The camp is difficult to describe to people who have not seen pictures, so I will do my best to illustrate with the few that I can share with you!
Dzaleka Refugee Camp is located about an hour north of Lilongwe, and is in Dowa region, which is mountainous, meaning that the camp is windier than the city, and temperatures are augmented. On cooler days, it is typical to see people walking around in winter parkas and big wool hats (cold here means less than about 25 degrees Celcius). The camp is currently at a population of nearly 20,000 refugees, and is run by the UNHCR. JRS is responsible for the education, and there are a few other implementing partners in charge of healthcare and other sectors.
Dzaleka is a permanent camp, so it is not made up of tents, and is not surrounded by a fence. It actually looks nearly identical to the surrounding Malawian villages, except for the large official buildings of UNHCR and their implementing partners. Houses are typically made of mud bricks, with roofs made of tin sheets, tarps, thatch, or a combination of these materials. It used to be a prison, so there are a few larger buildings with tin roofs that remain from that time period. The rest of the camp sprawls out from that point, and has grown so much that it there is a section across the highway, and a new section where a field used to be at the back of the camp.
Residents get water from boreholes that are scattered around the camp, and can often be found washing their clothing and dishes at the boreholes. There are two main roads in camp that are lined with markets and small shops, and a few restaurants. There is a permanent market that I purchase my vegetables at, and a twice-weekly larger market where one can find more household items and is where I often buy my chitenge.
The refugee and Malawian population of the area generally mingle and are neighbourly towards each other. Some refugees have been living in Dzaleka for ten to fifteen years, and are fluent in Chichewa. Children growing up in camp all learn Chichewa in school. Some Malawians rent houses in camp or run businesses in camp, and refugees sometimes rent fields from the nearby villages to supplement their food rations.
A cultural aspect that I have found difficult to understand is that showing unhappiness, unless someone has died, is not normal. So, most refugees seem generally happy, but when you get to know them and speak with them in depth, they often share that they struggle with feelings of despair and hopelessness.
It is difficult for me to decide what to share on this topic, as it is hard to step outside of my experience and evaluate what you may want to know, so please ask questions in the comments if I have neglected to share on an area you are interested in knowing more about! I will do my best to answer any questions.
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.