Updated: Apr 17
"To fail is not falling until you fail’’
In early 2022 I started to hire interns to support the busy work. At that time a dear friend of mine was working at the Global Education Movement (GEM) at Southern New Hampshire University. She was describing to me about the program at GEM and how the program tries to provide internship opportunities for their students. After our conversation, I applied to be a partner and received my first GEM program. Raphael Ndabaga and I became friends really quickly as we talked about our passions and wanting to make a positive difference around the world. Raphael shared with me his life experiences, which I was able to resonate with him in some capacity. Raphael is a hard worker, a man with big dreams and determination. He is smart, savvy and is able to adapt to any situation, whether it be in a new physical space or taking on a new internship. Raphael and I have been working on some projects together to support his work on mental health and mentorship. For today’s article, I asked Raphael to write this article to share his story and the impact the internship had on him.
Written by Raphael Ndabaga.
In March 2013, my higher education was interrupted after I became a refugee in Malawi. It was during my second year at university. I learned French during my primary and secondary education in Congo. But my French skills were not enough as a refugee in Malawi. People speak English. I had to learn English to allow myself the opportunity to continue my education in Malawi at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
In 2016, I was selected by World University Service of Canada (WUSC) for its Student Refugee Program (SRP) to pursue my university studies at Université Laval in Quebec. On August 17th, 2017 after completing all possible processes to travel to Canada just 4 days before my departure, I was informed by WUSC that my scholarship was withdrawn but without underlining any reasons. This was a shock, a heartbroken news.
Going through traumatic situations because of anger and depression, I decided to take a trauma class through Jesuit Refugee Service and this was the beginning of my social work journey. After completing the 8-week trauma class, I was able to recover by positively responding to the process of the grief involving denial, anger, bargaining, depression then acceptance.
During this time I did a lot of reflection on my life and I knew I had to change my way of thinking and still find hope. I refused to believe that my life was controlled by the outside world, that I was limited with opportunities. I then started using this quote to help me move forward: "to fail is not falling until you fail’’. The first failure means failure but the last failure means death. In short, I meant that we can only claim failure when we die, but before that, any failure is a new life lesson and experience.
In October 2017, I created Volunteer Social Workers with the aim of providing counseling support to fellow refugees going through traumatic situations. With experience in trauma management from the 8-week trauma course, I applied to a Diploma program at Regis University from Denver Colorado in the United States and was successfully selected.
In June 2020, I graduated with a Diploma in Liberal Studies with specialization in Social Work. From this, I became an expert in casework management. Dzaleka Refugee Camp is a home of people experiencing displacement and mental health services are of a great importance because many refugees and asylum seekers suffer from stress, trauma and anxiety. Many people think it’s over, many are hopeless, uncertain of their future and are desperate to leave their current situation for a life with better opportunities. There is a great need for many mental health services because the camp is large yet people providing mental health services are very few. Jesuit Refugee Service tries hard, and my Volunteer Social Workers bring an addition to what JRS does but still, there is a big gap between service providers and beneficiaries.
In June 2022, I secured an internship position with Moonlight Hubb Consulting, LLC, where I worked alongside Amarjit Dass. As an Administrative Research Intern, I worked in many areas such as writing reports, research on mental health topics, translating documents and creating graphic designs. I was able to expand my knowledge and skills but also be able to utilize the knowledge and skills from my internship to the work I am doing at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Besides, I realized one of my dreams being accomplished after learning graphic design skills throughout this internship period. Due to the experience, I am now able to create content, both written and visual for social media advertisements, posters, invitations, brochures, flyers, covers, calendars and more. The graphic design skills are to promote my own business at the camp, support other businesses and also to promote my mental health work.
Amarjit developed several mental health self-help books, which I supported in translating in French and Swahili. I was then able to share and distribute the books to my community. People are open to discuss their mental health, learn about mental health and receive services.
An irreversible fact is that Dzaleka Refugee Camp is a place of people experiencing displacement with very few and limited access to opportunities. Refugees in Malawi are not allowed to work, to move outside of the camp, to attend Malawian Universities or colleges and to make business outside of the camp. A refugee might secure some grants and think to expand his/her area of focus but the limit is the camp premises. Because of this, many refugees are victims of stress, trauma, anxiety and depression. Consequently, mental health assistance is very crucial yet service providers are very few. Dzaleka Refugee Camp counts up to 50 thousand people but doesn't even have 20 Counselors. Imagine the demand when more than a thousand people are in need of mental health services but only 20 people are available to provide mental health services to thousands of people. This does not make any sense.
Since arriving at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp in March 2013, I have managed to impact my community in various areas such as: teaching, mentoring, creating films, hosting events and counseling.
I saw myself in a classroom for the first time in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in September 2017 while I was recovering from the trauma I had after being withdrawn by WUSC. There was a private school which was opened to respond to the needs of the community after realizing that many children and youths were failing to enroll at schools because places were few yet the demand was high. The school was opened and needed teachers to provide education to refugees and Malawians. Following advice from my main counselor who advised me to be closer to people, talk to people, interact with people, participate in debates, I applied and was successful. I was teaching French, Business Studies, Bible Knowledge and Literature. On top of this, I was also the school's spokesperson due to my linguistic abilities. In addition to the teaching career, from 2018 to 2020, I was also employed by Jesuit Refugee Service as a course developer and Facilitator in the Professional and Postsecondary Education's Department. I was teaching a Family Economics and Maisha Course. Maisha Course is a short-course designed to prepare youths freshly coming from secondary education to prepare them face university and college.
After having journalism experience since my country or origin as I was the program presenter of Children Parliament Program at a community radio, in October 2017 after recovering from the trauma I had, I managed to contribute ideas to create a community radio station with the aim of informing, educating and entertaining refugees living in the camp and Malawians neighboring the camp. In June 2018, UNHCR and the Government of Malawi officially launched Yetu Community Radio, the only radio station found in a refugee camp in the whole Sub-Saharan region of Africa. At Yetu Community Radio, I managed to impact the youths by mentoring them and they became journalists and are still working up to now as journalists. I also managed to implement programs such as The Voice of the Youths, Women Empowerment, Peace Building and Sports.
In the same way of interacting with as many people as possible, I started writing stories as per my counselor's advice that a good strategy of meditating one's life, writing is the best tool. When writing, little by little, I became a storyteller and I attended the 2019 International Film Training sponsored by the US Government in Malawi and I started acting. So far, I have produced on my own 3 short films and 2 Feature Films. Apart from acting and directing, I also mentor young people and adults in Filmmaking.
On top of all the things I do, I also play the role of Master of Ceremony for various events such as Weddings, Birthdays, Bridal Showers, Conferences and Trainings/Workshops. I started doing all the aforementioned activities to make myself closer to people, to learn more about others and to positively impact my community.
There are many things that are needed at the Dzaleka Refugee Camp. One thing I would like to see is a Recreation Center as a space for several programs. A Recreation Center would be beneficial for the community as it would create a space for connecting, building skills, training and a sense of hope for a better future. The center would also be a place for everyone to get support with their mental health as well as for their education and academics. I would like to share the skills I learned through Moonlight Hubb Consulting, LLC to others so that they are able to gain skills to help with their goals and dreams.