When I prepare to go to Malawi, I have to call my bank, my cell phone provider, and my doctor. Their first question is always, "Did you say, 'Malawi? How do you spell that?" Malawi is not usually on Americans' top 10 lists of countries that they might have heard of in Africa. (This is better, though, than US higher ed students I've taught in the past who thought Africa was a country. Sigh. We have a long way to go with higher ed in the US. But that's another story.)
Malawi is a small, African country in the south east region of the continent, nearly nestled inside of Mozambique. Dzaleka refugee camp is in the middle, close enough to the capital of Lilongwe that I can stay there and commute each day to visit the students at the learning center where our higher education students gather. Driving from Lilongwe to Dzaleka is a fun experience what with the animals and traffic and people everywhere. Malawi is a beautiful country, but there are just a lot of people on the roads.
Dzaleka opened in 1994 to take in refugees from the genocides and wars in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Much smaller than Kakuma in Kenya, Dzaleka seems laid back and chill by comparison with its 27,000 people. I'm instantly loving everything about Malawi - the lush green landscape that appears for 4 months of the year, the very laid back culture, and the smaller refugee camp which feels more like an African village and less like a place that time forgot.
I can breathe here; there is humidity in the air and a breeze. This Florida girl appreciates the little things.
The experiences of our students living in Dzaleka are no less grinding than they are in Kakuma, and each person has a story. Their stories are worth exploring. Doing this not only gives them a voice, but helps higher education leaders understand why it's so important for people - all people - to have access to the very things that will make a difference in their lives.