By Sam Banda Jnr:
On a Friday, as the annual two-day Tumaini Festival opened its doors at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, one person was more than happy that finally the festival had come.
For a year, he had been running up and down, putting things together and in some cases spending sleepless nights all because he wanted to give Tumaini Festival the best signature.
Putting on a simple Tumaini T-shirt, one would not even imagine that this is the brains behind a festival that has today made a big name in Malawi and outside the country and is growing so fast.
“Welcome to this year’s festival. We have grown and this year it’s two days of fun,” says the founder, with a smile as he welcomes some Germans.
They are at the festival for the first time and having been to several festivals across the world, they decided to come down to Malawi and experience a free festival held at a refugee camp.
“This is my first time in Malawi and my first time at Tumaini Festival and my first time at a refugee camp. This is really nice and I am in love with it although it’s only the first day,” says one of the German’s describing himself as Manfred.
Apart from enjoying some of the performances on the first day, Manfred and friends have already had a taste of the popular food Chapatti, which is made from flour.
Welcome to Tumaini Festival, a gathering that aims at giving hope to the hopeless targeting mostly refugees.
Tumaini is a Swahili word which means hope and was created by none other than Trésor Nzengu Mpauni, widely known as ‘Menes la Plume’, in the creative industry.
A Congolese slam poet, Menes maintains that the festival which started in 2014 aims at bringing joy and hope to refugees and promote the refugee camp as a place of unity, peace, co-existence and harmony.
But how did Menes find himself at Dzaleka?
“I came to Malawi when I was 25, that is 10 years ago. When I left home, I went to Zambia first as it is only 100km from my home town Lubumbashi and as Zambia was not taking new refugees that time, I was advised to go to another country and that time Malawi was the closest and safest for me,” he says.
When he came to Malawi, he was taken to Dzaleka Refugee Camp which has been his darling home up to now.
“My first minutes in Dzaleka gave me painful thoughts that this was the end of my life and that all my dreams of excelling in life were gone. The housing, the food and everything around was different from the normal life I had back home,” Menes says.
He was even at pains in that he left everything behind including members of his family.
“My family is back home in Lubumbashi which is in the Southern part of DRC,” he says.
Menes says life inside Dzaleka was like a prison for him, where he says people do not have the right to leave without a written permission and living without dignity.
Inside Dzaleka, he noticed there was talent but with the difficult life, this talent could not come out.
It was a place full of depression and to deal with all this, Menes finally thought of creating a platform that could at least bring light and that birthed Tumaini.
“Tumaini is the fruit of the time I spend under depression, I always thought of finding a way to change the situation around refugees and recover their dignity, and a festival was the best way,” he says.
And having made the first step in 2014, Menes has not looked back.
“So much has changed since the first Tumaini in 2014, the way people talk about and treat refugees in Malawi has really changed in a very positive way,” he observes.
He further says Tumaini Festival has opened a debate about refugees’ issues in Malawi.
For Menes, today Dzaleka is a touristic destination where people from all over Malawi can come and spend three nights without any fear.
Random interviews with some of the refugees at Dzaleka sees most of them thanking Menes for a job well done in bringing the festival that has connected them to the outside world.
Menes says most artists who perform at the festival, do it for free and that they only refund their transport and feed them.
“We always appreciate the support from several artists who come to showcase their talents for free but also for a good cause,” he says.
And the year 2018 saw some artists making a debut performance and they include Great Angels Choir.
“This is a special festival. We never knew we would have that chance of performing here and to see some of the refugees singing along to our songs, it has motivated us to continue doing more,” Menes says.
With an album to his credit Far From Home, which he released in 2015 and worked with some local acts such as Third Eye, Menes speaks about his journey as a refugee.
“I told my story and stories of other refugees at Dzaleka,” he says.
Menes is a political refugee.
“Art brings people together, it is one of the best things that God gave us and we need to utilise it fully. I am happy that Tumaini has sold Dzaleka to the world and at the same time also helped in bringing tourists in the country,” he says.
Menes also says that with the homestead programme, the community inside Dzaleka has benefited a lot in that some families have made money through hosting some visitors.