Dzaleka, 6 May 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.
Dzaleka refugee camp was established 20 years ago on land owned by the Malawian government. To date the average stay of a refugee in the camp is between 10 and 15 years. In this difficult and uncertain environment, a number of graduates from the Jesuit Refugee Service online higher education programme have taken steps to give back to their community and to Malawi.
The graduates of the Jesuit Commons Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) programme have established the Education and Plantation Strategies Association (EPSA). The aim of this small community organisation is to plant 6,000 fruit trees in three years in Malawi. They started planting trees throughout Dzaleka camp in August 2013.
Sayed Mohamed Ali Haibe, the chairperson of the EPSA, explained that they do not want to stop at planting trees only in the camp, they want to plant trees throughout 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 counters climate change and air pollution. It serves the whole community", says EPSA member, Omar Hamed.
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 classes in community gardening, the certificate course referred to as Community Service Learning Track (CSLT). The establishment of the sustainable agriculture and gardening course has seen the creation a community garden and the introduction of a permaculture project, which is being replicated in many refugee gardens. In the coming months, the graduates hope to develop integrated rabbit and pig breeding programmes in the camp.
Byaombe Swedi, a counsellor in the camp, explained that when people participate in community activities, 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.
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 email@example.com.