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A smile for Rosa

A dangerous ethnic feud between her tribe and a rival one led to the murder of Rosa’s husband and the fleeing of Rosa from Burundi to Malawi. Even though she escaped her home country over a decade ago, it is apparent that the emotional scars and mental anguish that the murder of her husband caused are still stubbornly imprinted in her mind. Rosa narrates the painful story with trembling in her voice. She recalls the details vividly. It was one terrible night when assailants invaded Rosa and her husband’s house and abducted the husband before her very eyes. They disappeared with him in the dead of night amid her screams of terror and pleas for help. Rosa believes that an earlier disagreement between her husband and an enemy tribe had escalated into the act of murder.

“That was the last time I saw my husband.” Rosa explained “They dragged him to the bush and killed him. I will never forget that night of terror.” Fearing for her life and the lives of her three children, Rosa resorted to one hard decision – escape the country. She feared that the assailants might return to harm her and her children. With the murder of her husband leaving her alone and defenceless, she realized that she would make an easy prey. Her situation was made worse due to the disability that she has. Rosa was born with a leg length discrepancy that affects her movement. Defending herself and her children in case of an attack would have been a lost battle.

She had to disappear fast.

With her three kids, Rosa grabbed what she was able to carry and fled Burundi. Her plan was to seek safe haven in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. The journey was long and painful. Rosa did not have enough money to travel to Malawi so she had to raise money along the way. This meant that she had to take breaks in between trips and do whatever it took to gather the means to continue. All in all, the journey took Rosa a month. However, when she arrived in her final destination, Dzaleka Refugee Camp, her heart sank, and all she felt was despair.

“I was a lonely single woman in a new country and about to start a new way of life but with no idea about who would support me,” she said. Rosa came to Dzaleka Refugee Camp fleeing the threat of violence at home, but she suddenly found herself and her kids facing a new different kind of insecurity – food and financial. Just like any other refugee in the camp, Rosa survived on food rations she received from the UNHCR and other aid agencies but the monthly package she got barely lasted 14 days.

If she were to endure the place, Rosa knew she had to find a way of earning a living.

“I used part of the maize meal I obtained to make doughnuts which I sold,” she explained. The sale of doughnuts did not actually bring the required revenue that Rosa needed to fully support her family. The highest she could make from the little business was a meagre MK600 (8 Cents). It was a ludicrous amount which was not even enough to buy a packet of sugar. What Rosa was doing was a risky thing too, since it meant she was slicing part of the ration that was supposed to sustain her family for a month. Rosa was desperate for support but she could not get any. She explained that some men in the camp took advantage of her desperation to sexually exploit her.

“A lot of men approached me, promising to marry me and take care of my financial problems. I believed them and kept telling myself that maybe this was my gateway out of the crisis I was in, but they kept deceiving me.” Rosa explained, “They were just using me for their selfish sexual objectives and then dump me. It was so painful because my dignity and reputation were slowly getting tarnished.”

Four years after arriving in Dzaleka, and hoping for some positive change, Rosa joined a group of fellow refugees living with disabilities in the camp. It was through this group that Rosa was introduced to Kibebe, our social enterprise arm.

That was the breakthrough she had been looking for.

Kibebe artisans make handcrafted products for sale both locally and internationally. Being an artisan meant that Rosa had now found a source of income and progressively her living conditions began to change. The earning she made was sufficient to keep her family going. She did not need to depend solely on food rations anymore, and she could now afford to buy essentials for her kids.

Her job with Kibebe, and Rosa’s wise financial stewardship, produced a remarkable thing. Rosa used part of her savings to open a small shop of houseware and groceries. The shop complements her financial resources by earning Rosa a side income. It is from the proceeds she makes from the shop that Rosa can afford to send her kids to a quality school, something which she could hardly imagine at first. Rosa plans to open another shop, but bigger than the current one, where she would employ others to work.

“I tell you, my life is no longer the same.” Rosa observed “People used to call me by a derogatory title of doughnut seller and I did not have any reputation. After all, who would respect a poor, disabled woman who sold doughnuts for a living?” However, since she is now able to earn enough to stand on her own, nobody looks down on her. Even the men who took advantage of her situation no longer approach her with their fake promises.

“Because they know I am independent now and I tell them off!” Rosa said. Her dignity is restored, her finances are stable and she can support her three kids with anything they need.

“Kibebe gave me an opportunity to uplift my social status and that is exactly what has happened in my life.” Rosa closed with a wide smile.