A Vancouver Island University global studies student is making good on her pledge to return to Africa this summer.
Two years ago, Katie Durvin, 21, worked at an orphanage and school in Kampala, Uganda for a month and returned from the experience with a renewed determination to go back and do more to help.
She gets her chance this summer when she heads to Malawi, among the world’s least developed nations and dependent on foreign aid, to do a four-month internship in the country’s only refugee camp.
“I’ll be pushed beyond my comfort zone, but that’s kind of the point of travelling, at least for me,” said Durvin. “This is my dream internship. I’m there to work and I’m there to serve. It’s easy to come back and get comfortable again, but for me, I just have to push my boundaries.”
As program assistant for the World University Service of Canada’s Student Refugee Program in Malawi, Durvin will live with a local family and go into Dzaleka Refugee Camp each day to help prepare students to come study at Canadian universities.
Each refugee is sponsored by a local WUSC committee – VIU’s WUSC committee, which Durvin co-founded about three years ago, sponsors two students to come to Nanaimo each year.
“Now to be able to go into the camp and work with the students before they come here … it’s kind of like full-circle,” said Durvin, who has spent hours helping refugee students adjust to life in Nanaimo.
Durvin is expecting her experiences in Malawi to be much different than in Uganda, where she lived in a large urban centre surrounding by sprawling ghettoes.
In Malawi, she will be in a rural setting – most people live in rural areas and farm for a living.
In Uganda, she saw countless people living in wooden shacks the size of an outhouse, many of whom were vying to carry bags or do other odd jobs so they could eat that day.
In Malawi, Durvin is also expecting to see hunger and poverty – people in the refugee camp rely on food rations from non-government organizations, so the chances of getting three square meals per day are slim.
She’s not sure what to expect in regards to her living arrangements – in Uganda, she washed her clothes in a bucket outside, lived in a two-bathroom, four-bedroom house with 20 others and felt like she was staying in a five-star hotel when she returned to Nanaimo – but she’s expecting to live, once more, like the locals do.
“When you travel, not everything is good,” said Durvin. “There’s always going to be some bad experiences. I definitely have to be aware of what’s going on. It’s still a place of unrest, of frustration.”
The Canadian government recommends travellers exercise a high degree of caution in the country due to civil unrest and recommends that women avoid wearing close fitting clothing in many areas due to reports of a gang of men attacking women wearing pants, leggings and short skirts.
Durvin said the great thing about living with a homestay family is they help you understand local customs and expectations and tell you what to watch out for.
After Durvin finishes her internship in Malawi, she plans to go back to Uganda to lend a hand in the orphanage and school once again.
Her unpaid internship is going to cost her about $8,000, including flight, living expenses and her final course fees – Durvin gets three university credits for doing the internship, which finishes up her degree.
Durvin leaves in May, so up until that time, she’ll be busy contacting service clubs and pursuing scholarship opportunities.
“I am basically going to be doing a lot of fundraising,” she said.
If anyone knows of funding or sponsorship opportunities, they can contact Durvin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dzaleka Refugee Camp is in an agricultural region of Malawi near the nation’s capital Lilongwe.
The United Nations Refugee Agency website states that Malawi hosts about 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, mainly from Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Durvin said the camp includes many people who are coming down from the Horn of Africa with the goal of reaching South Africa for better job opportunities.
She said the camp is considered small in relation to many others – for example, nearly half a million people live in the Dadaab camp in Kenya.
Dzaleka is now the only refugee camp in Malawi, added Durvin, as a second camp was closed several years ago and the populations amalgamated.