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Malawi

Tumaini festival unites refugees and locals in Malawi

Tumaini festival is one of a kind: Over the weekend it brought together refugees and locals at Malawi's Dzaleka refugee camp. Together they listened to music, theater and poetry.

Tumaini" means "hope" in Swahili and for many residents of Dzaleka, the Tumaini festival means exactly that; an opportunity to forget their sufferings.

"I have come to Tumaini to gather with my fellow refugees," Rwandan refugee George Ngendayimana told DW. "As you can see, we are having fun."

Dzaleka is Malawi's only permanent camp for refugees. It is home to approximately 25,000 people mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi. There are also smaller populations from Ethiopia, Eritrea and neighboring Mozambique.

It's not an easy life for them. Last year, the World Food Program had to cut food rations over lack of funds. Dzaleka's residents got only 40 percent of the daily recommended minimum of calories.

A group of children standing in front of a group of tourists.

Even some foreign tourists attended the festival

'Giving hope through culture'

That's what Tumaini founder Menes La Plum had in mind when he started the festival. Menes, a Congolese slam poet, came to Malawi as a refugee in 2008. "I got very depressed and I just understood that there was something missing which was giving hope to people through culture, giving entertainment to people, giving people an opportunity to smile," La Plum said.

He started Tumaini Letu, a small organization that started to organize cultural events in the community. "When I got many connections in the country, I decided to make it bigger, to stage an international festival in the camp," La Plum said.

Artists from all over the continent

This year's festival is the third - and the biggest so far. It included music, poetry, theater and drama in four different locations. Musicians from Malawi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia and Zambia performed.

"I am happy about what happens today. I have come here twice and I can see the change because there are now different people around," said a refugee who only gave his name as Pascal.

Eine Gruppe Tänzer mit roten Hemden und weißen Shorts tanzt vor einer Menge.

Dancers from Malawi also performed for the refugees

The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR is one of the sponsors of the festival. "We know that refugees have challenges, they face a lot of issues including xenophobia in many situations," UNHCR Malawi representative Monique Ekoko said. By showcasing their talents, the festival should help to change that. "We are trying to tell the world that a refugee is somebody just like you and me," Ekoko said.

German citizen Roben was one of a number of expatriates who also come to the festival. "There are lots of artists coming from this camp," Roben said, "It's a very diverse place with people from all over Africa. This festival is an opportunity to come and show what they can do in terms of music, artisanship and arts. Yes, I am having fun and it's good to meet people here."