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Hugo in action with his camera in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi. He creates videos for local organizations and the greater community. (Sarah Morsheimer/Jesuit Refugee Service)

Dzaleka, 16 June 2017 – As I walked up to Hugo he had a camera and phone in his hands and was talking with friends. As a community journalist, Hugo, 22 years old, is assigned with documenting and disseminating news and events happening at Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi.

He greeted me with a contagious smile and we immediately started talking about our cameras, sharing in our excitement for communications work.  

Hugo came to Dzaleka in 2013 after war and violence erupted in his hometown in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After one month trying to flee the country, he and his brother walked for two to three days until they reached Uganda.

There, a Tanzanian priest found them and allowed them to stay in a parish in Tanzania until they could safely be taken to Malawi where they registered as refugees in Dzaleka.
With a secondary education, Hugo sought out JRS higher education programmes in the camp. It was through this programme that Hugo met Gushwell Brooks, former JRS Communications Officer for Southern Africa, who introduced the community journalist programme.

Hugo has been volunteering as a community journalist since 2015 and officially signed a contract with JRS in 2016. He regularly produces short documentaries about refugees, their stories and their achievements. He has a studio where he makes music and videos. As a talented filmmaker, he even runs filmmaking workshops at the Arrupe Learning Center where he trains people in shooting and editing.

Recently, one of the three community journalists, Robert, was resettled to the United States and another, Joseph, may be resettled soon. With only Hugo left, he is using these workshops to be able to train future community journalists.

“I love my work and I want to share that with other people. There is so much going on here in Dzaleka, we need more people to help tell these stories.”

Hugo also writes articles, takes photos, and films for big events in Dzaleka such as graduations and World Refugee Day. He helps JRS higher education programmes with their newsletters, communications, and administration. He and another community journalist also work collaboratively on a local newsletter that provides the community with updates, upcoming events, and most importantly, stories of success and hope.  

Now, Hugo has organizations coming to him seeking his skills and expertise. He works with them to amplify their voices and build their work in the community.

One group he works closely with is Salama Africa, an organization that empowers youth in the community by providing them skills and activities. He writes articles for them and helps with their social media.

“I think people realize the importance of getting the word out about their organization. After a filmmaker came and featured Salama Africa’s dance group in one of his films, they were featured on a major international news channel.”

Hugo is helping the world to hear about Dzaleka and to humanize refugees by telling their stories. In light of the global shift towards xenophobia and closed borders, his work is more important now than ever.

“I want to help other refugees get their voices heard and I want to empower them to tell their own stories. If I can help do that and if I can help other people realize that refugees are humans, too, then I have done my job.”

- Sarah Morsheimer, International Communications Assistant