Tumaini Festival: Edifying Culture, Changing Lives Through Performing Arts

Dowa, Malawi - Tumaini, one of Malawi's grandest annual festivals, stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of Dowa District, writes Howard Mlozi.

This unique and impactful event is free of charge and is dedicated to celebrating diverse cultures through the captivating mediums of performing arts, culinary delights, and various creative and cultural activities.

Since its inception, Tumaini Festival has not only reshaped the landscape of Dowa, particularly Dzaleka Refugees Camp, but has also sown the seeds of peace and coexistence among people from diverse backgrounds.

From the harmonious melodies of music to the mesmerizing dance performances, from the tantalizing array of food and drinks to the captivating theatre and visual arts exhibitions, Tumaini Festival provides a singular platform for individuals to showcase, nurture, and appreciate their diverse talents.

This year marks the ninth anniversary of this splendid festival, held on the open grounds of Dzaleka Refugees Camp in Dowa.

Menes La Plume, the founder and director, looks at the festival's impact with tears of joy in his eyes.

In 2014, he was inspired by the multitude of talents and resilience he witnessed at Dzaleka. It struck him as crucial to share this treasure trove of talent with the world. Since then, Tumaini Festival has touched countless lives and spurred the creation of various initiatives, including dance and theatre groups that engage and empower the youth.

Many others have taken up charitable activities, such as environmental conservation, recycling plastics into eco-friendly products. La Plume emphasized that Tumaini is not just a cultural event but a social program that has thrived over the years, impacting thousands of refugees at Dzaleka Camp. The event serves as a powerful tool for advocating social change.

"Nine years ago, I was broken. I believed I had no apparent future, much like any other refugee with a few lofty dreams. My dreams were so audacious that everyone around me found them irrational and discouraged me from pursuing them. Excitingly, most of those dreams have come true, and the most incredible of them all was the Tumaini Festival," La Plume recalled.

Back then, no one believed that a refugee camp could host what is now the largest festival in Malawi and a source of immense pride for Dowa District.

"No one could have imagined that an event could positively impact refugees and their host communities economically, culturally, socially, and psychologically. No one thought that a festival could be a powerful tool for refugee advocacy and changing how people perceive refugees. But now, nine years down the line, I look back and cry tears of joy, seeing the changes that a single dream can make in the lives of thousands," said La Plume.

Refugees face challenges ranging from emotional to economic hardships that require great effort to overcome. Some harbor thoughts of despair when recalling the circumstances that forced them to leave their countries, including wars, poverty, and displacement. However, La Plume envisioned using the power of performing arts and culture to make a difference in the lives of refugees and asylum seekers.

The festival has also inspired young individuals to start small-scale businesses to improve their economic prospects. La Plume attributes the success of Tumaini Festival to effective networking and collaboration with different partners, including community leaders and volunteers.

"There is strength in unity. Thanks to the friends (angels) that God placed in my path over the years, they encouraged me, supported me, and mentioned my name in rooms full of opportunities. This led to successful partnerships with various individuals and organizations that have provided invaluable support to Tumaini Festival," said La Plume.

La Plume added that community mobilization has been instrumental in gaining people's trust to establish Tumaini Festival. He has worked with various community leaders and volunteers in Dowa to build the brand that Tumaini is today.

"Today, Tumaini is more than just a performing arts festival. It has created pathways for socioeconomic, cultural, and psychological empowerment for refugees. Many now feel a sense of belonging because their minds have found stability," he said.

One of the beneficiaries of Tumaini activities, Ettienni Ntirandekura of Burundian origin, described Tumaini as a special program that has brought about diverse dimensions to impact the lives of vulnerable people.

"Tumaini Festival is more than music. It's a family gathering that reminds Africans that we are one. It provides a rare opportunity for us to interact, share food, and exchange ideas," said Ntirandekura.

In essence, Tumaini is growing larger and more impactful each year, with a particular focus on the lives of vulnerable groups, especially refugees.

Reflecting on the festival, musician Skeffa Chimoto says, "Tumaini Festival brings exceptional hope into the lives of people. There are times when you perform at Tumaini and observe from people's reactions that the event is about more than music. It's about instilling hope in the hopeless," said Skeffa Chimoto.

This article was first published by The AfricaBrief

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