Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mpaka Refugee Camp

(Went yesterday, wrote this last night, but then the internet wasn't cooperating. I have better things to do that switch "today" to "yesterday" a bunch of times :D)
Today, we went to Mpaka, which is a refugee camp about two hours away from school, but still in Swaziland. The point of today’s trip was to fix up the building which is hopefully going to be turned into a preschool, and to become familiar with the place and people there. While it was a rather large group from the school for this big project, I’m part of a group called 30 Seconds of Change, and we’re going to be going back to the camp several times to facilitate a variety of projects, from building latrines to starting some sort of garden for a sustainable food source.
The big thing when working with this sort of a community is to make it sustainable. Every community service project starts with a problem, so I’ll just give the example of food at Mpaka: there’s not enough, nor is there enough variety for it to be healthy. First option would to be to give people there food, but then the next day, there’s no food again, and it’s making them dependent on you to give them more food, and being that dependent on someone else isn’t a great way to live.
On the other hand, our goal is to organize an agriculture project in the camp. Many of the residents were fishermen or businessmen in their home countries, and don’t have experience in farming. While we don’t have experience either, we’re working to learn about farming in Swaziland, and get some people with experience to help teach the people at Mpaka about farming, so that they can grow their own food. Growing their own food helps not only their diets, but helps create independence.
The other thing, suggested by the Peace Corps volunteer helping out at the camp, is setting up some sort of business with the people there. As far as we know at the moment, there’s no organized way for the people there to maintain an income, essentially meaning that they’re stuck. It’s really hard to get out of a refugee camp without some money, and it’d be great to help set up some sort of sustainable way to make some income for the people there, to build up some savings, and eventually get out of the camp. Because, no matter how much we work to make it a nice place to live, working with people there on sustainable projects and everything, it’s still a refugee camp, and nobody wants to live there forever. So, planning and implementing a stable cash flow is something is something to really work on with the people there during future visits.
Anyways, our project today was to fix up the area around and inside the future preschool. First off, we added some murals to a classroom.
Then outside, there were all these weeds and tall grasses, so we dug out part of the area in front of the school, just because no kid wants to walk through a bunch of weeds to get to the door of their school.
What I spent most of my time doing was cleaning out another classroom, sweeping, mopping, and clearing out junk in there, and then scraping paint off the floor with random bits of plastic and broken tools, because it’s a refugee camp, and people are amazingly resourceful. For most of the time, one of the people at the camp was chilling with me, helping scrape off the floor. He’s from Somalia, and came to Mpaka in 2009. He wants to be a doctor. And the thing is, I’m sure he will be. The people I met at this camp aren’t down because they’re in a refugee camp – they’re determined to make something of life, just like everyone else in the world. While yes, it’s a refugee camp, and it’s not the nicest place to live, there’s this energy there, and everything and everyone there has this potential that you can just feel, and you know that they’re really awesome people living there. It makes me feel kind of silly, because I’m just some random person, and I’m sure these people know way more about life and everything than I do, but I’m really excited to be able to work alongside them.
Anyways, it was a really great day, and I’m so happy and excited that I get to work alongside such awesome people!

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