No longer homeless, no longer hopeless
Dzaleka refugee camp holds close to 40,000 refugees from different countries. The most challenging experience for these people is not only food – which is often provided in rations – but also shelter and a place to stay. Obviously, without a roof above one’s head, life becomes unbearable and one is forced to live as a destitute. Some refugees in the camp have the financial means to build their own houses. But imagine those refugees who are living with a disability and cannot manage to build a house.
That is where the problem starts.
Refugees with a disability are worst affected by the problem of shelter in the camp. When one is a refugee and has a disability, it is most often very difficult to make ends meet in the camp, let alone construct a house. Due to this, such refugees usually end up living in temporary shacks or depend on others to provide shelters to them – which is not always possible.
Umoja realized the importance of providing a helping hand to these refugees. Umoja is a group of refugee and Malawian artisans who live with a disability or caring for a family member with disability. These men and women hand-craft greeting cards and other products designed by There is Hope, and now sold internationally. Since the establishment of the group, it has reached out and transformed lives of numerous refugees and Malawians with disabilities. Over the past 2 years, Umoja has helped homeless refugees in Dzaleka to have new houses and shelter.
“We were deeply touched when we noticed the struggles that some of the refugees living with disabilities went through and we decided to do something about it.” Explained Patrick Tembo. He is one of the members of Umoja. Patrick has been in the group for more than 4 years. He explained that the group took a portion of the 10 percent savings they save from their income, and used it to build houses for refugees living with disabilities in Dzaleka refugee camp.
“These people used to live on temporary basis in houses rented to them by fellow refugees. The sad thing is that most of the times, they would unexpectedly be told to vacate the houses or even chased out and they would suddenly find themselves with nowhere to go.” Patrick said.
So far, Umoja has managed to build around 11 houses for different individuals in the camp. The money spent to build the houses, Patrick explained, is around MK300,000.
Umoja’s assistance to fellow people living with disabilities extends beyond the Dzaleka camp. The group is in partnership with Lilambwe Disabled group which has also benefited a lot from Umoja. In February 2016, Miliwati, one of their group members approached Umoja to seek help with the roofing of his house. Miliwati’s house had a collapsed roof and during the rainy season it would flood with water and mud. It was a terrible sight because the man and his family lived in the same house, right in the mud and water. Umoja hired bought roofing materials, hired laborers and fixed Miliwati’s roof.
That is not all.
In 2015 the diesel-powered maize mill which Lilambwe Disabled group operated, stopped working and disrupted its finances. Lilambwe Disabled Group depended on the maize mill as the main means of making income. When the maize mill broke down, the group was stranded and needed funds to buy spare parts to fix it. The immediate solution to their problem was Umoja.
“At that time, they needed MK16,000 to buy the spare parts. It was a lot of money which they could not afford to get.” Patrick said. The Umoja group members came to their aid and helped them procure the required spare parts. It does not end there, Umoja decided to go a step further in helping the Lilambwe group to obtain other means of sustaining its welfare. The Umoja group members bought pigs which they provided to the Lilambwe group. The plan was to assist the group members to start a small-scale piggery which would in turn support its financial needs.
“We are there to help our fellow brothers and sisters in any way we can and we want to ensure that they are cared for.” Patrick said. Each item that Umoja produces and sells not only benefits the individual members, it also directly changes the lives of other Malawians and refugees living with a disability or caring for a person with a disability.