Dzaleka sings hope
It all started in a simple way three years ago when Menes la Plume, real name Tresor Nzengu Mpauni— a Congolese living at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa— decided to create a platform that would connect people in the camp to the outside world.
Hatching the idea was another thing and putting it on the ground to start functioning was yet another thing.
There are a lot of challenges at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. People who fled their countries from various challenges live there and, for them, nothing gives them more peace than enjoying the warmth of the Warm Heart of Africa – Malawi.
Dzaleka is a refugee camp located in Dowa District, 45 kilometres from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi.
It has a population of approximately 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Burundi, with smaller numbers of people from Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan and other countries.
Menes has lived at Dzaleka for close to nine years and, for him, life has been full of ups and downs. He is referring to life that has seen him being confined to the camp, which is fenced.
One cannot move out of the camp without permission.
Menes is known in arts circles as a Congolese slam poet. He found himself in Malawi in 2008 as a political refugee from the DRC.
He 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 third year and went into exile in Zambia where he did not stay long before proceeding to Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi.
Living at Dzaleka, Menes played an active role in forming the Dzaleka Cultural Association with the aim of promoting cultural exchange among refugees.
And, so, Menes continues with his poetry, even as a refugee. He still performs, advocating refugee rights and peace in Africa.
He has performed at several festivals including the 2013 City of Stars, the 2014 and 2015 Lake of Stars and the forgotten Mwezi Wawala festival.
In November 2014, Menes introduced the free festival, known as Tumaini, at Dzaleka.
Tumaini is a Swahili word meaning hope. Menes created the festival to bring hope to fellow refugees.
Despite several challenges in the camp, Menes decided to ignore the negatives and promote arts as a tool for change – focused on the positives.
He saw talent in the camp, talent that ranged from music, visual arts, poetry, drama and dance. However, there was no platform for such talent.
And the only way to have this art exposed was through Tumaini. And, today, Tumaini has changed the face of Dzaleka and brought hope to many a refugee.
Random interviews with some of them indicated that, every November, they look forward to this festival to interact with people from the outside, tell their stories and also hear stories from visitors.
In the month of November, refugees forget all their problems and take time out to have fun.
In the month of November, the refugees take time out to speak out through poetry, music and drama.
This is the month when the refugees also take time out to sell different items and make a kill.
They have shops inside but, during the course of this one-day festival, which Menes hints could be extended to two days come next year, they make huge profits.
Through this festival, there is also a cultural exchange initiative where, apart from learning each others’ languages, people get to eat different foods.
One of the foods that people enjoyed during the festival was Chapati, which they ate with sausage or roasted meat known as Nyamachoma. I enjoyed it too.
Just like in 2016, the weather on November 4 2017 was good and convenient for an outdoor event; it was sunny as people enjoyed performances, from morning to the evening.
Tumaini is the only festival that takes place at a refugee camp and Menes and team normally raise the funds for the festival through crowd funding.
“We would like to thank everyone who came to celebrate peace, love and togetherness through Tumaini. We were honoured to host 67 acts from 11 nationalities performing on five different stages,” Menes said with a smile.
Tired after a long day that saw him moving from one stage to the other just to check how things were progressing, Menes revealed that over 10,000 people from all walks of life interacted without any barriers during the festival.
He also said that close to 100 volunteers worked at the festival which, he indicated, has proved to be one of the fastest growing festivals in Malawi.
Festivals have to be vibrant and active in all stages and that was the case with Tumaini on November 4.
People had to choose where to go from the main Elikya stage, which hosted music performances from, among others, Tay Grin, who closed the chapter, Ernest Ikwanga, Hazel Mak, Waliko Makhala and Mubanga Band.
Then, there was the Cultural Ground that hosted traditional dances, including Gule Wamkulu. There was the Kwizera Stage, which also brought music performances from Malala, Code Sangala, Zathu Band, Daughters Band and Mbanaye, just to mention a few.
Drama and poetry lovers had their share in the theatre and poetry corners.
“I have watched different festivals but this one has captured my attention. It’s very unique and happening in a refugee camp makes it even more interesting. I have talked to some of the refugees and learned how they live. I surely would like to come back next year,” John from the United Kingdom said.
Musician Sam Shaba said sometimes people just take it for granted, calling refugees different names but do not know the stories behind their faces.
“Their stories are very touching. Some of them walked long journeys to come here in the search for peace. I am happy that this festival gives them hope and gives them the podium to express themselves,” Shaba said.
One of the refugees, who described himself as Rafiq, said:
“I have a family, my children came here when they were young but now they are grown up. But its difficult to live here, where sometimes you miss out on entertainment but a big thank you to Menes for creating this; we are able to see some of artists live.
“I am happy today to have seen Tay Grin live and Waliko Makhala. I am happy to have met people from Blantyre, Lilongwe and some from overseas,” he said.
Germany Ambassador to Malawi, Juergen Borsch, caps it all by saying the festival raises hope.
“It’s great to be here, it’s really fun to see how the vision of Menes has come out through this festival. Showcasing different talents. It’s just great to see how innovative the artists are and this is the spirit of this festival,” Borsch said.
He said arts is not about big money but bringing people together and that this was why the Germany Embassy decided to be part of Tumaini.
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