Malawi: Respite Care at Dzaleka, Giving Children Living with Disabilities a Meaningful Quality of Life
13 October 2015

Fidel Musiri, a refugee living with a disability himself, is the Lead Volunteer and runs the Respite Care Centre at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, playing outside with some of the children that visit the centre daily. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
“We are showing the community that these are normal children. Now these children are being valued. Most of the children with disabilities within the camp are coming to the centre. The Respite Care Centre gives parents a break and an opportunity to give attention to their other children as well.”

Dzaleka, Dowa District, 13 October 2015 – Within any significant population it should be expected that there will be children born with disabilities. A defining and unique characteristic of human beings is that we look after our frail, ill and those living with disabilities. However, life for people living in a refugee camp can prove to be significantly challenging and so the specialised care those living with disabilities require may prove to be an impossibility.

With factors such as poverty, a lack of specialised facilities for the ongoing physical and mental stimulus people with disabilities require and cultural shame the challenge of living with a physical or mental disability in Dzaleka can reach an unbearable level. In recognising these challenges, Fidel Musiri, a refugee living with a disability himself, approached Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) to cater to the needs of the disabled within the community.

JRS therefore partnered with Fidel in 2009 and helped to build and establish the Respite Care Centre at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Fidel still runs the centre to this day. “I want to thank JRS for having partnered with us, in establishing and continuing to support the Respite Care Centre. All my life I saw the discrimination people with disabilities face. So I approached JRS to establish the centre because nobody was advocating for the disabled and we started this centre to show the community that these children are not forgotten. Some of these children were being hidden by their parents, locked in the house all day, hidden from neighbours and the community out of shame.” says Fidel as to why the centre needed to be founded.

Today the centre has been in operation for six years. The centre started out with 25 children in 2009 and today 62 children have been assisted in one way or another at the centre. The programme at the centre runs from Monday to Friday. Different days, cater for different groups with different disabilities, but each group is catered for at least twice a week. The centre is set up in such a way that it caters for a spectrum of needs.

Not only is there a clear difference between physical and mental disabilities, but there is also a range in terms of its severity. To complicate things further some mental disabilities cause physical handicaps as well and so each child that receives attention at the centre is unique and needs special attention. The centre is therefore divided into three sections. Room 1 caters for physical disabilities where activities such as exercise, numeracy and reading activities are undertaken. Room 2 caters for mild mental and intellectual disabilities whereas Room 3 caters for severe cases of mental and intellectual disabilities. People living with severe disabilities need constant care and at the centre they receive stimulation through musical instruments, sound and massage.

Fidel is assisted by a passionate and committed team of volunteers. On a daily basis each volunteer is tasked to look after two children. They teach those living with disabilities, but who can look after themselves to an extent, basic skills such as how to use money, co-ordination, social skills and how to take care of themselves generally. Kasaji Mwamba is one of these volunteers, and he is a father to a child living with a disability and is an active advocate in looking after the interests of these children.

Fidel explains what the impact has been on the community at Dzaleka: “We are showing the community that these are normal children. Now these children are being valued. Most of the children with disabilities within the camp are coming to the centre. The Respite Care Centre gives parents a break and an opportunity to give attention to their other children as well.”

As optimistic as Fidel is though, he remains a tenacious advocate for the rights of children with disabilities. He wants to do so much more: “I want to teach the refugee community about the rights of children with disabilities. Some of these children are sexually abused and others face other forms of exploitation. It needs to be brought to a stop!” Fidel’s passion drives him to want to do more, he wants to expand the food the programme at the centre and wants to extend the operating hours of the centre. It is truly a privilege for JRS to have partnered with such a committed group of people!

 







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