Refugee Day: Money gives money to the business dreams of DRC refugees in Malawi

Nsimire started a business in Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

“My restaurant in the camp can barely accommodate ten people at a time, unlike my home in the DRC,” says Nsimire. “Yet I still serve food with the same passion.”

Nsimire arrived in Malawi from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2017. She quickly felt she had to “do something” to earn a living in her new home, Dzaleka refugee camp.

She tried her hand at farming. After the first year, she realized that it was going to be an uphill battle as there was no land for the refugees to cultivate.

Because the restaurant she ran in Goma was destroyed during a period of conflict, prompting her to leave the DRC, there was only one thing to do: she opened another one right in the middle of the market. Dzaleka camp, which is home to 48,000 refugees. from all over Africa.

“My restaurant in the camp can barely accommodate ten people at a time, unlike my home in the DRC,” she says. “Yet I still serve food with the same passion.”

In this new venture, Nsimire has brought foreign dishes to Malawi that cater to his compatriots in the camp.

The World Food Program provides cash to refugees living here who depend on this aid for their survival. This promotes income-generating activities for host community members and refugees to develop pathways to greater self-reliance – and comes as WFP warns that 2022 will be a year of unprecedented hunger for the world.

The organization needs $22.2 billion to save lives and build resilience for 151.6 million people around the world this year.

Nsimire’s clientele has grown to include Malawians and his menu now includes everything from beans, rice, plantains, cassava leaves, sweet potatoes to nsimaa popular form of porridge.

Nsimire’s new restaurant can barely accommodate ten customers at a time, but his business is thriving. Photo: WFP/ Badre Bahaji

“In the Congo, we called it ugali“, she says. The nsima is softer than the ugali. “I’ve mastered how to make it and now I sometimes even make it for myself.” She clears a table as another satisfied customer walks away go.

Like other traders, Nsimire relies on nearby farmers to supply them with fresh produce to resell. “I think it’s great to run a restaurant here in the camp, we have types of food you don’t usually find here and sometimes it’s the same food just cooked in a different way. Like the way I do that [sardine dish] usipa which is really nutritious.

His new restaurant has been a blessing for Nsimire. By expanding his menu to include local foods, his restaurant has gained popularity in the camp. There is a warming between refugees and Malawians as both benefit from the initiative.

“I get all kinds of clients here,” she says. “Just now I served four Malawians and five refugees and they like the different food I have.”

Nsimire shows his version of small fried fish. Photo: WFP/Badre Bahaji

Since WFP introduced cash transfers for food aid in the camp in 2021, more refugees have access to cash and can buy the food they prefer. And regardless of their nationality, Nsimire’s cuisine will likely have something delicious and nutritious for their customers at all times.

Instability and social unrest in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa regions have led to a steady flow of refugees into Malawi for more than two decades. The number of refugees living in Malawi has tripled over the past ten years. The lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy, linked to recent price increases aggravated by the conflict in Ukraine, continue to challenge people’s access to basic goods.

Despite generous contributions from USAID and the Flemish government in 2022, finding sufficient resources for food assistance to refugees remains difficult. WFP needs US$3.4 million to continue providing assistance to refugees in 2022.

Learn more about WFP’s work in Malawi

Rosemary C. Kearney