Malawi: JRS-JC:HEM Community Service Learning Tracks, Making a Positive, Real, Substantial Difference in Dzaleka
30 September 2015

Charles Tshondo, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo and participant in the JRS-JC:HEM Community Service Learning Track in Community Health doing the practical part of his course, measuring the blood pressure of refugee and asylum seekers at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
“The only thing my father left me with was this advice before he died: ‘I don’t have anything to give you, but I ask you to continue with your education. Education will be you mother and father when I am no longer there.’”

Dzaleka, Dowa district, 30 September 2015 – Father David Holdcroft SJ, Regional Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Southern Africa asked an important question at the graduation ceremony of the 3rdCohort, JRS-JC:HEM (Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins) 2015 class. He asked, “What next?” Now, that these graduates have their Diplomas, what does it mean, do they wait for resettlement to another country or do they go into Malawian society and find a job?  

The possibility for resettlement exists, but it is remote, if not a long process; whereas working within the mainstream economy of Malawi is impossible at present. Father Holdcroft SJ therefore made it clear, the graduates now have to re-invest their acquired skills into Dzaleka Refugee Camp and build and uplift the community.

Therefore the JRS-JC:HEM programme, whether through the Diploma programme or the Community Service Learning Tracks, is aimed at making a positive difference in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, it is aimed at growing the economy and uplifting the community. Joe Slaven, Project Director for JRS - JC:HEM, Dzaleka, explains what the Community Service Learning Tracks consist of: “We develop courses that can be taught by local experts relating to disciplines of interest to the community such as Community Health, Child Protection, IT Programming, and Youth Work.”

Charles Tshondo[1]a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo and participant in the JRS-JC:HEM Community Service Learning Track in Community Health, best illustrates how this educational programme is not merely an academic exercise, but practically benefits the community at Dzaleka.

Charles was doing the practical component to his course in Community Health outside the JRS-JC:HEM compound underneath a tree. He and his fellow students were measuring people’s blood pressure. Charles explains: “The objective of the course is to ensure that once we complete our training, we can assist people with their health. People here at Dzaleka do not necessarily always know what affects their health. We share information with the people so that they remain healthy.”

At the end of the Community Service Learning Track in Community Health, participants such as Charles are not qualified medical professionals such as nurses, doctors or paramedics, but they are sufficiently skilled to assist medical professionals in keeping the community at Dzaleka healthy.

“As one example, people do not know what pneumonia is or what causes it. Dzaleka gets very cold at times and people do not realise that they can prevent pneumonia in infants by dressing their babies warmly and thereby prevent infant mortality. We also do campaigns around the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and infections and we have a sanitation awareness campaign. We advise the community on how to prevent Cholera by informing them why it is always important to wash dishes and utensils after use, to always wash their hands after using the toilet and to dig a deep hole in which dirty water is disposed of. Like today, we are measuring people’s blood pressure, if it is high we refer them to the clinic to see the doctor to have it treated.” Charles explains.

Charles is now 21 years old and left his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) before finishing his Secondary education. “Fortunately I had a chance to complete my Secondary education, here in camp in 2013.” he says. After his father was assassinated for supporting a particular political leader, Charles and his family were subjected to discrimination, intimidation and persecution by the community. Eventually he left the DRC for Tanzania, headed for South Africa. Unfortunately, he was arrested at the Malawi border for illegal entry through the border. After winning the court case, he was brought to Dzaleka Refugee Camp, where he has taken a computer course and undertook training as a carpenter as part of JRS’s educational programmes, after finishing school.

“The only thing my father left me with was this advice before he died: ‘I don’t have anything to give you, but I ask you to continue with your education. Education will be you mother and father when I am no longer there.’” Charles quotes his father as saying.

Education has equipped Charles and the rest of his classmates to look after the general health of Dzaleka as a community. Through information sharing campaigns, referrals to the local clinic to trained medical professionals and education on sanitation and cleanliness, Charles’ training under JC:HEM Community Service Learning Track in Community Health clearly illustrates how the programme practically benefits individuals and the community whilst turning young people into real community leaders.

As to how the JRS - JC:HEM training programmes work practically, within the very difficult context of a refugee camp such as Dzaleka, Slaven explains further: “We offer all the practical support that students need to access higher education. We provide the learning space outfitted by solar electricity, computers and network access, onsite academic support and co-ordination with universities and instructors. After programmes end, we offer continued encouragement and support to alumni as they go forth into the community to serve.”

 



[1]Not his real name. Interviewee asked to remain anonymous. 



Please refer to our prior story on the JRS-JC:HEM 2015 Diploma, 3rd Cohort Graduation.



Press Contact Information
Gushwell F. Brooks
gushwell.brooks@jrs.net
+27 11 618 3404