Festival of hope
We all need a better life and that entails having a good shelter and food among others as well as living peacefully.
But there are circumstances that have forced some to separate with their families and flee their country. The reasons may be of war and other political differences.
It was not an easy journey for them to flee their countries, but thank God they are still alive and have found solace at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa.
Menes la Plume real name Trésor Nzengu Mpauni is a Congolese slam poet.
He found himself in the country in 2008 as a political refugee from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Menes, who was last year featured on Al Jazeera where he told his story, fled his country after becoming a target for politicians, who claimed his poems criticised the leadership.
Knowing his fate, Menes dropped out of college in his third year and went into exile in Zambia where he did not stay long before proceeding to Dzaleka.
At Dzaleka, Menes took an active role in forming Dzaleka Cultural Association which aims at promoting cultural exchange among the refugees.
Menes continues with his poetry even as a refugee and still performs advocating for refugee rights and peace in Africa.
He has performed in different festivals including the City of Stars and Lake of Stars among others.
But despite performing in different platforms outside Dzaleka, Menes still felt there was a gap between refugees and Malawians.
It was then that in November 2014, he created a festival known as Tumaini.
Today Menes, who last year took advantage of the festival to launch his album titled Imagine, which featured several artists, is happy that Tumaini has helped, bring about smiles on the faces of refugees.
“Life has not been easy, if we look back to where we have come from, tears just come out. There are some in the camp, who lost their brothers and sisters and have lost hope, life to them is useless. But despite all that, I thought I should bring in something through art that would offer hope,” Menes said.
Thus the creation of Tumaini which seeks to bring joy, hope and allow refugees to reduce the trauma and forget about the persecutions that led people into fleeing their countries to become refugees.
“Tumaini is a Swahili word which means hope and so this festival is all about giving hope to the hopeless. I am glad today that the festival has grown and has been embraced by many and this year the number of people who attended was better than last year,” Menes said.
He said the festival has helped unearth talent from Dzaleka adding that some of the artists citing Salama Africa Dance Crew have gone on to do well in competitions such as Times Television’s Ka Jive.
Such is the beauty of this free festival which happens on a day starting in the morning through to the afternoon and features several acts.
Menes said this year was even special in that the festival was officially opened by the director of culture in the Ministry of Civic Education, Culture and Community Development.
“It’s exciting because the government now recognises the importance of this festival which brings together refugees and people from different countries to network and enjoy different performances,” he said.
Another refugee, who only identified himself as Joseph but is a dancer, said the festival also gives them time as refugees to interact with people from outside as in most cases they are not allowed to go outside.
“We are not allowed to go outside and for you to go outside there is a process that you follow. Again there are a lot of artists here but they do not have the platform to showcase their talents so Tumaini has offered that chance,” he said.
The festival this year encountered few challenges unlike last year where they did not have a stand-by generator in readiness of the power shortage the country is currently experiencing.
This year also saw five performance stages with the main stage featuring performances from among others Faith Mussa, Malala, Waliko Makhala, Chimz Kelly from Zambia, poet Robert Chiwamba and Mbanaye.
“This is my second time to perform at this festival and I am excited. The way people embrace the performances it motivates you to keep on doing the best.
“The festival has improved a lot and it is one of the rarest festivals I have ever had because it brings together different cultures with people from different countries and as an artist these are the platforms to embrace,” he said.
Malala, who performed at the festival for the first time said he was impressed with the warm reception.
“Sometimes we take things for granted that people do not listen to our songs and coming down to Dzaleka for the first time I didn’t know what to expect. But the support I got was out of this world and people were singing to my songs,” said the Blantyre-based musician.
Apart from getting the much needed entertainment, people surrounding Dzaleka also have a chance to see some of their favourite artists performing live.
“It is rare to see artists like Faith Mussa performing here on their own or artists like Chimz Kelly from Zambia. So we are glad that through the Tumaini Festival we are able to see some of the musicians live.
“Lawi is one of my favourite artists but I only listen to his songs on the radio and I was happy to see him live last year,” said Wilson Billiat, who came all the way from Dowa turnoff.
A visual artist, Simon John, also had time to display his works during the festival and sold some of them.
“This festival has turned into a money spinner for me because I sell my artworks. I hope it continues to run as well as get the necessary support,” John said.
Business people also make a kill during the festival and this year it was very hot and that meant people scrambling for cold drinks.
It was also a chance for people to sample food such as Chapati and eggs which sold like hot cakes.
“People here love Chapati and eggs and it’s the common food,” said one of the people, who was selling Chapati.
Menes said they struggled this year to raise funds for the festival and that they did not get any support from organisations before going for Crowd Funding where they raised 6,000 Euros out of the total budget of $13,000.
“I am happy also because the festival united local and international artists to celebrate unity, peace, and co-existence, bring hope to displaced people in Dzaleka and empower the economy in the camp,” he said.
He also said that the festival attracted media attention both local and international.
“The festival presents a unique opportunity for refugees to share aspects of their lives with interested visitors, to exhibit and sell their crafts and to feel the hope of connection to a wider community,” he said.
During the festival, some people from outside took time to tour the camp which is a big community and people live in different houses – some in grass-thatched houses.
Inside Dzaleka, there are also churches, groceries, markets, carpentry and joinery workshops but on this day of the festival, they all took out of their other busy schedules to enjoy the only festival that happens at Dzaleka.
Dzaleka Refugee Camp which is located 45 kilometres from Lilongwe is said to have a population of approximately 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers from mainly DRC, Rwanda and Burundi with smaller numbers of people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other countries.
So the refugees may be living in the confines of Dzaleka with little or no movement outside and they have so many worries but in Tumaini Festival they have hope.
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