Being from Malawi, I’m always excited to find partners to work with that are based there. And so it was when I started to talk to Florisa Magambi of There is Hope, a charity based in Malawi that works with a group of some of the 20,000 refugees who are based in Malawi, to help them find sustainable livelihoods, whether through education, training or business micro finance. There is Hope’s hand-made craft brands Umoja Cards and Kibebe products are currently in stock with Sapelle, just in time for Christmas.
There is Hope was conceived in 2006 by Innocent Magambi, Florisa’s husband, a Burundian national who has lived in different refugee camps within eastern and southern Africa since his birth. Their vision is to see refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable people in the host community rise above difficult circumstances by fully utilizing their potential and becoming self-sufficient and making a positive contribution to society.
I had the privilege of chatting to Florisa about what they do and what life is life for the people There is Hope works with. Read on to find out about the inspiring work There is Hope is doing.
How did you get involved with There is Hope?
I lived in Malawi in 2004 volunteering for a small local NGO. I became friends with a Congolese refugee who told me about Dzaleka refugee camp. Over time I decided to ask the pastor of the church I attended in Lilongwe whether we could look into ways of supporting the people living in Dzaleka camp. When the pastor and I visited Dzaleka, the pastor got talking to Innocent, a Burundian refugee man, and they kept in touch.
Two years later I was living in London but still could not forget my visit to Dzaleka. I felt strongly that I should come back to Malawi and support the church’s involvement with the refugee community. The pastor introduced me to Innocent, whom they had helped go to college in Malawi’s capital, and who had in the meantime developed the concept for There is Hope. After we talked, I decided to become a part of the work he was envisioning.
Fast-forward a couple of years and here we are: married and working together. We have had four children, the first of whom a girl called Mwiza, born with the rare brain malformation holoprosencephaly, only lived 20 months and stretched our hearts and minds beyond the imaginable, showing us what parents of disabled children go through. We now raise three boys: Teo (3) and twins Sammy & Jo (19 months).
Tell us about Innocent, There is Hope’s founder
Innocent was born in a small refugee settlement in DR Congo in 1979. His parents had fled the tribal conflict in Burundi seven years earlier. The war broke out in DR Congo when Innocent was a teenager, forcing him to flee. Innocent in turn became a refugee: over the next decade he lived in numerous camps across Eastern and Southern Africa.
At age 26, a church in Malawi’s capital city offered Innocent a scholarship to study theology. For the first time in his life, Innocent was able to live outside the confines of a refugee camp. He subsequently went on to found “There is Hope”, to help provide opportunities for refugees and their host community to grow in their capacity to live with dignity, providing for their families and making a positive contribution to society.
Innocent’s story was captured in the memoir “Refugee for Life” available on Amazon Kindle store.
We work with refugees and Malawians living in and around Dzaleka Camp.
The overarching aim of our work is building the capacity of people to sustain themselves. For highly academic young men and women, we sponsor their university education. For some women who might not read or write but who can run market stalls, or start farming, we give loans for business initiatives. The list goes on. People are different, but each person can do something to get out of dependency.
One area of our work is crafts. We have found that people in Dzaleka are very skilled with their hands. A lot of women can sew, crochet or weave baskets. We now work with groups of women who can produce items we design that are sold on the international market, and a group of people with disabilities or parents of disabled children who make the Umoja greeting cards. This second group also hand-packages a line of natural soaps that we make with Baobab oil just outside the refugee camp.
A mother would wake up about 5:30am to make a simple porridge with maize flour and salt for the family – if they have that. Most people go without breakfast, or eat cold leftovers from the previous day. People who go farming would wake up 4am.
The local school currently has a ratio of over 100 kids per teacher. Those who don’t have a form of income, or relatives sending them money, only eat one meal (dinner) so that they can sleep well. For lunch those who have nothing to do might go and hang out at their friends’ house, hoping they will share their lunch. Meals mostly consists of maize meal and beans, veg. If people have extra income they will buy rice, plantains, sweet potato and dried fish.
Other chores will include going to the borehole to fetch water, used for cooking, bathing and washing clothes.
Edward has a severe leg disability. He tells of how he fled the Democratic Republic of Congo when the war broke out – his home was attacked by soldiers who raped his wife, and she died after a few days. Edward and the children fled for Malawi but they separated along the way and he does not know where they are to this day. Edward’s older brother died and left two daughters that Edward has been raising in Dzaleka.
Today Edward has been working on the Umoja cards project for 4 years, he has a stable income that has enabled him to re-marry and a son was born to him and his wife this year. In his culture, a man who wants to get married is required to pay a few thousand dollars as dowry, as well as being able to provide for the family needs. Edward still has a very basic lifestyle, and outstanding needs, but he is a providing husband and father because of his work as part of Umoja cards.
What is Christmas time like at There is Hope?
Our staff team is made of people from Africa, Europe and North America, from all kinds of backgrounds. At Christmas we spend time with friends or family, for those who have relatives near. For the refugees a big thing for Christmas is – if they can afford to – have a family meal of rice and meat and a soft drink (few refugees can afford that normally), and ideally buy some “new” clothes or shoes from the second-hand market stalls. Friends and family visit each other and spend time chatting and laughing, taking a break from their normal daily routines.
We sell through a few shops in Lilongwe, and one in Blantyre, Malawi; and we sell direct at the Lilongwe Farmers Market once a month. Apart from Sapelle in the UK, we have a couple of other international stockists like Mayamiko in the UK and Dsenyo and GlobeIn in the USA. In 2016 we’re looking forward to finding ways of expanding our overseas sales to distributors of hand-crafted goods from developing Countries.
We hope by then to be operating in at least two African counties, reaching a lot more people, having set up social enterprises that both give jobs to people, and help us generate funds to implement more of our charitable activities.
Funding is always a big obstacle. Our work is growing, and the potential to affect positive change is huge, but we are limited by funds as to how much we can do, how many people we can employ, and therefore how many we can help. We need to find some large size, long term funding sources.