25 April 2018
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Salama Africa unlocks potential in refugees

Written by  Nancy Chavi
Freddy during one of the audiences with youths at Dzaleka - Pic by Nancy Chavi Freddy during one of the audiences with youths at Dzaleka - Pic by Nancy Chavi

Blantyre, December 19, 2017: Freddy Farini, 24, fled from war torn Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2013 and has since found refuge at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa District in Malawi. 

Originally from Goma, North-Kivu, Freddy and his brother, Toussaint Farini, have been shadowed by the atrocities bellowing out of Congolese wars and conflicts.

Now away from home to a distant country, Freddy and his brother have settled well in Malawi and they feel they can contribute something to the welfare of fellow refugees at Dzaleka.

Freddy says despite restrictions refugees face in areas like employment, business, education and free movement, he saw potential among youths at Dzaleka which could be key towards the country’s social economic development.

“There are many youths at the camp with great potential and energy to bring change to their lives and surrounding communities,” Freddy says.

It was in 2015 that Freddy together with his brother and other refugees at the camp -Alain Tenta, Iris Ngandji and Rachel Mwamba – teamed up for a good cause.

They formed a group called Salama Africa with the aim of fighting poverty and unearthing talent among refugees at the camp.

Salama, according to Freddy, is a Swahili word that means ‘peace and tranquillity.’

Registered under the Refugee Department in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security on 20 February 2015, Salama focuses on giving hope to refugees through a number of activities like music and dancing among others.

Since its established, the grouping has reached out to over 1000 refugees through these activities.

“We have provided close mentorship to 90 youths and have reached out to more than 1,000 other refugees through public events like music festivals,” says Freddy.

Currently, Salama Africa helps impart different skills among the refugees at Dzaleka Camp ranging from dancing, singing, drawing, handcraft and entrepreneurship.

The grouping also operates a restaurant within the camp where classes for culinary art and fashion designing are also offered.

Salama Africa is not only benefiting youths within the camp. The group is also making a positive impact among Malawians by grooming some of the best dancers in the country.

Most of these dancers are riding through the tide of fame through their performances in music shows by some prominent music artists in the country.

The group has performed in a number of national activities including the Urban Music People (UMP) awards which recognises exceptional urban music talent in Malawi.

UMP director Khumbo Kabuzi Munthali is all praises for the group.

“They were one of the main highlights of the UMP award gala. They are probably the best dance group at the moment in Malawi,” says Munthali adding that the group always impresses with different styles of their dances.

Jean Marina, 17, is a Congolese refugee who joined Salama Africa in 2015 as a member of the dance crew.

Belonging to this group has made him realize purpose in life.

“I dropped out of school but when I joined this group, I was encouraged to go back to class. I gained so much joy in performing for Salama and I am now positive about life,” says Marina.

Gasaro Vanessa, who has lived at Dzaleka since 2013, is another beneficiary of this initiative through acquisition of skills in culinary art.

“For the three months I have been under this group, I have learnt culinary skills while working at Salama Africa Restaurant. Through these skills, I can now support myself,” says Vanessa, a 19-year-old refugee from Rwanda.

Salama Africa is supported by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

JRS Country Director, Rufino Seva says the organisation initially started as a dance group before evolving into a community based group in 2016 and later as a formal organisation.

 “Salama does not only contribute in arts but also helps in addressing challenges young people are facing at Dzaleka.

“Another objective is also to network and collaborate with like-minded youth groups in Malawi and expand their reach,” Seva says.

Reporting and Public Information Associate for UNHCR Malawi, Rumbani Msiska, commends Salama Africa and says the UN body will continue providing support to the initiative.

“Apart from supporting their activities through their Direct Implementation (DI) budget, we are also linking the group to various diplomatic missions and high-profile individuals in building better relationships for the benefit of their programs and activities,” Msiska says.

He adds that UNHCR Malawi is currently supporting Salama Africa through its partners like Plan International Malawi, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) and the Churches Action in Relief and Development (CARD).

Available statistics from UNHCR Malawi shows that the country is currently hosting 8,967 refugees and 25, 123 asylum-seekers.

Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa hosts 31,578 (refugees and asylum seekers) largely from countries like DRC, Burundi and Rwanda with a few coming from Somalia and Ethiopia.

Luwani Refugee Camp in Neno District hosts 3,345 asylum seekers from Mozambique.

As the number of refugees in the world hits a staggering 60 million, there is a growing need for programs that enable refugees to harness creative processes and foster new channels for their voices.

Freddy Farini is happy that initiatives like Salama Africa are just doing that through activities on various artistic expressions.

“Studies show that art plays a huge role in transforming refugee’s lives. It can also be used as a powerful tool for advocacy and communication.

“We want to promote youth empowerment at Dzaleka and surrounding communities though this approach,” says Freddy.

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