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The sad tale of a hopeless father

When Ramazani fled Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2010 and headed towards Malawi for refuge, little did he know that he was moving towards a life of misery. As soon as Ramazani, his wife and two kids arrived in Malawi’s largest refugee camp, Dzaleka, he immediately realized how hard his new life in the new country would be. For starters, Ramazani had literally no money to start afresh which essentially meant that he was in a terrible fix. To add to that, Ramazani and his family had been relegated to a life dependent on food aid. It was something that Ramazani was not familiar with but something which he had to quickly get used to, now that he was a refugee.

The tricky bit was that the food ration he received was supposed to last him a month but that was not practical because with his family, it barely lasted them two weeks. That was a huge problem since it meant that when the ration ran out midway, the family would sometimes starve. In Ramazani’s own words…

“No food aid meant hunger for my family. It was not easy. It was the worst part of my life which became unbearable with each passing day,” he said. Since he had no feasible means of making an income, Ramazani would occasionally sell part of his food ration to raise money. This just made the situation even more awful because the money he made from selling the ration was too little to sustain him for long. On the other hand, selling the food ration meant that Ramazani was further endangering his family by putting them at risk of starvation. The food ration he received was already not sufficient and removing part of it was not exactly the wisest move for Ramazani.

He felt he had no choice though.

That was not the worst part. Ramazani was stuck in a country whose laws prohibit refugees from entering into any form of business outside their camps or secure a job. Without the prospects of getting a job, there was no way Ramazani would be able to properly care for his family. The financial ordeal that Ramazani was trapped in had a negative impact on the individual wellbeing of his wife and kids. His wife’s dignity was gradually being affected as well.

“Imagine, I could not afford not even a simple piece of cloth for my wife. She walked around in the same attire she had been wearing for a long time. It was embarrassing.” Ramazani admitted. His kids needed to attend a proper school but since their father was living without a defined source of income, the kids were failing to get an education. As a father, he felt like he was letting his family down.

For more than five years, Ramazani and his family lived in that dejected situation. He knew he had to do something, but what?

In 2016, six years after his arrival in Dzaleka, Ramazani was informed about our vocational training programme by his neighbor in the refugee camp.

“I was told that there is a particular organization that offers technical courses like carpentry even to refugees in the camp. I jumped at the opportunity and applied for carpentry.” Ramazani added that he opted for carpentry because it was a skill that ran in his family. Back in DR Congo, his father, brothers and even sisters were professional carpenters. So basically, Ramazani grew up among carpenters and, he explained, that inspired him to follow in his family’s footsteps. It was also his own way of carrying on his family’s legacy and one way of maintaining attachment to his father, who is deceased.

A few months later in the same year, Ramazani made it to our second intake of our vocational training programme. His big break had started. Six months down the line, he successfully completed his course and was a fully-fledged carpenter.

That was when things began to improve.

Ramazani was bent on maximizing his newly found skills to the fullest. As soon as he graduated, he partnered with a fellow carpentry graduate and launched a small carpentry bench using the carpentry tool kits they received from school. They started small but big things began happening. Ramazani’s carpentry bench started generating a buzz in the refugee camp.

Ramazani knows why.

“The products I make are unique and very different from the rest of the carpenters in the camp. I am very creative and I try to be ahead of everyone in the game. That is why it did not take me long to catch the attention of people.” Ramazani boldly revealed. That unique ways of making products gradually brought Ramazani a steady flow of income. His welfare slowly started taking a positive turn and for the first time since arriving at the refugee camp, he had something he could point at as his main source of income.
And he no longer needed to depend on food rations.

Ramazani confidently said his life is no longer the same. Actually, he is now able to put his kids through a quality private school – something he never believed could happen. Not only that, he can also afford sending his family to a private hospital when they are unwell or for medical checkups. This is a huge improvement for an individual who, almost a decade ago, came to the refugee camp with literally nothing. Ramazani has even employed two people in the workshop. Besides teaching them carpentry skills, he is assisting the individuals to obtain an income. He said one of his goals is to help his fellow refugees to overcome poverty because he has experienced how excruciating life as a refugee can be when one does not have the financial muscle to survive.

Ramazani’s carpentry bench has spawned another small business which is further increasing his ability to earn a living. He has opened a grocery shop which stocks different types of domestic items. The grocery shop has boosted his financial capital and his social status in the camp.

“I am now a different person. I am not ashamed to tell you that I was a very poor person and I truly struggled to make amends. That is all in the past. Whatever I want now, I can afford. My life has changed. My family can eat three times a day and I am a very happy man,” he said. Ramazani may not be a super-wealthy person but the little transformation he has experienced in his life courtesy of the vocational skills he obtained is enough to complete his gloomy story with a happy ending.