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Uniting people through art

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Since his entry into Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa eight years ago, Valene Bashir has never experienced any fun let alone watching live performances until last year when fellow refugee Menes la Plume real name Tresor Mpauni created the free Tumaini Festival.

Over 3,000 people attended the festival last year, watching 20 acts from across the country sharing the stage with performers from Dzaleka.

Last year saw Tumaini Festival uniting performers from seven countries namely DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Belgium, UK and Italy.

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According to Menes, the production team also brought together Malawians and refugees.

He said the festival united local and international artists based in Malawi to celebrate unity, peace, and coexistence as well as bring hope to displaced people in Dzaleka and improve the economy in the camp.

Menes, a refugee from DRC, said the festival attracted media attention and had a very positive impact on refugees.

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“It presented 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,” said the artist.

And back to Bashir, the last time he attended a festival bringing a huge audience was in his home country.

He is a carpenter by profession but is also an artist as during his free time he takes time to recite poems.

Bashir thinks his talent would have been way up had it been he was still in DRC.

But conflicts in his home country left him with no choice but to run for his dear life.

He would have run to any other country as long as he was out of DRC, but having heard about the peace in Malawi, he decided to make way to the Warm Heart of Africa.

So there he was running with nothing but only clothes which he was wearing and he had no idea, where his relatives had run to.

Bashir slept in the bush for some days before he finally found his way out – meeting a Mozambican truck driver who accepted to take him to Malawi.

“My journey was safe because the driver was a good person and then later made way to Dzaleka Refugee Camp which is now my home,” he said as he made way to the small house where he stays.

Before he made way to his house, a young lady greeted us and we responded.

And as she disappeared from our sight making way to the Tumaini Festival, Bashir said:

“She was born here.”

Entering Dzaleka Refugee Camp, one would simply think, the place is full of tents, but nay this is a village which now houses close to 19,000 refugees from such countries like DRC, Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and Somalia.

It is a village of many faces where one sees some refugees living in grass thatched houses while the lucky ones live in iron sheet houses.

For some, life has been very difficult but others have used their various resources to do businesses.

It is a village where one is able to see the many faces of poverty.

Inside the Dzaleka Refugee Camp there is also a market and during the festival, some women were drawing water, others were watching clothes while some men were washing maintaining their houses.

And now after eight years at Dzaleka, Bashir said he does not want to go back because “his enemies” are still alive and would not hesitate to kill him.

“There is peace in Malawi and I am comfortable staying here,” said Bashir, who as a carpenter has his own workshop.

Married now, Bashir praises Menes for uniting them with other nations through Tumaini Festival.

“We are not allowed to go outside, we do not have the freedom but today through this festival you can see many are enjoying and having fun, forgetting all their troubles for once while others are even showcasing their talent,” he said.

Bashir also said he will live to remember the 2015 festival as he watched live musicians like Lawi and Faith Mussa.

“We only listen to these artists on the radio, many of us do not know them but today I saw some of them and Lawi and Faith Mussa were just amazing. I hope we have more artists performing here,” he said.

Today Bashir can even speak Chichewa but not fluently.

Founder of the Lake of Stars Festival Will Jameson said they got involved in supporting Tumaini Festival since its debut last year.

“We linked up with Menes la Plume and we were impressed with the concept. This is a positive festival which will bring business and also it is a platform which brings together different cultures,” said Jameson.

Menes who this year took advantage of the festival to launch his debut album titled Far from Home, said the Tumaini Festival has grown.

“This year we have more performing spaces compared to last year and so many performances,” he said.

The only challenge this year was that there was no electricity from Escom due to a faulty transformer.

Menes said Dzaleka has been without Escom electricity for close to four months and that they had no choice but to use generators.

It was still difficult for them using generators as now and then power was cut and performances were affected.

But despite this challenge, the performances still went on until the end with the impressive audience appreciating all the acts although Mussa killed it all.

The main stage also appeared to be smaller restricting artists from dancing and was food for thought that next year, they should improve.

Through other organisations, the festival also managed to screen some movies.

The artist maintained that through Tumaini Festival, he wants to promote unity and co-existence between Malawians and refugees as well as create unity among human beings.

He observed that within the crowd there were people from different countries and that on stage artists from different countries also performed.

Having stayed for seven years at Dzaleka, Menes said he has seen the other side of life as a refugee.

“We do not have freedom, we are not allowed to work, we cannot go to Malawian universities but with art, I managed to create my own opportunity,” said the artist.

He then urges fellow refugees not to despair but to find ways.

“We don’t have to wait for people; we have talent and resources which we can use to create opportunities,” said Menes.

To Malawians, the artist said “we are the same and we can work together to build the African continent.”

This is why he took a huge step in his debut album to work with musicians of different nationalities.

He recorded the song ‘Ndife Amodzi’ with Faith Mussa to show unity, love and co-existence.

Menes 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.

And 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.

Although he is the front runner in driving the festival, Menes said Tumaini which is derived from a Swahili word meaning hope, is organised by the Dzaleka Cultural Association.

Apart from Mussa and Lawi, the other performances this year included Amahoro Drummers, Malaika Band, Mganda, The Vagina Monologues, George Kalukusha, Young Chilaga, Bombe Celeste, Etoile de la Paix and Gule Wamkulu.

This is a festival that brought joy and hope to the refugees and as Mussa closed the curtain for Tumaini this year, some could not believe all that was good was coming to an end but as they say all good things must come to an end – so the festival ended.

Some fans tried to delay Mussa’s performance but time was up.

Others even tried to coax him to continue performing saying they will give him accommodation in Dzaleka but the fun had to come to an end and no wonder, some stormed the stage to congratulate Mussa for the splendid performance.

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