Malawi: the JRS I could see and touch
16 July 2012

Dzaleka camp in Malawi in the mid-nineties. (Michael Coyne)
I remember life in Dzaleka camp in Malawi from 1995 to 1997 both as a blessing and as one of the most stressful situations I've ever been in.

Ohio, 16 July 2012 - I remember life in Dzaleka camp in Malawi from 1995 to 1997 both as a blessing and as one of the most stressful situations I've ever been in. It was a blessing because I had a place where I legally belonged. It was home. I was alive, accounted for, fed, clothed and I could see a nurse or a doctor if I became ill. There were no more sounds of guns, grenades or bombs. It was calm; I could actually sleep. Before long, I handed over the tent in which I had been living and moved into a house. Even if many shared one house, a refugee camp with houses was a treat.

I sold rice, cooking oil and sugar in Dowa market to provide myself with what UNHCR did not offer. The Malawian people were the kindest ever. They bought my products, not because they really needed them, but because they did not want to disappoint me. I had to sell my wares in the tiniest possible units so that their desire to please me would not affect their tight budgets. What I read in their eyes was compassion, understanding and regret that they could not do more. They were poor but beautiful to me.

Life in Dzaleka was difficult for many reasons. We carried immeasurable pain from our home country. We had to rely on UNHCR delivery trucks for food. There was no clear way out of this life, no future prospects. I have always loved to pray and life in Dzaleka led me back to my knees. I prayed like I had never prayed before. At dawn, I went down to pray in the classrooms. At noon, a friend and I would head to a hill to pray, and in the evening we went again. In between I prayed silently in everything I did. I read the Bible and wanted desperately to believe the promises written there. But my faith had been greatly shaken; many prayers had not stopped the killing of innocent people in my country, even in churches. I was very confused about God but prayed nevertheless.

Joe Moretti of JRS was the answer to my prayers. All I got to know about Joe was that he was a volunteer from New Jersey. With our stories to tell, we refugees rarely gave those helping us the chance to tell their own. While Sr Yolanda and Sr Catherine kept the women busy knitting and sewing, Joe met some men and discussed philosophy; this was the group I preferred to join. I only had a high school diploma but needed to practise my English. Our group discussed many things but what stuck in my mind was the "pursuit of happiness". I had never heard that before. I connected this concept to another, "education is the key", which was something I had heard many times. I told Joe about my aspirations to go to college, to make a good living, and how it seemed totally impossible. He did not reply, he just listened, as he always did. I could not believe my ears and eyes when, the next time I saw Joe, he handed me some college application forms saying: "We may be able to get you there." "We" meant JRS.

I graduated with a bachelor's degree in business studies from Africa University in Zimbabwe in 2001. I moved to the USA in 2003 where I completed a master's degree in business management and worked for a few years. However, inspired by Joe and other good people in my life, especially my husband and in-laws, I became convinced that true happiness comes from giving happiness to others in God's name. With this updated definition of happiness, I have made a shift and am pursuing a master's degree in divinity. I plan to join the United Methodist men and women to make this world a better place.

Joe always insisted it was not him but JRS that helped me. However, he was the JRS I could see and touch. Oswald Chambers once wrote: "You are born into this world and may never know to whose prayers your life is the answer." Joe was the answer to mine. He now lives with the Lord and in the many hearts he touched. Every Easter and Christmas I put flowers on the altar in his memory, praying that his sacrifice and efforts will always be rewarded by my life and by all those he worked tirelessly to help. 

Claudine Leary

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