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Gloom to glory

Nikiza’s story begun with a tragic prologue. Her escape from the Democratic Republic of Congo into a gloomy life as a refugee in Malawi’s Dzaleka Camp was something Nikiza never anticipated. Her heart-breaking tale starts in 2013 when Nikiza, who is originally from Burundi, married a man from DR Congo. Marriages are supposed to bring joy and happiness to one’s life and actually that is what Nikiza expected but something to the contrary happened. The man she married to was from a tribe that had a long history of enmity with the minority tribe that Nikiza belonged to.

That was big trouble for Nikiza.

“I was hated.” she disclosed.

She was often the victim of harassment from her husband’s relatives who saw her as an enemy and, to a certain extent, a spy. Nikiza would regularly be attacked, beaten up and sometimes molested. Her marriage too suffered because her in-laws on several occasions tried to force Nikiza and her husband to divorce. Her husband was powerless to protect her and, according to Nikiza, this was partly because he could not dare go against his own family to side with someone from a rival tribe. In 2016 something dangerous happened to Nikiza.

She was coming from the market when three assailants attacked her and gang-raped her. Everything happened so fast that Nikiza can only remember patches of the ordeal.

“All I remember is pain. I was choked and strangled as the three men took turns to rape me.” she recalled “When they were done with me, they threatened to return and do it again. I was told that this time, I would be murdered and thrown into the river.” Nikiza believes that the men had raped her to prove a point that she was an enemy of their tribe and that she was not welcome. The attack was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Nikiza knew that her life was under threat and she had to leave the country as soon as possible.

Together with her husband, they took whatever belongings they could manage to carry and with their two kids, the family escaped DR Congo one day in the middle of the night. Their destination was Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. Nikiza and her husband reached Dzaleka in the same year but misfortunes followed hot in Nikiza’s heels. A few months after her arrival in Dzaleka, Nikiza’s husband dumped her for another woman.

“He took away everything and left me with utterly nothing. I ran a small business in the Camp and he snatched the savings I made from that business.” Her husband left their two kids in Nikiza’s care. Nikiza’s situation turned extreme because she suddenly found herself as a single parent overnight, with two kids to care for but with nothing to rely on. Members of her church took pity on her and supported Nikiza with basic essentials whenever they could but that was not enough to sustain her. Life suddenly became tough.

“I tell you, I was really struggling. I could not even manage to buy a packet of charcoal to cook meals. I would go from door to door begging for alms to buy salt, vegetables and just about everything I lacked.” Nikiza said. A packed of salt costs around MK100 and failing to buy an item costing such a meagre amount of money shows that Nikiza was indeed facing severe financial challenges. Her kids’ welfare was not spared the dilemma. Most of the times, Nikiza explained, her kids could sleep on empty stomachs and there was nothing she could do about it.

Despite such severe challenges, Nikiza never lost hope. She was optimistic that one day, things would change and that she would be able to support her kids on her own. Nikiza’s story took a twist in 2017 when one of her peers informed her of our vocational training programme. From the information she received, Nikiza was convinced that learning a skill in a vocational trade was the door to banging shut the lid on the economic challenges she was encountering. That same year when we opened for places in our vocational training programme, Nikiza enrolled for a tailoring course.

“I chose tailoring because there is always someone who is looking for a tailor – whether to get a customized attire or to patch a torn cloth. With just a simple fabric, one can make an item that can earn a good amount of money. You can never go wrong with tailoring.” she said and indeed she never went wrong. After completing her training, Nikiza started her own tailoring business. She cleared a room in her house and turned it into a tailoring shop. Nikiza is one of the few people whose shops are conveniently located at a market and that has helped her to attract a steady flow of customers.

Her sad story of tears has now changed. The small tailoring shop is earning Nikiza enough to support her daily needs and her kids’ education. She has managed to put her children through school and she can ably buy them whatever they lack. Nikiza has gone from someone who moved from house to house begging for help to a woman who earns around MK20,000 on a good day. That money is more than enough to put food on the table and save some for a rainy day, which is something that Nikiza could simply wish for once upon a time.

“The benefits of the tailoring skills I got have exceeded my expectations. Long ago I could not even afford a bar of soap but right now I make money every day.” As a refugee, Nikiza’s skills have helped her achieve economic dependence in a world where refugees are reduced to a life of dependence on food rations if they do not have any source of earning a living.