140:1…the student to teacher ratio in the school where primary students from Dzaleka Refugee Camp can attend. Because of all the ramifications of this ratio, students only attend a couple of hours each day and very little learning appears to be taking place. Resources are not available to expand or add more schools.
In almost every conversation with church leaders and others in Dzaleka, the issue of education comes up quickly. There is deep concern about the lack of effective education and the future of the children of Dzaleka.
But the Dzaleka Churches are doing more than lament. With volunteer teachers, sparse curriculum, few resources, and less than ideal circumstances, a number of churches have started pre-schools and primary schools. And most churches open their school to their area in the camp, not just exclusively for their own people.
We visited one such pre-school this morning and were amazed at the learning that is taking place. IAFR sees education as part of helping those who have been forcibly displaced, survive and recover. We are having conversations with Dzaleka church leaders about how we can help them, help their children and give them a better future.
Photos by Jacob Tornga, IAFR
Jake Tornga and myself (Tim Barnes) are spending 10 days at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Our purpose is to spend time with our partner refugee churches, listening, encouraging, learning, and getting behind the work the churches are doing at the camp.
As we meet and listen, there is a stark reminder of how little we can actually do to change their situation. It is easy to question why we keep showing up. But then we hear these statements coming from the refugee church leaders:
“Seeing you here has given us new strength. It is like we are born again with joy and hope”
“Your presence strengthens us. When we see you we are very encouraged and know that we are not alone.”
“In our time of difficulty, you did not forget us. You were very close to us.”
Oh yes….that is why we keep showing up. And we see the Refugee Church showing up in the camp, creating places to worship, to find hope and strength, and to be a light in a dark and difficult situation.
So we keep showing up together!
Life on the refugee highway is often described as dehumanizing by those who have been forced to walk it. The recovery from this experience does not happen through one activity or in one day, but we believe an important part of the recovery is the ability to contribute again and provide for one’s family and future. Even more so, having the abiliy to give back to others and contribute to the community is equally important. One important aspect of this is using your creative gifts and talents like our friend Alice from Dzaleka Refugee Camp. A huge thank you to our parnters at There Is Hope for promiting refugee initiatives and creative enterprises.
One could be tempted to think that the youth in a refugee camp would walk day to day without hope. After all, many of these youth were born in a refugee camp, and have never experienced life outside of the camp. They do not know what it is like to be “Home” and they do not know if they will ever have the chance to leave. However, that is not the reality of the youth from the Pentecostal Community Church in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. The youth here express their hope and emotions through original songs they write themselves. They are also doing some of the deepest theological thinking about faith, life, and pain I have ever encountered. Hope is real, tangible, and important in their lives, despite the challenges. It was great to spend time with them yesterday, hearing their music and discussing real life questions of faith.
When I visit refugee camps around the world, I often wonder who is really giving and who is really receiving. One thing I am always touched by, is that refugee families, friends, and churches always want to send their greetings back to the USA, to my family and friends. I have always found refugees to be truly grateful for anyone to come and visit them, to treat them as human beings, and to be willing to invest in a relationship with them, and not just do things ‘for’ them. Their thanksgiving is amazing, and it reminds me how much we can learn from those who are forcibly displaced in this world.
When we visit refugees, one of our major goals is to always learn from them. Yesterday, IAFR and the Dzaleka Christian Churches Union hosted a joint conference on leadership in the refugee camp. It was a great time of teaching, sharing, questions, and learning together. I am convinced we have so much to learn about leadership, life, and development if we will take the time to listen to our refugee brothers and sisters. They have the solutions to many of their own problems, and it is an honor to get behind those visions.
In my time spent in different refugee camps, one thing has always been clear: Refugees are extremely grateful to their host nation for giving them refuge and safety when they were forced to flee their country of origin. Many often feel a burden to say thank you with more than words. This is what our church friends in Dzaleka refugee Camp do – they give back to their Malawian hosts by assisting the orphan children in many villages. They do things like pay for the children to attend school, assist them with basic physical needs of food and clothing, and they encourage them in different ways. It was great to talk to some Malawian leaders today and hear them say “thank you” to the refugees as well.
The name says it all. Since our work in Malawi began in 2010, IAFR has been working with a local Malawian organization known as There Is Hope. This organization was founded by a former refugee Innocent Magambi, and his wisdom and understanding of the refugee situation in Malawi has guided us in our projects and planning along the way. We are very thankful for the huge scope and impact of their work. It was great to spend some time today with the staff and hear about their continued work.
Based on media portrayals and false narratives, it can be easy to think of refugees as only people in need and to label them as drains on resources. In my years working with refugees I have NEVER found this to be true. Refugees are so much more than people in need, they are hard working, generous, and committed to making their communities a better place, wherever they are. The Pentecostal Community Church in Dzaleka is a great example, as they have started a pre-school for the kids in their community, to help prepare them for Elementary school in the future. We are proud to get behind this vision and many more of the refugee churches.
One of the really cool things about refugee churches is that every church has 4 or 5 different choirs that create their own original praise and worship songs each week. This is a powerful way for refugees to worship and express their emotions as part of their journey towards recovery from forced displacement. The other great thing, is that every week, each church will send a choir from their church to visit another church in the camp, and to share their songs with each other. It is powerful to see this in action, and it is a great testimony to their shared spirit of unity and community. Check out the photo below of one such choir that visited Emmanuel Full Gospel Church this week!