Trésor Nzengu Mpauni, widely known as ‘Menes la Plume’, is a refugee poet, musician and an advocate for refugee rights born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
In 2008 he was forced to flee the DRC and moved to Malawi and he now lives at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Trésor is the founder of Tumaini Letu (Swahili for “Our Hope”), a nonprofit promoting cultural exchange among refugees and the host community as well as reducing poverty among refugees in Malawi using art and culture. Its flagship program is the annual Tumaini Festival, which each year transforms Dzaleka into an international festival ground, drawing thousands of people to Dzaleka to celebrate peaceful co-existence.
Trésor is the recipient of the 2020 Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy & Support, and the 2018 World Bank Africa Region’s Social Inclusion Hero Award. He is also a Refugee Co-sponsor of the 2019 Global Refugee Forum.
One-line project summary:
Cultural exchange, advocacy, and economic empowerment for refugees through the world’s first international festival held in a refugee camp.
Present your project.
Malawi’s encampment policy greatly restricts refugees’ ability to own property, move freely, and gain employment and access to education outside the refugee camp. This leaves refugees isolated, cut off from opportunities to improve their lives and sustainable futures. We are breaking these boundaries by promoting social, cultural and economic inclusion for refugees through a free annual festival inside Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Tumaini Festival is an innovative cultural exchange event, which attracts thousands of visitors to Dzaleka Refugee Camp amplifying voices of refugees and promoting intercultural harmony, mutual understanding and peaceful co-existence between refugees and host community through art and culture. The festival also creates valuable employment opportunities and a platform for refugee entrepreneurs to generate an income.
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What specific problem are you solving?
There are an estimated 79.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, in 2019, 26 million refugees were registered, the largest annual increase to be recorded by the UNHCR. Nearly 1 person is forcibly displaced every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution.
In Malawi, there are approximately 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers living at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which was created in 1994. While Malawi has ratified the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, it holds nine reservations to this convention. Specifically, this means that, among other things, refugees do not have the freedom of movement, the right to employment, the right to attend public schools and universities or the right to property. This greatly isolates refugees, limits their financial capacity, and restricts their ability to access opportunities available to Malawians. Several generations have been born and raised in Dzaleka Refugee Camp without access to all the above, making it difficult to maintain hope and imagine a future outside the camp. This creates conditions of poverty and dependence on international aid. Refugees also face different forms for discrimination due to prejudices and negative public perception.
What is your project?
We are reducing poverty and promoting integration and inclusion of refugees through the world’s first multicultural festival within a refugee camp. Founded in 2014, Tumaini Festival is a three-day free annual global celebration inside Dzaleka, featuring Arts and cultural performances by refugee, Malawian and international artists. In 2019, the festival attracted over 50,000 visitors.
The festival promotes entrepreneurship and brings vital economic activity into the camp, creating a market space where craftspeople set up stalls to sell traditional crafts and artwork and construct bars and restaurants to sell traditional African foods and drinks. In preparation for the festival, throughout the year, we train refugee women and young people in entrepreneurship skills, financial literacy and performing artists. During the festival, we create employment for refugee carpenters, builders, tailors, tour guides, security personnel, cleaners, sound and light engineers, etc.
During the festival, refugee families host guests in their houses through a homestay program. The Homestay helps refugee families to make an income and provides opportunity for cultural exchange and raises awareness by providing guests with firsthand knowledge of the reality of challenges refugees are facing as well as refugee resilience and strength, in order to break down prejudice and promote inclusion.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
Dzaleka Refugee Camp has a population of 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mainly from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi with smaller numbers from Somalia, Ethiopia and other countries.
Our work is founded, designed and run by refugees, who look forward to it each year for the pride, celebration, connection and opportunities it brings. The festival directly and meaningfully impacts refugee lives, connecting them to a global community and economy beyond the camp, and promoting refugee arts, culture and resilience.
The Tumaini Festival is the main source of revenue for Dzaleka Refugee Camp helping the community generate over $150,000 per year. The festival creates business and job opportunities for 1,500 refugees per year and trains 400 refugee women in entrepreneurship skills. 400 refugee families per year benefit from hospitality trainings and generate income hosting guests in their houses through our Homestay Program.
Through this advocacy, our work has improved the context for the review of refugee policy in Malawi, with politicians now openly discussing greater rights to work, education and freedom of movement for refugees.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?
Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
Our project is aligned to all the three dimensions of the Elevate Prize as we are:
1. Elevating refugees who are a marginalized group of people traditionally left behind. We are working on making refugees self-reliant and financially independent by creating employment and business opportunities for them.
2. Elevating awareness about refugee challenges through our annual festival, our Homestay Program and through media campaigns.
3. Elevating understanding between refugees and the host community by provoking a different conversation about refugee camps, bridging both communities and changing the narrative about refugees using the power of arts and culture.
How did you come up with your project?
When I arrived at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in 2008, everything was different from the life I once knew back home. I experienced for the first time not having a place to sleep. There were no opportunities. I faced immense limitations and saw many talents being wasted in the camp.
I grew depressed and saw many people around me depressed, losing their hope and dreams.
Through those dark times I started dedicating my energy in thinking of ways to help myself and the community to find solutions to problems affecting us.
In 2012 I united 30 young refugees coming from each nationality represented in the camp to share my vision, and we started organizing cultural activities within the camp. In DRC, I had been a touring hip-hop artist, writer and slam poet. I reawakened this part of myself in 2013 and started building connections outside the camp and started performing in major events around Malawi to build connections and raise awareness about Dzaleka.
In 2014, I launched the Tumaini Festival using my connections to crowdfund for the initial iteration of the project to happen. The festival is now in its sixth year promoting economic inclusion and refugee integration in Malawi.
Why are you passionate about your project?
I am passionate about the refugee cause because I am a refugee myself. I am passionate about Dzaleka Refugee Camp because I live there and I am affected by all the difficulties, restrictions and discrimination faced by refugees in Malawi. I am passionate about advocating and amplifying refugee voices because I am a refugee voice that has been amplified and now heard around the world and I wish to use my platform to create pathways and opportunities for more refugee voices to shine.
I am a refugee who works with other refugees to develop solutions for problems that refugee communities are experiencing. My team and I have a deep understanding of the community in Dzaleka because we are part of it. We believe that the best solutions are those which come from inside the camp while respecting our host community’s perspectives and parameters.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
I have vast experience as an international touring artist, building connections, promoting artists, and developing innovative cultural events. For 4 years I worked for the Institut Français in Lubumbashi and for 5 years- for the Jesuit Refugee Service Malawi and I have lived for 12 years at Dzaleka.
I have maintained a team of 10 qualified and experienced people and 30 passionate part-time volunteers for the 6 past years. Together, we have managed to develop the largest festival in Malawi and to position Tumaini Letu as one of the most successful refugee led organizations around the world.
My work has been widely recognized within Malawi and internationally, winning the 2020 Sharjah International Award for Refugee Advocacy & Support, winning the 2018 World Bank Africa Region’s Social Inclusion Hero Award and being a finalist of the 2020 Ockenden International Prizes.
Because of my advocacy and the positive impact of my work on refugee lives, I have been invited to speak in major events such as TEDx Lilongwe, the 2018 Atelier for Young Festival Managers in Gothenburg, Sweden. In December 2019, I was a Refugee Co-sponsor and a panelist at the first Global Refugee Forum in Geneva, Switzerland where I also had an opportunity to meet and be interviewed by the Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterrres.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
During my 12 years of living as a refugee in Malawi, I have encountered many adversities linked to my refugee status- such as the lack of freedom of movement, discrimination and the risk of xenophobia. I managed to overcome these limitations through perseverance, using my artistic talents to make connections around Malawi with fellow artists, event producers and journalists, and political figures, - becoming a voice for refugees and gaining influence as the leading representative for refugees in Malawi. The influence I gained allowed me to make connections with decision makers in Malawi. I have used this to support my dream of alleviating poverty, promoting refugee talent, advocating for refugee rights, and bringing various opportunities to Dzaleka Refugee Camp by opening its doors to the world. As of today Dzaleka is considered among the touristic destinations in Malawi because of the richness of its diverse cultures and creativity. My work has changed the environment for refugees in Malawi, creating a positive message of refugee resilience that has informed political dialogue, and expanded opportunities for refuges outside of Dzaleka despite Malawi’s restrictive environment for refugees.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
When I started sharing my vision to hold an international festival in Dzaleka refugee camp most people were skeptical and thought my vision was impossible, knowing there would be so many barriers to making it a reality. However, I stuck with my vision and the festival has grown year after year, and is now the largest arts festival in the country, attracting thousands of Malawians, refugees and international visitors alike. My courage, passion and perseverance have inspired those around me, have encouraged my fellow refugees to dream big and believe in themselves. In the wake of my achievements, more refugees are founding their own projects and having a positive impact both within Dzaleka and throughout Malawi.
Being from a Francophone country I spoke limited English when I came to Malawi, but I was determined to develop my community. At that time, there were very few connections between refugees and Malawians, and negative attitudes were pervasive brought about by a lack of dialogue. I started to build connections with creative groups, helping people to see a living example of a refugee who is talented, articulate and relatable who is today a source of motivation for Malawians and refugees alike.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Dowa, Malawi
What type of organization is your project?
Describe what makes your project innovative.
My project is unique as it tackles poverty among refugees, advocating for refugee rights, amplifying refugees’ voices and changing people’s attitudes towards refugees by changing the narrative. We are doing all of this through the world’s first international festival inside a refugee camp.
Refugee camps are portrayed as places of poverty and indignity. We change the image of Dzaleka Refugee Camp from a place of desolation to a place of celebration. My project shifts a seemingly intractable power dynamic – where refugees are frequently the passive subjects of media portrayals that use images of poverty to elicit charity. We give a platform to refugees allowing them to advocate for themselves, building their economy, showcasing their talents and skills, and creating a positive story which resonates internationally.
We have also introduced innovations for the community, such as the Homestay Program supporting income generation through refugees hosting visitors in their homes. Through the Homestay Program, we show the world that apart from looking for shelter, refugees can also host others and openly share their space.
Our work reduces poverty inside and around Dzaleka Refugee Camp, not through charity or outreach, but by providing refugees a platform to sell their products and services. This annual opportunity provides refugees with seed capital to start or sustain income-generating activities, and cultivates personal pride by allowing refugees to take steps towards economic independence.
What is your theory of change?
We work with and for refugees in Malawi, especially those living at Dzaleka Refugee Camp. Our work consists of giving refugees access to opportunities, income and cultural integration.
To achieve our objectives we host the annual Tumani Festival alongside national and international media campaigns and outreach to gain coverage for refugee issues. We also offer Dzaleka residents a number of training, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities including: (1) entrepreneurship skills training and we will be soon giving microloans to program graduates, (2) annual homestay/ home-based tourism program with refugee families hosting guest in their homes, (3) cultural exchange and collaboration opportunities, and (4) mentorship and scholarships for young creatives.
Through the skills developed in entrepreneurship trainings, refugees create businesses during the annual festival that are attractive to festivalgoers, and refugees are temporarily employed during the festival in its operations. Refugee families earn income and connections through hosting guests. Thereafter, refugees are supported to open bank accounts, set saving goals, and utilize connections made during the festival to promote build more opportunities to grow their business. Further, thousands of visitors stream to Dzaleka Refugee Camp and millions of people are reached through media campaigns, improving of the context for the review of refugee policies and raising awareness regarding refugee rights and resilience.
Refugees becoming economically independent and self-reliant, voices of refugees being considered and included in decision making, refugees being fully integrated within the Malawi society.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
Currently we are impacting 1500 refugees (women and youth) through providing improved economic opportunities plus 400 household (2000 individuals) involved in our Homestay Program. We are working towards impacting 3,500 refugees in 2021 and by 2025 we are planning to directly impact 14,000 refugees.
Our work for with festival is benefiting directly to all the 41,000 refugees in Malawi as we are building bridges between refugees and the host community, we are advocating for the change in refugee policies and amplifying refugee voices and bringing hope inside the camp.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
We are working towards directly impacting 14,000 refugees and generating $1,000,000 for Dzaleka Refugee Camp in the 5 coming years. We are going to achieve this by:
- Creating 3,750 temporary employment opportunities and 100 full time employment positions for refugees.
- Training refugees in entrepreneurship skills and giving microloans to refugees with remarkable business ideas and a platform to implement them,
- Expanding the marketplace created during Tuamini Festival by creating a digital platform that will help refugee traditional craft makers, fashion designers, artists, writers, graphic designer, app developers and more to start selling their products and services to customers around the world,
- Expanding the Homestay Program to be open throughout the year. We are planning to create a special website allowing guests to book and make payments. We are also planning to join the Airbnb Experience platform to attract more visitors and provide them with refugee led experiences within the camp in order to benefit more refugee families,
- Building a hub that will allow refugees to rise by providing them with training in entrepreneurship and innovation, performing and fine art, creative writing, computer literacy, photography and film making while also giving them access to the internet in order for them to learn, connect with the world at-large and find resources and other opportunities.
- Creating more refugee activities among the youth we work with, and see other models similar to tumaini replicated around the world in refugee communities.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
The biggest challenge in the coming year is the Covid-19 pandemic which has affected every livelihood and business. As the pandemic continues to spread, we may not be able to hold our annual festival at Dzaleka Refugee Camp, which would limit our ability to support refugees through jobs, business opportunities and hosting guests. Covid-19 has also redirected global funding away from other initiatives and towards the pandemic.
In the five coming years our biggest barrier is financial. There is limited funding for refugee led projects. While we are committed to keeping our festival free of charge in order to ensure maximum inclusivity, it limits our ability to generate income through the festival, and we are therefore fully reliant on donor and private funding.
We also have a limited staff of only 10 full time individuals, which creates a challenge for longer term sustainability as we are reliant on a large number of volunteers to achieve our aims.
Finally, space to run our activities is an ongoing challenge. Since Tumaini Letu’s inception, we have been operating in the Dzaleka Community Center which is a shared space built for different community activities. It is therefore challenging to implement more educational programs that would benefit the community as there are concurrent community activities booked in the space.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
In light of Covid-19 we plan to host our annual festival online using live streaming platforms and collaborating with different artists around the world to record their performances from their homes and submit to us. The online festival would also be directed towards the Covid-19 response by raising awareness among refugee communities and promoting the preventive measures established by the WHO.
To ensure financial growth and sustainability we are creating connections with new institutional funding partners, increasing the size of our fundraising team, organizing more fundraising events, improving our online fundraising system, as well as creating income generating businesses for the organization to become self-reliant.
Regarding staffing, through our new partnership with the Segal Family Foundation and the prize we are receiving from the Sharjah International Award, we now recruiting new qualified and experienced staff members to help the organization achieve its mission.
Addresses space challenges, this year we have received a piece of land from the Malawi Government where we are going to build our Growth Hub to be able to implement more impactful programs for refugees at Dzaleka. We are under discussion with the UNHCR Malawi office to finance the building of the hub.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We have been working with different partners that have been supporting our work in different capacities such as:
- the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has been financing our advocacy campaigns and our annual festival since 2014,
- the Malawi National Commission for UNESCO, has been technically supporting our Folktale Project to educate refugee children since 2017,
- Plan International – Malawi has been supporting our children and youth activities and funding a youth stage and a child friendly space during the annual festival since 2014,
- the Segal Family Foundation has been funding our operational costs with unrestricted funding since 2019, also connecting us to other funders and opportunities,
- Social Impact Incubator Malawi has been supporting us through coaching and providing us with tools, helping us build networks, and connecting us to investment since 2018,
- Rei Foundation LTD us been financially supporting our advocacy work since 2015 and funding our traditional stories (folktales) project since 2017.
What is your business model?
Tumaini Letu is a nonprofit, and all our services are offered free of charge to our community.
Our Business Model is as follows:
- Our key resources are: staff, facilitators, volunteers, connection to opportunities, donors and private funders
- Our partners and key stakeholders are: Government of Malawi, UNHCR, community chiefs, Plan International Malawi, refugee community leaders, embassies
- Our key activities are: entrepreneurship, job creation, advocacy, arts and cultural exchange
- Our types of interventions are: trainings, microloans, tourism, festivals, performing arts
- The channels we use are: entrepreneurship trainings, Homestay Program, Tumaini Festival, media campaigns
- Our segments are: the refugee community, the host community in Malawi
- The value proposition is: Refugees are financially independent, self-sustaining, integrated and empowered. We are doing this through creating business opportunities for 1,500 refugees per year, training 400 refugee women in financial literacy, creating employment for 750 refugees per year, benefiting 400 refugee host families per year, attracting 50,000 visitors in the camp, reaching 10,000,000 people through media, and generating $150,000+ for the refugee community per year.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
To ensure financial sustainability, in 2020 Tumaini Letu will be procuring high quality sound and light equipment, as well power generators for the organization. This equipment will be utilized each year for the festival, allowing Tumaini to run without hiring external equipment. It will also create revenue for the organization, as the equipment will be rented to other events in Malawi throughout the year, and will build capacity and create employment for 50 refugees.
We are also planning to reinforce the capacity of our team in fundraising, and will be recruiting more team members in our fundraising department through novel funding we have received in 2020, as well as multiplying fundraising events, and creating merchandise that will be sold online and in different functions around Malawi and internationally.
Finally, as we have relied on crowdfunding as a publicity and fundraising strategy since the inception of our project we are also planning to reinforce our online fundraising strategy by applying for fiscal sponsorship in the United States or Europe in order to be able to receive tax deductible donations from well-wishers around the world.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
- UNHCR: $100,000 grant – 2014 to 2019
- Plan International – Malawi: $30,000 grant – 2014 to 2019
- Segal Family Foundation: $31,500 grant – 2019 to 2020
- Sharjah International Award: $130,000 prize – 2020 (pending)
- Rei Foundation LTD: $25,950.00 grant – 2018 to 2020
- UN Women: $ 4000 grant – 2018
- US Embassy in Malawi: $7500 grant – 2017
- German Embassy in Malawi: $3,401.18 grant – 2017 & 2019
- Embassy of Ireland in Malawi: $8,183.213 grant – 2019
- New Finance Back Malawi (Mybucks): $6,770.148 grant – 2019
- Moravian Humanitarian & Development Services: $1,354.030 grant – 2019
- Crowdfunding: $39,617.64 – 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
Full festival equipment: $212,774 grant to be raised by 2022
Building & equipping the Growth Hub: $250,000 grant to be raised by 2022
Programs implementation: $1,088,277.3 grant to be raised by 2024
Administrative costs: $238,887.7 grant to be raised by 2024
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
- Education (Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Creative Skills Development): 63,138.50
- Advocacy (Tumaini Festival): 111,038.00
- Youth Engagement: 36,979.00
- Children (Intangible Heritage Education): 27,635.97
Total Budget $313,996.02
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
I am applying for the Elevate Prize for various reasons:
Firstly I would love to grow my network and be inspired by like-minded leaders working in different sectors around the world. The Elevate Prize is an ideal platform to make those connections. I believe that from such connections I will be motivated and inspired to add fresh and innovative ideas to my project.
Secondly, I would love to expand the visibility of our work to reach a larger global audience to build awareness for refugee issues in Malawi and internationally. This will also attract new partnerships, as well funding opportunities to take our work to the next level of growth. The visibility will also help us gain greater trust within Malawi and internationally.
Thirdly, I would love to benefit from the partnership opportunities the Elevate Prize is creating. I am working towards expanding the organization’s impact, positively affecting more refugee lives in Malawi and beyond. This cannot be possible without partners who can support us with resources and tools to achieve this mission.
Lastly, I am also interested in the financial support from the Elevate prize, as it would be a life changing opportunity that would bolster our overall growth and build a stronger team and systems for the organization.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
As a leader I have ambition to make the organization a leading global refugee led organization. I would love to use my story to motivate and inspire people around the world, and mentorship and coaching for international experts will help us to continue to grow in this domain. I aim to continue learning, increasing my knowledge through educational training, and to mobilize financial resources and build my capacities to lead my team on the path of success.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
We would love to partner with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), The Bohemian Foundation and the Ford Foundation to help us amplify voices of refugee through creativity and free expression as well as to support to growth of our cultural exchange festival, the Barr Foundation support our work of elevating Art& Cultural from Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
- Trésor Nzengu Mpauni Founder & CEO, Tumaini Letu