How a Refugee is Technologically Transforming Refugee Camp and Surrounding Communities

Visitors admiring the Lab on the launch day Visitors admiring the Lab on the launch day - pic courtesy of TakenoLab

International migration has become an integral component of the global development agenda.

The 2015 Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development acknowledge the positive contribution that migrants make to inclusive growth and sustainable development in countries of origin, transit and destination.

This has been evidenced in Remy Gakwaya.

He fled unrest in Burundi and settled at Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, Malawi’s central region district. That was in 2002, the year he also lost both parents.

“I went through tough times to get here. I had to go through a lot of challenges. It was not easy to be with strangers,” says Gakwaya.

I asked Gakwaya to take me through the journey from Burundi.

“I don’t want to recall the past sad experience; just know it was not easy,” that was his response.

At the camp, Gakwaya got an opportunity to enroll for a Diploma in Computer Programming with the University of Southern New Hampshire in the United States of America.

It was an online learning programme which he was registered with assistance from the Jesuit Refugee Service.

Enrolling in the University marked a new beginning of Gakwaya’s life.

His determination now migrated from sad realities of life back home to a computer wizard whose eyes were focused on transforming lives within and outside the camp.

Gakwaya is now founder of TakenoLAB, a technology learning and building solution center, based at Dzaleka Refugee Camp.

“TakenoLAB is committed to actively equip everyone with technology opportunities and skills in software development, entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

“We want all groups of people, regardless of race, creed or circumstance to achieve their full potential in technology and software development. Our task is to teach everyone how to code,” he said.

Currently, there are 100 students at the center.

“We also reach out to students in their communities. We offer them computer lessons for free.

“Almost 80 percent of the students are Malawians. The purpose is to bring people together and see where we are coming from and empower the youth and community,” he said.

Gakwaya says the idea to come up with the center came into effect in 2015 after completing diploma in business administration in 2014.

“I got grant from Southern Yorkshire to assist in coming up with a full center to train more young people. We want to make Africa a place where the best technology is produced by targeting the vulnerable communities.

“We want to equip many professional programmers and innovate solutions to communities. We are looking at planting more centers across Africa,” says Gakwaya.

After officially launching the Center on May 21, 2021 at Dzaleka, Gakwaya said “we are celebrating today the new Center for innovation and creativity.

“We are celebrating today people that trust in small seed but still cultivate the farm and plant it, and we are cerebrating today the power of small steps and small actions for great results.”

He said that now the center has become a space where “we, underprivileged people, can go and tap marketable skills. The center has given us people who are living in rural areas and refugee camp an opportunity to learn about advance technology and participating in building the advance Africa that everyone needs.”

19-year-old school leaver, Fatima Yusuf, is one of students benefitting from the center.

“I have been thinking that technology is only for men and boys but I have realized it is not. I have now been equipped with knowledge in computer programming from the center.

“I see bright future and I encourage more girls to join me,” said the Malawian girl.

Her counterpart, Francoise Luhembwe, Congolese, says that besides computer lessons, the center has also trained him in public speaking and leadership.

“I now lead a group of 25 mothers from Dzaleka area. I also teach the communities and share them the knowledge that I acquire from the center.

“I would like to see more communities to be computer literate and develop their communities,” said the 21-year-old Francoise.

For Mdubane Weston, a 22-year-old Malawian beneficiary, getting a better job is all he is looking up to upon completion of his computer lessons in few months coming.

“After completing Form 4, I was just staying home without anything tangible to do. Joining the center opened my eyes.

“I am doing webpage designing and business administration. I see my dreams coming true,” said Weston.

President of the Information Communication and Technology Association of Malawi, Bram Fudzulani, says it is commendable that the center has also integrated communities surrounding the camp.

“If you look at the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, protecting the vulnerable is one of important target goals; whether that is achieved technologically or not.

“This must be supported. We have seen in many instances where technology has been used for development,” he said.

President Lazarus Chakwera said during graduation ceremony at the Malawi University of Science and Technology that technology development is vital in achieving Malawi 2063 vision.

The president said: “The national vision is to become an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant industrialized upper-middle-income country. But how can any of our natural wealth be made inclusive without being made turned into developmental and economical wealth? And how can we turn that natural wealth into developmental wealth without science and technology?  

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