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A small skill with a mighty change

In 2009, Abdullah stepped foot in Dzaleka Refugee Camp. He had escaped his home country DR Congo; forced to leave because of a fierce civil war and partly due to a raging family feud that threatened his life. He had not come alone – he was a responsible father with two children, a wife and two of his nephews to look after. Back there in DRC, Abdullah had a decent job as a secondary school teacher and he earned a good salary but that was now all gone and Abdullah’s status changed to ‘refugee’. Survival was paramount and Abdullah knew this but then surviving without any form of employment and no business to bring in money was a big hassle.

That was just the tip of the iceberg because Abdullah was in a strange country, he had nowhere to stay and he was in dire need of a permanent shelter for his family. Without a place to put up in, Abdullah and his family were effectively destitute. Although Abdullah’s family were given shelter in the camp, the house was technically a shack because it had a bad roof thatched in grass and, according to Abdullah, the house leaked profusely when it rained. Abdullah even remembers one incident when a strong wind blew off part of the roof one Tuesday in the middle of the day.

Abdullah had two major assignments to fulfil.

Find a proper home. Find a job.

However, finding employment in the camp was almost impossible because job opportunities are extremely rare. There are approximately 40,000 refugees in Dzaleka and with a good percentage of that figure jostling for work or means of earning cash, jobs do not come by that easily. In fact, that is why many refugees in Dzaleka stay idle and depend on monthly food rations. That was the exact impasse Abdullah was in. In his desperate search for finding income, Abdullah started doing part-time jobs as a house painter. House painting was not his field of expertise and he had no experience in that area but he had to do what he had to do to feed his family.

“For two years I worked that job. To be honest, it was not exactly what you would call a job but it kept my family and I going as I looked for a permanent solution”, Abdullah stated. His family had then grown from six people to ten with the birth of two more children and with that, his responsibilities had grown too. His children and nephews all needed a good education, his family needed a decent home and Abdullah desired a good job to sustain everyone including himself. We understand the need to give refugees the opportunity to escape poverty by empowering them with skills that can benefit them financially. Our vocational training programme, which was set up four years ago, was specifically designed to provide technical marketable skills to refugees and Malawians to support their economic needs.

Abdullah was made aware of our vocational training programme in 2016, a year after we established the programme. He registered for a Carpentry course, partly because he is passionate about home furniture and mainly because carpentry is in high demand in the Camp. It did not take him long to start reaping the fruits of the course after he completed his training. Just a month upon graduating from the programme, Abdullah put together some money that he had been saving, bought additional tools to complement the ones he received at his graduation and opened a small bench in the camp.

That was how he started making his own money.

Supporting his household was simplified. Abdullah’s small shop brought a series of transformation to his social and financial wellbeing. For starters, Abdullah made enough money to fix the roof of his house and replaced the grass roof with brand new iron sheets.

“For the first time, I could sleep peacefully at night without getting anxious about the roof blowing off or rainwater leaking into my bedsheets”, he said. Abdullah also values the education of his children and nephews and his priority has always been to build the best foundation for their education. He has since sent them to a quality reputable private school in the Camp, something that he could not previously manage. Most importantly, he is an inspiration to fellow refugees who are now seeing the true value of vocational training. Food security is no longer an issue too because Abdullah’s family no longer relies on monthly food rations to survive. They can eat three good meals a day. As Abdullah disclosed, having three meals a day is a privilege which very few refugees in Dzaleka have.

The benefits do not end there. With each passing day and each product he makes at the carpentry bench, Abdullah’s financial status steadily improves.

“At first I was looking for a job but now I don’t need one. What I have is something that is better than being employed. I earn money on a daily basis. That is all I need,” Abdullah closed with a wide smile.