New beginnings for women refugees

Between September 2019 and December 2020, Feed the Minds worked with our local partner organisation, Association des Femmes Contre la Pauvreté et Pour le Développement (AFECOPAD), in a one-year project to improve the quality of life for women refugees through vocational skills training and women’s rights awareness in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi. 46 women directly benefited from the project’s 11-month adult literacy and tailoring skills training, and the community has benefited from awareness-raising campaigns relating to the rights of women and girls.

Project participants mark the end of their vocational skills training with a graduation ceremony in November 2020

Project Overview

This project enabled 50 refugee women to participate in 11 months of practical adult literacy training covering topics such as economic development, women’s rights and conflict resolution. In total, the literacy classes took place for 11 months, two hours per day, three sessions per week in English and Kiswahili (the common language spoken in the camp). In the classes, four trained local literacy facilitators made the programme relevant to the women’s lives and used participatory tools to stimulate imagination, creativity and openness.

The adult literacy programme was combined with 11 months of tailoring training to enable the women taking part to increase their incomes and financial independence, and to reduce dependency on food distribution. The tailoring facilitators delivered six months of theory and practical lessons to build participant’s technical skills and hands-on experience. This was followed by five months on-the-job training too, whereby participants were given the opportunity to use their skills to make and sell clothes on their own.

Finally, all of the project participants were able to take part in workshops on women’s rights to raise awareness on issues such as girls’ education, forced marriage and sexual and gender-based violence.
Key achievements

This project has supported 46 women to develop lifelong skills. Through our practical adult literacy classes, women have increased their ability to read and understand books, newspapers and other printed materials, as well as increase their listening, speaking, and writing proficiency. The literacy programme has also supported women to gain greater communication skills and self-confidence. Women are now better equipped to read important information related to their lives such as refugee status documentation, announcements from The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and health awareness materials, particularly relating to Covid-19.
Project participants during women’s rights awareness-raising activities

Additionally, participants not only increased their knowledge on their rights, but through the awareness-raising campaigns and radio messages, they have been able to advocate for their rights and now feel more valued and loved in both family and community spheres. The results have been inspiring. For example:
  • At least 60% of community members who took part in training on women’s rights reported a positive change in their attitudes towards women;
  • There are now 135 community members, religious leaders and other community stakeholders with increased awareness of women’s rights and gender equality, who are acting as women’s rights champions within the camp;
  • 24 radio broadcasts were held on women’s rights at the local radio station, YETU DZALEKA RADIO! reaching 2,250 community members;
  • Some women have even started to campaign on other community issues – for example to stop forced and early marriage. Such messages have had a tangible, positive impact on the community.

Project participants partaking in a radio broadcast on women’s rights

By the end of the project, 46 women who participated were able to improve their quality of life. The newly acquired tailoring skills have increased women’s self-sufficiency to provide for themselves and their families, but also reduced their potential risk of engaging in dangerous income activities such as transactional sex. We were inspired to learn that by the end of the project period, the women had so far been able to produce 57 shorts, 48 shirts, 39 dresses and 42 skirts and some even set up personal small enterprises in tailoring. Women now have safe and self-sustaining incomes. This means they have been able to buy more nutritious food and basic household items. Our local partner is also supporting women to access small loans through a Self-Help Group.

The impact of the project on participant’s lives has been really encouraging. Take Ruth’s story*, for example. Ruth has been an asylum seeker since 2015. Sadly, her husband was killed in Rwanda, and she now lives in Dzaleka Refugee Camp, where she is raising seven children. She said:

“The tailoring training I received at AFECOPAD has changed many things in my life… I was non-literate before the project… I was facing serious challenges raising seven children. I had no professional skills, my survival depended on food distribution from the UNHCR agency.

“I started feeling as part of my community since I joined the project… I regularly attended the training because [access to training] was something that I missed in my life. I knew after the training I [would] earn money and depend on myself. Now, I can purchase basic medication for my children, support their schooling and nutrition. Being a tailor, I also feel useful to my community. I am earning [some] money from sales of tailoring products. I am happy and excited [about] becoming a good tailor… It’s really a big help for me and for family.”

Some of the clothes made by participants during training

Another participant, who is an 18-year-old girl living with her aunt, three sisters and two brothers in Dzaleka camp, said:

“Before the project, our survival depended on food aid. I am very grateful for the training I [have] received at AFECOPAD; it has profoundly transformed my life. Today, I am able to read with confidence newspapers, books and novels written in English… I am able to communicate with people and understand them well, calculate money from sales of clothes, make small business plans and listen to news as well. I am learning more about Covid-19 from local medias and international medias. I am really experiencing the power of becoming literate… I am feeling respected and useful to my community too. Now that I am literate, my dream is to become a best teacher of English for other women.”

Feed the Minds would like to say a special thank you to our local partner organisation, Association des Femmes Contre la Pauvreté et Pour le Développement, and all the women and community members involved in this project. We would also like to thank George Watson’s College, who partnered with Feed the Minds to help raise funds for this project. Thanks to their support, we have been able to provide vocational and literacy skills for women refugees, as well as raise awareness on women’s rights.

*This project was temporarily suspended in March 2020 due to Covid-19, but the staff and volunteers at our local partner organisation worked tirelessly to ensure project activities could safely resume in June 2020, in line with Covid-19 prevention guidelines.

**Ruth’s name has been changed to protect her identity.

Pictured: one of the literacy classes as part of the project

Blog written by James Pinnock, freelance writer - Originally published on

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post