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17 Years of Promoting Self-Reliance Among Refugees and the Host Community!

Our existence has been fueled primarily by self-reliance. We have spent the last 17 years working to ensure that refugees at Dzaleka Refugee Camp and the surrounding Malawian communities have access to opportunities that will propel them to attain self-reliance. Many great things have unfolded before our very eyes. Join us as we reflect on our long journey.

We started operating in 2007 with few resources, but we had belief in ourselves and support from a network of friends and partners internationally, so much that we managed to buy land in 2012 in Lilambwe Village, just outside Dzaleka Refugee Camp. We started building the hall, which is the foundation for the growth of the organization. Based on the reputation that we had gained through the years, we managed to secure a grant of 400,000 Euros from the European Union in 2018—the largest grant that we had ever received. The funding was enough to change the face of our training center at Lilambwe Village in Dowa. This signaled a rapid expansion and gave us the motivation to execute our plans at full speed and work with other organizations that share our values. We built new structures and started providing quality training as well as polished our programs to achieve excellence.

Additionally, we have seen leadership change. The epitome of this was the stepping down of the organization’s founder and previous Executive Director, Innocent Magambi. A former refugee, Innocent had been the organization’s leader for 15 years until handing over control to Cathreen Ndege-Chirwa, a Malawian. This change signified trust in local professionals and women’s empowerment—the exact narrative that we support here at There is Hope, as it is inherent in all of our programs. That was coupled with our transition from having international volunteers to hiring local professionals, from pioneers to leaders that can take the organization to the next level.

In keeping up with the market trends, we added a sixth course in Solar Photovoltaic Installation to our Vocational Training Program in 2022. This means that currently, we are training youths in Solar Photovoltaic Installation, Plumbing, Bricklaying, Carpentry and Joinery, Welding and Fabrication, Tailoring and Fashion Design. Presently, There is Hope is registered as a Technical, Entrepreneurial Vocational Education and Training (TEVET) provider for both formal and informal vocational training. In general, vocational training is one way of boosting economic growth and reducing poverty in developing nations like Malawi. The bulk of the population in Malawi is young people as such the focus of the Technical, Entrepreneurial Vocational Education and Training that There is Hope provides is young people. This is so because the youths are the engine of economic progress. Over 1000 young people including young women have received TEVET training from There is Hope. Our Leadership Development Program which strives to recruit community change agents has also trained 200 young adults.

Our Secondary School Scholarship Program, which previously enrolled girls only, has also been a success. So far, four girls have been selected to pursue university education at accredited universities in Malawi. To demonstrate our gender inclusivity in the program, we extended our secondary school scholarships to boys in 2022 and have since taken on 15 boys from vulnerable families. Since 2009, through our Education Program, we have given out 226 scholarships comprising 144 secondary school scholarships and 84 university scholarships.

As much as we would like to turn our vocational training center into a fully-fledged center of excellence for technical education over the next 17 years, we are still facing some challenges such as a lack of long-term funding commitments. This has limited us to going full-scale with our programs. We aim to generate more income locally and expand our international reach for partnerships to help mitigate this challenge. Another challenge is that the national refugee policy has curtailed the potential of our effect by limiting what and where our refugee beneficiaries may use their technical talents. There is also the uncertainty of whether the Refugee Camp will continue to be in Dzaleka or not.

This compels us to be innovative. And we can be even more innovative, right? That’s where Kibebe comes in. We cannot talk of There is Hope’s successes without mentioning our social enterprise, Kibebe. Kibebe started as a small project in 2012 and is now a business that pays craftspeople mostly refugees with dignified wages and tells their resilient stories through beautiful accessories. Kibebe has won a couple of awards as an innovation including the “Fair Trade Business of the Year” award by the Scottish Fair-Trade Network in 2022. It was registered as a Limited Company by Guarantee in Malawi in 2017 and as a non-profit organization in the US in 2019 – with the sole purpose of expanding its reach to the global market.

All that is exciting news, yet you may still ask; “Why do you do what you do?” Well, this is what our Executive Director, Cathreen Ndege-Chirwa, has to say. “We are here to make sure that both the host community and the refugees have access to education and economic generation activities. In the case of refugees, we value their livelihood as well as their dignity. We work to ensure that refugees are dignified. Through the different skills training that we offer, we seek to ensure that refugees are self-reliant and do not depend on the food rations that are provided in the camp. Our aim is that through the skills acquired, our beneficiaries can start to create new possibilities by creating small-scale businesses. This is in light of the fact that by Malawian legislation, refugees are supposed to stay in the camp”.

It is stated that it does not matter where you go in life, but what matters most is who you have by your side along the way. Due to our partners’ blessings, we have expanded our organization to what it is today. We thank the following foundations, families, and individuals for collaborating with us in transforming the lives of refugees and their host community: God’s Economy, the European Union, the Segal Family Foundation, the Imago Dei Fund, the US Embassy, the German Embassy, Coworkers (formerly Hilfe für Brüder International), Welthungerhilfe (WHH), Partners for Equity, Planet Wheeler, World University of Canada (WUSC), MB Stayton LLC USA, Lisa Leaf, Assopromi, Capital City Baptist Church, Westwood Community Church, Libby Ducket, Fellowship Reformed Church, One Collective (UK and USA) and International Association for Refugees (Canada and USA).