(Dzaleka, Malawi) April 22, 2014 — How do you give reliable news and information to people in a camp of 17,000 refugees from different African countries where word of mouth communication often result in rumors and confusion? This is the story of an answer to that question, a story of how a small community radio station was started in the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi.
Dzaleka is a refugee camp an hour's drive from Lilongwe in Malawi. There are few power outlets and people are poor. Most refugees in Dzaleka are from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia. Refugees in Malawi are not allowed to be employed in the country and are not encouraged to travel outside the camp according to government policy.
Byamungu R. Joseph Papa, a French-speaking refugee, arrived in the camp in 1997. As Dzaleka Community Radio Voice of Refugees (DCRVOR) he started broadcasting news and music from his shack in 2005 using a battery, an amplifier and a megaphone. He was single at the time so only neighbors within hearing distance were woken up by his news broadcasts at 5 a.m. With speakers placed on the roof of his home he broadcast announcements of new arrivals and lost goats, international news and music programs. The international news broadcasts were provided by the BBC from his radio to the local community keen to hear news about home countries.
The Dzaleka Community Radio Voice of Refugees was a success. "Leaders from different communities in the camp came and said this communication was needed, especially if people needed to be notified of something," Byamungu said.
In response to this community need Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins through their Community Service Learning Tracks (CSLTs) program developed a Communications and Journalism course which included community radio communication. Graduates, of which Papa is one, formed the Dzaleka Community Communicators Association (DCCA) in 2013 and the beginnings of a community radio station based at the Dzaleka Community Centre, called Dzaleka Community Radio. Jesuit Refugee Service provided the equipment and speakers for the community radio initiative purchased. The speakers are placed on the roof of the community centre for broadcasts and are powered by solar panels.
Dzaleka Community Radio broadcasts weekly from 5 a.m — 7 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.— 9 p.m. Regular programs include announcements, greetings, sports and a music countdown. Special programs are broadcast on child protection, social education, HIV/AIDS, sanitation, counseling and Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV).
Masumbuko Ramazan, another graduate of the JC:HEM Communications and Journalism CLST and member of the DCCA commented, "This kind of communication is in your blood. 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."
Mazumbuko, a journalist from the Democratic Republic of 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," he said.
"Sometimes people want to control the information or spread stories about other people," Byamungu added.
Byamungu shared the following story: "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 French, Swahili, English and Kirundi. 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 emphasized the importance of having skilled communicators in the camp. "Our aim is to abolish rumors in the camp and its surrounding areas, since many people don't have reliable sources of information. Those rumors are destroying people's lives. We, as community communicators, have learned skills to change such situations."