If war had not come to Johnny D.’s Angolan village, maybe he would still be selling books with his wife and ten children. But war did come, in 2006, and there was no time to grab any possessions. They just ran.
Johnny says had he stayed, he would be dead. Armed men came after him, beating him and nearly breaking his legs. They killed several of his family members. Johnny and his family fled on foot and embarked on a four-month journey. Hunger and exhaustion plagued them constantly.
Almost ten years later, Johnny is grateful to have a safe place to live in a Zambian settlement called Mayukwayukwa for a simple reason; “There is no war, or killing each other,” he says. Even though nearly a decade has passed, he says that he cannot go back. Nor does he want to: Zambia has become home.
UNHCR and the Zambian government know that. They’re working along with implementing partners to integrate refugees like Johnny into the local community, and create a permanent solution. And as part of the effort, organizations such as Caritas Czech Republic and Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) are offering training in livelihoods selected by the community as especially promising, and speedy to start.
“Creating livelihoods opportunities allows people to become self-reliant and to be able to provide for their families,” says Jenny Turner, EWB’s Director of Education and Research. “It is essential for refugees in the local integration program to be able to establish themselves in Zambia apart from the protection of UNHCR in the refugee settlements.”
The promise of integration
Mayukwayukwa has been a haven for refugees since 1966. Nearly indistinguishable from the Zambian villages that surround it, the settlement is now home to Angolans, Congolese, Rwandese, and Burundese, many of whom were born there and have lived in Mayukwayukwa their whole lives.
The Government of Zambia is willing to settle refugees here permanently; In fact, it approved a local integration bill in June 2015 that, once enacted, will integrate up to 10,000 Angolans. More than 5,400 have already applied and been screened.
To help both refugees and locals integrate and prosper, the Zambian government are gifting five hectares (about 12 and a half acres) of land apiece to a group of refugees and native Zambians who’ll be starting a new community in Mayukwayukwa together.
The plan is idealistic but not idyllic. A lack of basic infrastructure like plumbing and electricity means the group of new landowners will be starting from scratch. For integration to work, the group must be able to produce enough food for their families, and earn enough money to stay afloat.
Picking and drying the low-hanging fruit
To help them begin, UNHCR, Caritas, and EWB are training interested community members in income-generating “Quick Impact Projects” they identified themselves.
“Learning to identify, develop, design, and test their own solutions goes a long way to developing a strong self-sustainable community,” Turner says.
“It assists in removing the dependence on aid organizations, as they no longer need to wait for a solution—which may or may not be appropriate to their context—to be provided for them.”
Instead, says Turner, quick impact projects coupled with some training allow refugees to create tailor-made solutions on their own.
To ensure both refugees and Zambians benefitted from the projects, workshop participants were first introduced to the idea of human-centered design—a concept that helped them keep each other in mind as they came up with prototypes.
“Participants in the workshops learned the human-centered design process and how this could be applied to new ventures such as solar fruit drying,” says Turner. “There was a lot of excitement when they realized that they were the ones generating their own ideas for their future.”
One such project is showing residents how to make use of the area’s literal low-hanging fruit to turn a profit. Community members like Benny Mweemba are making plans to dry slices of the area’s prolific mangoes for sale in local markets or Lusaka, Zambia’s capital.
Mweemba came with his mother and grandmother to Mayukwayukwa two years ago, when deforestation and a lack of rain finally made his farmland too unproductive to earn a living.
Mweemba is ambitious—an ideas man. It’s obvious from the various plans he has for raising the start-up capital he’ll need to go into business as a plumber and sheet metal construction worker. He has the training but not enough money to go out on his own, something he is working hard to rectify by farming chili peppers for sale in the Zambian capital, Lusaka.
After attending the EWB workshop on human-centered design, he’s realizing another opportunity literally underfoot.
“People from Mayukwayyukwa, they have a lot of mango trees here but they are just wasting here,” Mweemba says.
In fact, the majority of Mayukwayukwa’s large mango harvest is lost without a way to process or preserve it. Drying them using a simple, do-it-yourself style solar fruit dryer could provide a food source for times of scarcity.
Mweemba says hopefully by next year he’ll not just be in dried mango production, but will know enough to teach others here and back home.
“When I learn how to dry some mangos, I will be drying mangos so that…I can be selling, so that people and the community will benefit from me.”
Grace Mukatimui Lubinda also learned how to process and dehydrate mangoes. She says the three-day workshop gave her a practical way to help her earn a better living for her family of five, and something to contribute to the community.
“These three days I have learned how you can manage to do something that you can achieve, knowing everything that you do can give you something,” she says. “I can even teach others what I have learned.”
Through other training courses, industrious hopefuls like Mweemba and Lubinda may soon venture into new roles as beekeepers and tailors—two other professional skill sets community members expressed interest in learning.
And their enthusiasm to learn has continued after the workshops ended. According to Turner, the participants have worked with Caritas to prototype the solar fruit dryer and other ideas. “They will begin testing soon and I’m sure it is only a matter of time before they will be selling dried mango and other fruits,” she says.
In fact, the new solar dryers being prototyped are now up and running. And beehives refugees have constructed using both traditional and modern techniques and materials are starting to hum with the promises of profit.
Rising to the challenge
Residents of Mayukwayukwa will reap the benefits of their own projects over the next years. But they’re not the only ones working on coming up with good ideas.
UNHCR and EWB are pitting 10,000 university students from Australia and New Zealand against each other in the EWB Challenge, a competition to develop and prototype solutions to refugee problems from waste management to climate change in Mayukwayukwa.
The good practices learned in Mayukwayukwa and the innovative technologies helping the new integrated community may also be transplanted in Zambia’s other refugee settlement area of Meheba.
In a few years, people in both settlements could be up-cycling car parts and old bottles into useful household goods, or employing conservation agriculture techniques that will make unpredictable rains less of a roller coaster. Maybe they’ll be turning those mangoes into jars of preserves.
The only limit is the creativity of challenge participants, refugees and Zambians hoping to contribute to a new start for everyone.
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