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Malawi: hearing it on the community radio
24 April 2014

Masumbuko Ramazan in the studio of Dzaleka Community Radio. (Leah Marais/JRS)
When new people arrive in the camp, sometimes in the middle of the night, this communication helps them to connect with people they may know and who could provide assistance.
Dzaleka, 24 April 2014 – How do you give reliable news to people in a camp of 17,000 refugees from different African countries where word of mouth communication often results in rumours and confusion? This is the challenge a community refugee radio station in Dzaleka refugee camp has sought to overcome.

Dzaleka refugee camp is one hour from the Malawian capital of Lilongwe. There are few power outlets and people are poor. Most refugees in Dzaleka are from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia and Uganda. Refugees in Malawi are neither allowed to work in the country, nor encouraged to travel outside the camp, according to government policy.

Byamungu R Joseph Papa, a French-speaking refugee, arrived in the camp in 1997.

Voices. Eight years later he established what was later to be called Dzaleka Community Radio Voice of Refugees. Using a battery, an amplifier and a megaphone, he started broadcasting news and music from his home in the camp. Still single at the time, only neighbours within hearing distance were woken up by his early morning news broadcasts.

With speakers placed on the roof of his home, he broadcasted announcements of new arrivals and lost goats, international news and music programmes. The international news broadcasts, produced by the BBC, were relayed through his radios to the refugee community, keen to hear news about home countries.

The Dzaleka Community Radio Voice of Refugees was a success, Byamungu said.

"Leaders from different communities in the camp came and said this communication was needed, especially if people needed to be notified of something".

In response to this need for information, expressed by the refugee community, the Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins (JC:HEM) began offering a certificate course, known as a Community Service Learning Track (CSLT). The community radio project was established as part of a Communications and Journalism certificate course.

After the course ended last year, a number of graduates, including Byamungu, established the Dzaleka Community Communicators Association (DCCA), which in turn launched the Dzaleka Community Radio station, based in the camp community centre. The Jesuit Refugee Service provided the equipment for the community initiative. Solar-power speakers were purchased to make the initiative sustainable in the long term.

Dzaleka Community Radio station broadcasts twice a day, early morning and evening. Regular programmes include announcements, greetings, sports and a music countdown. Special programmes are broadcast on child protection, social education, HIV/AIDS, sanitation, counselling and sexual- and-gender-based violence (SGBV).

"When new people arrive in the camp, sometimes in the middle of the night, this communication helps them to connect with people they may know and who could provide assistance", said Masumbuko Ramazan, another graduate of the JC:HEM Communications and Journalism CLST and member of the DCCA.

Another chance. Masumbuko, a journalist from Congo, left the country in 2011.

"One day someone called me at the radio station in Baraka and warned me of fighting nearby. I closed the station, but rebels came and destroyed the place because it was broadcasting information. As a journalist my life was in danger; that is why I left the country".

Now in Dzaleka, he has an opportunity to pursue his passion for journalism.

"Sometimes people want to control the information or spread stories about other people", Byamungu added and told the following.

"A policeman came to arrest me one day when I was announcing over the radio here in Dzaleka. He said that someone accused me of saying that some people must be killed. Then I asked him what language this person heard, because the people in the camp speak many languages including English, French, Kirundi and Swahili. When I'm announcing I have my voice recorder on, so I told the policeman that I can bring this to a court to prove that I did not say these things. They let me go."

At the 2013 graduation ceremony of the Performing Arts CLST students, Robert Mbanda, the president of the DCCA emphasised the importance of having skilled communicators in the camp.

"Our aim is to abolish rumours in the camp and its surrounding areas, since many people don't have reliable sources of information. Those rumours are destroying people's lives. We, as community communicators, have learnt skills to change such situations."

Press Contact Information
James Stapleton
+39 06 69 868 468