Southern Africa region: Stories of talent and resilience on World Refugee Day 2019
20 June 2019

Divine Ndizihiwe, refugee at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi, volunteers at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) NAWEZA Girls Education and Empowerment project at the camp, empowering Primary and Seconday students / Hugo Ivanove Mpenzi
Tantine Barantize: “The saloon makes us busy and reduce stress, life in the camp is not easy but we are able to cope with it.”

World Refugee Day always reminds everybody of the increasing magnitude of people forced to leave their homes every year. At the end of 2018, there was 13.6 million newly displaced individuals worldwide due to conflict, persecution, violence or the violation of their most basic human rights, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This would imply 37 000 forced displacements on a daily basis. As the result of prolonged crisis, political neglect, corruption, intolerance and climate change, an average of 70.8 million people are currently forcibly displaced -within the national borders or between states. And the path is not easy for those fleeing. Risks and challenges await for them both during the journey towards a safe place and in host communities.

However, World Refugee Day is also a day to celebrate and recognize the resilience and talent of all those who, despite countless struggles, learn and give their utmost best to their work and new communities. Committed to accompany, serve and advocate on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) believes that creating sustainable and equal opportunities, such as access to education and healthcare, will open the door to a supportive, integrated and fair global community. In the Southern Africa region, which UNHCR calculates as hosting more than 210 900 refugees and 274 800 asylum seekers, the JRS benefits over 83.000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants without documents in Angola, Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Mostly through educational programs, livelihoods, vocational training, healthcare services and pastoral accompaniment. 

Our aim at JRS is to contribute to create a community which upholds asylum seekers and refugee’s rights to work, fulfil their human potential and to earn a living. A community where displaced people can also contribute to society and build their lives with their own two hands.

Malawi: Divine Ndizihiwe 

“I want to advocate for the rights of women in the future,” expressed Divine Ndizihiwe, a 21 years old woman from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She currently volunteers at the JRS NAWEZA Girls Education and Empowerment project in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi, helping to facilitate life-skills sessions for girls at the JRS Umodzi Katubza Primary School and JRS Dzaleka Community Day Secondary School (CDSS). Skills such as sexual reproductive health, human rights, gender equality and how to handle and report these kind of situations. “My work has a great positive impact on the community since I advocate for girls who face a lot of problems in Dzaleka Refugee Camp,” she explained, “As a result, we managed to change the lives of girls as well as encourage them to stay in school instead of getting married at an early age or getting early pregnancies.” She is herself a refugee who fled her country in 2013 with her family due to ethnic attacks. “According to the story of the Banyamulenge tribe, our ancestors fled from Rwanda to DRC," Divine accounted, “My parents were born in DRC, and when [we] were attacked by DRC soldiers, we did not know where to go; those who refused to leave the country were killed.”

As a young girl, she remembers facing several challenges when arriving to the camp in Malawi. Challenges such as “Poverty, insecurity, oppression, domestic violence, and lack of opportunities.” However, that has not prevented her from building her own path. After completing Secondary Education at the CDSS in 2016, she accomplished several certifications at JRS Professional and Post-Secondary Education (PPSE), such as Computer Literacy, Early Childhood Development, Maisha/Life Skills, Psychosocial Case Management, Psychological First Aid Training, and Youth Servant Leadership in Peace Building and Co-existence. At the moment she studies a Diploma in Liberal Studies at the Jesuit Worldwide Learning, majoring in Social Work. Divine feels safe in the host community but laments she can’t fully exercise her Human Rights. “I am considered a refugee; hence it is hard to get opportunities outside of the camp,” she explains. As countless other fellow refugees, she dreams for a safe free future, where she can further her studies and be able to “give back to the community.”

Malawi: Matthias Ngandu Yemba 

Life became uneven for Matthias Ngangu Yemba, 39 years old, while working as a Head Teacher at a secondary school in the Democratic Republic of Congo. “My life was exposed to an increasing insecurity in the midst of tribal discriminations, ethnic, and armed group conflicts,” he expressed, “[It] endangered not only my life, but also my family members.” After fleeing to the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in 2014, “The first challenges I faced were trauma resulting from what I suffered in my home country, lack of enough means to effectively meet daily needs for myself and my family, and uncertainty of our future,” he remembered. Yet, in a short period of time, he joined the JRS English as Second Language programme within the Adult Education Department, starting to work as a volunteer teacher in July 2014. 

Matthias currently volunteers as a Non-Formal Education Coordinator at the JRS PPSE project. “I assist the organization’s project in offering oversight to 8 English as a Foreign Language classes, and leading, training, and coaching 8 teachers and monitoring all activities related to Non-Formal Education section,” he stated. “I have assisted the organization fulfill its mission through the PPSE project in providing access to post–secondary level courses to over 800 refugees, asylum seekers and host community members in and around Dzaleka Refugee Camp each year,” Matthias added. According to him, JRS brought him hope and help him to overcome challenges and shape his skills, in order to be able to serve the community and decide his future. His main aspiration: “to become a great teacher able not only to teach effectively, but also to produce other effective teachers for our current and future generations.”

South Africa: Kadija Mathe

Some Tuesdays, Kadija Mathe walks along the central streets of Johannesburg. She reads different advertisements, goes inside different properties and asks for prices. “My dream is to have my own make-up and manicure salon,” Kadija explains. “Just make-up and nails, I can’t do hair anymore,” she added laughing, too many years brushing and cutting. She came from Zimbabwe 15 years ago, “I jumped from school directly to South Africa because there was nothing in Zimbabwe; I didn’t have any way to survive” she accounted. As her father passed away, she had to send money to support her mother and sisters back at home. And she still does it nowadays. 

Like many fellow asylum seekers in South Africa, her case remains pending and she must renew her documents every six months. However, Kadija doesn’t regret coming to her host community: “I wouldn’t have learnt so much.” In fact, she feels it is always a good moment to improve skills and knowledge. “I can’t say I am old," she expressed, "You don’t stop learning every day!” From the moment she arrived to Johannesburg, Kadija learnt the subtleties of becoming a hairdresser. She even ran her own salon between 2013 and 2017. “I was happy, I love to do things on my way,” she remembered. Yet, the salon ended closing due to different difficulties.  

Luck came back again in 2018, she explained, after being accepted at the nails and make-up course at the JRS Arrupe Skills Centre. Now she is part of the almost 15 stylists working at a beauty salon in Gandhi Square, central Johannesburg –the same venue where Kadija attended her internship with JRS, which hired her later. “I can’t quit my job, whatever person that comes, brings more people,” she affirmed. Hopefully, soon, she will open the doors of her centre.

South Africa: Chiagozie

Chiagozie (27 years old, Nigeria) normally arrives to the salon at eleven in the morning, after taking care of her three years old daughter and her two-month son. A small and cosy establishment, Chiagozie Salon opened on March this year –after Chiagozie graduated at the JRS Arrupe Skills Centre (Johannesburg) in December 2018.  She came all the way to South Africa by car when she was 20 –due to family and inheritance issues after the death of her father. “They [her father’s relatives] said ‘You are a woman, you are not married, you can’t take properties...’ and I didn’t want the issue to get worse, so I gave it to then,” she explained, “I said ‘Ok, let me have my own life,’ I don’t want to go back.”

For six years, she made a living with different jobs, but she mostly offered haircuts, dreadlocks hairstyles and manicure with her godmother –who is also the owner of the salon with Chiagozie's name. “My sister [how Chiagozie calls her grandmother] was also the one who took me to Arrupe,” Chiagozie explained. Despite she had limited resources to afford the transportation costs to the centre, Chiagozie finished her make-up and nails course. “And I am still learning nails with my godmother at her other shop in Yeoville,” she added.

Currently, Chiagozie manages the salon and offers make-up, manicure, hairdressing and pedicure services, along with three employees. “When you start a business you have to be patience, strong and focus on what you want to do,” Chiagozie affirmed. She also stressed the importance of the social aspect of her job. “I like to talk with different people, especially in this kind of business, you have to be friendly, kind… if not they won’t come back again,” Chiagozie laughed.

Even though she is happy in South Africa, “sometimes it is tough, but that’s life, even your country is though,” she expressed, “In this life, things can’t be sweet all the time; sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry, and, at the end of the day, you wipe your tears.” With energy and determination, Chiagozie runs her business and her life.

Chiagozie and Chiagozie's Salon are fake names intended to preserve fthe privacy of the testimony.

Zimbabwe: Tantine Barantize

Tantine Barantize, a 20 years old refugee from Burundi, arrived to the Tongogara Refugee Camp, Zimbabwe, in 2013. There, she attended the JRS’s cosmetology and hairdressing vocational training. “I have learnt about how to treat hair, plaiting, blowing, and setting hair, manicure and pedicure,” she proudly accounted. With her achieved skills, she is able to generate an income. “The saloon makes us busy and reduce stress, life in the camp is not easy but we are able to cope with it,” Tantine added. 

Zimbabwe: Josephine Tshimanga

“My name is Josephine I was trained in cosmetology, hair dressing and beauty therapy at JRS,” told Josephine Tshimanga, 27 years old. Original from the DRC, she fled to the Tongogara Refugee Camp in 2009. “Currently, I am an intern in a group through the support of JRS staff; the skill fulfilled my dream to be trained in cosmetology,” she affirmed. In her opinion, the course helped her to improve is status within the refugee community, as well as enhancing her income from the $13 subsidy she receives every month. “My plan for the future plan is to run my own business to earn more money, so am grateful to JRS for teaching me this life skill,” she explained.

Zimbabwe: Bugingo Gustave

Bugingo Gustave (38 years old, DRC) has become a welding professional at the Tongogara Refugee Camp. “I trained under JRS/Silveira House trainings in arch welding and we are now working in groups to make different types of products,” he explained. Following client’s demands, they produce a wide array of products such as wheelbarrows, chariots, screen gates, bicycles carriers and stands. This way, the family can respond to their household needs. Yet, “The economic situation is not easy in Zimbabwe,” he expressed, “Our main challenge is the power supply due to long hours of electrical supply and diesel shortages in the country.” However, education and training have also helped him to feel more respected and encouraged to train other welders amongst the community at Tongogara.

Press Contact Information
Irene Galera
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