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The small step to dignity

It was in 2017 when Joyce and her two sisters stepped foot in Dzaleka Refugee Camp from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), marking the start of their lives as refugees. What forced Joyce and her sisters to flee DRC was the murder of their parents by rival tribal factions. Joyce’s parents were from two separate tribes which, apparently had a history of bad blood between them. Although there seemed to be peaceful co-existence between the tribes in the early stages of their marriage, the peace was to be short-lived. One day what seemed to be the passive ethnic feud reared its ugly head and a bitter quarrel emerged between factions of her mother’s and father’s tribes. The quarrel spiralled into a dangerous clash that left Joyce’s parents dead.

It did not end there.

Joyce and her sisters were orphaned and in normal cases, orphans are usually cared for by their relatives but that was not the case with Joyce’s story. Since her parents came from two opposing tribes, the siblings were regarded as outlaws and their relatives did not want anything to do with the orphans. Their paternal relatives refused to have them around while their maternal relatives ill-treated the siblings.

Joyce and her sisters feared that they would be victims of the same tragedy that befell their parents so they decided to escape the country and went straight to Dzaleka Refugee Camp, approximately 1,000 kilometres away. Thus, started their new lives in a strange country as refugees. Joyce soon realized that she and her sisters were stuck in a country whose restrictive laws on refugees reduce the refugees’ socio-economic statuses to dependence on food rations.

Joyce had no means of earning a living and looking for a job was out of the question because she had no qualifications. Even if she had, it would be impossible to obtain employment outside the camp. Joyce had one small talent that she tried to use to make money.

“I know how to plait hair so I went around the camp providing hairdressing services”. However, that was not a pleasant experience because Dzaleka Camp has myriads of hairdressing salons, making the market saturated and hard to break through. The biggest obstacle was that since she was just a new kid on the block, finding customers proved futile. Even worse, if she managed to find clients, the money she got from the services she offered was below 1,000 Kwacha and that did not happen on a daily basis.

It was a ludicrously small amount of earning. Joyce could barely keep going on that little income. She had sisters to care for and making less than 1,000 Kwacha a day, was making Joyce’s life miserable. Joyce knew that her trouble would only heighten if she could not get a permanent fix to her situation. The permanent fix to her situation came hopping in 2017 when, through her church, she got wind of the news that we provide training in technical skills through our vocational training programme. Joyce explained that she saw this as her chance to try something new so she registered for a tailoring course. She also had always aspired to pursue a career in fashion design and tailoring seemed to be the closest fit to her career ambitions.

Good news awaited Joyce when she completed her tailoring course because a couple of weeks after graduation, Kibebe, our social enterprise programme, was recruiting tailors. Joyce was among the four graduates from our vocational training programme that were employed by Kibebe.

It was the small step towards Joyce’s self-sufficiency because, for the first time since arriving in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Joyce had finally found a job that could earn her an income.

“What had now changed was that I no longer needed to roam in the refugee camp the whole day searching for customers to offer hairdressing services and earn just 500 Kwacha a day. I now had a job and to a refugee like me, that is something not to be taken for granted”. Joyce noted, adding that a lot of refugee women who have no proper means of earning a living usually engage in risky methods of survival, for example, prostitution. She explained that she has seen many young women getting unplanned pregnancy and contracting dangerous diseases that ruin their lives. That, Joyce said, is because these women have nothing to occupy them and no means of making an income.

Since Kibebe artisans create a variety of professional products that are sold on the international market, being employed by Kibebe means that Joyce is gaining valuable experience that she can utilize in the near future. Best of all, the pay she obtains from Kibebe as an artisan is slowly helping Joyce support her sisters, albeit in a small but meaningful way. Joyce can now buy essentials like clothes, cooking oil and other needs for her home and her sisters. She said that she considers working with Kibebe a privilege because job opportunities for refugees are very rare – almost non-existent.

Joyce’s story may not have ended in her becoming a wealthy person after getting a high paying job but what she has is more than wealth. She has a sense of self-worth, now that she has a job courtesy of Kibebe. She might have been one of the numerous young refugee women who are struggling to make ends meet in Dzaleka and who end up trapped in a world of immoral behaviour to support their welfare.

We trained her as a qualified tailor, she is employed by Kibebe and she has a decent source of earning money.