Malawi: The Mechanic of Dzaleka
03 November 2015

John Waka Openzi (Front and Centre, wearing a red t-shirt), the mechanic of Dzaleka, with his team. (Gushwell F. Brooks/Jesuit Refugee Service)
“The partnership with JRS is good. As a result of the partnership we have been able to build a garage where two cars can be worked on simultaneously as well as the fact that JRS has supplied us with working clothes/overalls and equipment. Now, many more young people would have the skills I have and are now able to create a future for themselves.”

Dzaleka, Dowa District, 2 November 2015 - Speaking through Bernard Uzungu - an interpreter - John Waka Openzi tells us his story and how a partnership between him and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has led to an automotive repair shop/garage being built at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi. John, a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has been a motor mechanic for most of his life and now he has brought his skill to Dzaleka and he is training a group of eager young minds to follow in his footsteps.

John, before escaping the DRC to live in Malawi as a refugee, owned his own repair shop. He also ran an automotive repair school. He studied for 5 years to become a qualified mechanic when he finished secondary school, more than three decades ago. After completing his studies as a mechanic, he opened his school and soon after that opened his own repair shop where he employed 15 employees.

Conflict erupted and in an effort to preserve his life, John left the DRC, his school and his repair shop behind, he lost everything. What bothers John the most however, is the fact that all the people that worked for him along with their families - people he saw as his dependents - were left destitute and unemployed when he shut down his business and fled.

Now, John has been living as a refugee in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi for the last 8 years and has worked hard to make a life for himself, using the skills he has refined for more than 25 years. Dzaleka lies in the Dowa District, less than an hour’s drive outside of the Capital City, Lilongwe. The villages and communities that surround Dzaleka have a good relationship with the refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people of Dzaleka. In fact, the nursery, primary and secondary schools at Dzaleka educate many local Malawian children, locals also utilise the clinic for their healthcare needs and trade is fluid between locals and the community of Dzaleka. John therefore has a market that bring their vehicles to him for his panel beating, mechanical and auto-electric repair services.

A row of cars, with their bonnets wide open, are parked next to each other on a dirt lot. Some have their engines and other mechanical parts pulled out for cleaning and repair whilst others have had body panels removed so that dents are removed and the panels are polished, resprayed and reattached. A team of men in blue overalls, with their hands covered in sooty grease and oil turn spanners, sockets and screwdrivers as they repair away while men and women behind them are building the garage where these repairs will be done in future.

In recognising his hard work, talent and commitment to passing his skills on to others, JRS has joined forces with John to formalise the programme he runs in educating others to become mechanics. JRS has equipped his classroom with spare parts, tools, a blackboard and a range of other essential equipment so that he can teach all that there is to know about automotive repair. The practical and theoretic components of the automotive course he runs at Dzaleka Refugee Camp is a three year course where he teaches his students mechanical repairs, auto-electric repairs and panel beating.

However, John is not alone. By taking the initiative to continually train minds that are eager to learn, he has a group of his former students teaching a new generation of mechanics. As assistant teachers, John’s team consists of Wite Mmenebanye, John Minane, Davivid Tadiome and Ali-Admo Mitumbi.

John is grateful for the assistance JRS has provided him. With JRS’s help John assists young refugees to find employment and to establish their own businesses. John says: “The partnership with JRS is good. As a result of the partnership we have been able to build a garage where two cars can be worked on simultaneously as well as the fact that JRS has supplied us with working clothes/overalls and equipment. Now, many more young people would have the skills I have and are now able to create a future for themselves.”

Through this ambitious initiative two valuable lessons have been reinforced for JRS Malawi. The human spirit prevails and there is no better testament to that principle then that of John who despite having lost everything, has rebuilt his life and in doing so not only benefitted himself, but his community as well. The second lesson is that the innovation of refugees not only creates livelihoods, but it actually creates an opportunity for increased social cohesion. Since the majority of John’s clients are locals, relationships are formed with local communities and the people of Dzaleka Refugee Camp provide important services to surrounding communities and are therefore of benefit to them.

 







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