able to.

     Jonathan Robson preaching (ABC professor)

There were other hard things about the camp.  The main preacher was corrupt. Because the college student who organized the trip did not bribe him, he rented the building where the band was supposed to play and hid the few nicer tents. This guy dressed to the nines, while lots of the people were in rags. That was really discouraging. Talking to the students who rode with us on the return trip, we learned what their food allowances included. It was something like: 15kg of flour per family per month (regardless of the size of the family) and 1 cup of sugar for the same. There was more that I can’t remember, but there are also problems with distribution, i.e. corruption. They are in the middle of nowhere, not close enough to get transport for jobs. There are so few jobs anyway, a refugee would never be given one over a Malawian. There are only three ways out: 1. The first is for your homeland to be peaceful enough to go back to. But even then, you have to have the resources to get there. You have to be on good terms with the current government. You have to have somewhere to go, and your land may have been confiscated and your family displaced or killed. 2. Your host country allows you to assimilate. This only happens, usually if they have the means (which Malawi does not) or if you have a specialized skill (nurse, doctor, etc.) 3. Another country can sponsor them. This too, is unlikely, as there are about 10,000 people in the camp and the leadership at the camp determines who gets picked for those small groups. You can imagine what it would take to convince them you are “eligible.”  So, most of these people are stuck, indefinitely. There is a lot of hopelessness, and yet, there are those spreading the hope of the Gospel all the time. We would like to go back. The student is trying to form a relationship between the college and the camp, so that there are opportunities for ministry there.
Gwen and Sam did well too. They walked around with us and played with some of the kids ( to whom they could not speak).


  1. Beautiful and painful. Thank you for sharing. I would not worry about your kids not being able to speak to the other kids. I have always thought of play as a universal language. Grace and Peace!

  2. Friends - We have received requests for support from the camp and we want to verify that this is not a scam. Below is one of the correspondences received. Can anyone verify that this Church was built in or near the camp? See below:
    Dear Brothers and Sisters,
    Warm Christian greetings.
    I would want to share with you these pictures; through them, you may see my picture, my wife Sister Flora and the Church in construction which we plan to inaugurate on 31th December 2010.
    I need your prayer and support.

    Your Brother in the journey, towards the Kingdom of God,
    Brother Innocent Hankanimana, initiator and Founder of the New Covenant Bible Students Church, Dzaleka Refugee Camp - Katubza - 828

    P. O BOX 50, DOWA

    May God Jehovah through His Son, Jesus Christ, bless you all.

  3. I am just back from a stint in Dzaleka. I was there over the 2012 Christmas period. My volunteering included performance arts course with a few guys in the JRS college program. I'm professional Clown! :o) There are many benefits to the art of clowning not least having a laugh.But that's another issue.
    Their reality is bleak and hopeless, a comment I got from refugees I spoke to. There doesn't seem to be any drive from the powers that be to make significant change or improvement to services in the camp. Odd considering the stature of the UN. I have been to refugee camps in Haiti and noticed that in a Concern worldwide funded camp basic services where met to a high standard. It was well maintained and a world removed from Dzaleka's conditions. I ponder on why this standard cant be met by the UNHCR? Running water for example or sanitation. The most marginalised in Malawi seem to bare the brunt of systemic corruption, something that needs to addressed by us all here in the West before real change can come about.