Growing hope – tree planting in Dzaleka refugee camp
21 April 2014

Members of the community group planting trees in Dzaleka refugee camp.
Our logo is a pair of hands surrounding a tree, we want to say 'we are a community, share with us'.

Dzaleka, Malawi, 21 April 2014 – In a refugee camp where people feel they can't stay permanently, can't go back where they came from and don't see the future, it is easy to give up and lose hope. The Dzaleka refugee camp has been in existence for 20 years on land owned by the Malawian government and the average stay for a refugee is between 10 and 15 years. 

In this difficult and uncertain environment, a number of graduates from the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) Community Gardens Community Service Learning Track (CSLT) have formed the Education and Plantation Strategies Association (EPSA). This small community organisation's goal is to plant 6 000 fruit trees in three years in Malawi. They started planting trees around Dzaleka in August 2013.

Sayed Mohamed Ali Haibe, the chairperson of the EPSA, explained that they don't want to plant trees only around the camp, they also want to plant trees for the whole of Malawi. "Our logo is a pair of hands surrounding a tree, we want to say 'we are a community, share with us'. We have planted fruit trees in a nearby village, 10km from the camp. Malawi is a poor country, so we want all people to enjoy free fruit in their communities."

EPSA is registered as a community organisation in the camp. Members say they grow seedlings from the fruit they buy and eat. They have started a small nursery near the camp. "Planting trees counter climate change and air pollution. It serves the whole community," says Omar Hamed, one of EPSA’s members.

There are a few boreholes in the camp which provide water for the community and for the trees that have been planted.

Those involved in this community tree planting initiative have attended both theoretical and practical training through JC:HEM's education programmes in the camp. The sustainable agriculture and gardening course has seen the creation of a community garden and the introduction of a permaculture practice which is being replicated in many refugee gardens, and may see the introduction of integrated rabbit and pig breeding programmes in the camp in the future.

Byaombe Swedi, a counsellor in the camp, explained that when people participate in activities in the community, they develop more hope for the future. "People arrive here in the camp and they are often traumatised and depressed. When we do counselling we ask the refugees how they spend the 24 hours in a day. This makes them think about the skills they have and what they can contribute to the community," he said.
The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malawi is actively involved in running income generating activities and vocational skills training for refugees in Dzaleka. Tree planting is one of these activities. 

Members of EPSA have big dreams for the organisation and are looking for more resources to grow the organisation. To contact them directly send an email to

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Leah Marais
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