Sr. Agathe Mukamuligo, Lilongwe community (Malawi)
Who are they? Where do they come from? Where are they going? They are men and women, young people and children who live as a family, not having their own family nearby. There are many widows and single mothers. They come from the Great Lakes countries in Central Africa, and are now in the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the Dowa district of Malawi. Where are they going? They are here, waiting for a host country or continent. Most dream of the USA, Canada, Australia and Sweden. They form the community of life and faith of St Ignatius of Loyola. They have the right to refugee status, but some of them have been waiting for a long time: 21 years for some, 20 years for others, 5 years, 3 years or 1 year for the last arrivals. And they continue to arrive.
Although they have the right to health care, it is sometimes difficult to get the right care at the right time. They have the right to food but their rations have been cut for some time. They have the right to education and can study, thanks to the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) which provides a primary and secondary school for them and for children from local families in the surrounding area. Due to Covid, the children had to be divided into small study groups in the morning and afternoon. This means that these children spend a lot of time in their neighborhoods or houses, stuck together. In addition, we can already feel the consequences of the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Despite these conditions they live in hope…. And I too with them… I often sing “If hope has made you walk further than your fear…” (Si l’espérance t’a fait marcher plus loin que ton coeur…)
I started my apostolate in Dzaleka in December 2021. The camp is 50 km from our community in Lilongwe. I work in pastoral care with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) with a Jesuit priest from the Great Lakes countries like me. He deals mainly with education and I meet mothers and leaders of the eight Christian communities, young people and children. I listen to them and share their lives. We have opportunities to pray together. Twice a week in addition to Sundays I meet with working groups, Catholic Action movements and visit families, finding out who they are and what they are going through in their search for a better life.
The group of young people aged 17 to 24 is very much affected by the events in their countries of origin. They were born either on the way to exile or in a camp in Tanzania… and now they are in Dzaleka. Those of Rwandan or Burundian nationality do not know their country. Others speak only Chichewa, and a little Kiswahili, and they are learning English. One young person does not have refugee status, because his origin does not entitle him to this official paper, and he is not entitled to a scholarship like the others, even if he has done well in secondary school.
We share our faith with them and support them in what they do, so that their lives may bear fruits of joy and hope. Together we fight against the enemies of judgment and fear. We want to become peacemakers and bearers of hope in our communities, living justice and reconciliation like our small Christian communities. Listening to the voice of the Spirit, we want to open doors so as to respond today to the cries of humanity present in these refugees.
“I have come that they may have life and have it to the full”. (Jn 10:10)