Online Intern From The Field: Daniel’s Diary from Malawi

During his online internship with WFP Students, Daniel Arukwe Johansen wrote in an op-ed that, “WFP does perhaps the world’s most important job”. When he visited WFP operations in Malawi while studying abroad this past spring, he experienced first-hand the truth of what he’d written. “From refugee camps to primary schools, from climate change to food security, I got to see the breadth of the work WFP and the UN does for some of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people”, he said.  “It was very exciting, very intense and incredibly motivating”.

Here’s his diary from the experience.

 Day 1:  Dzaleka refugee camp
Less than three hours after I arrived at the WFP headquarters in Lilongwe, the capitol of Malawi, I found myself on the way to a refugee camp in Dzaleka, about one hour outside Lilongwe. At the Dzaleka refugee camp, WFP is responsible for food distributions to over 15,000 refugees who have fled from Rwanda, Congo, Burundi and Somalia due to war and political unrest.

Driving through an arid landscape dotted with only the occasional shrub on the way to the camp, I saw the sun’s reflection on the roof-top solar panels of some office buildings in the distance. Beyond, I glimpsed what appeared to be a stretch of settlements. This was Dzaleka refugee camp.

As we got closer, I saw clear signs that this was no ordinary African village.The buildings with solar panels turned out to be the administration building for the refugee camp. The administration area was surrounded by high wire fence with the UNHCR flag waving high inside. The camp itself though was open, meaning that there were no fences or barriers of any kind around it. This was quite different than what I had expected. 

Once inside the camp area, however, you could easily mistake Dzaleka for being any Malawian village. Temporarily constructed shacks called low houses made up the majority of the camp. There were lots of people everywhere. It surprised me to see so many children in the camp, but I was heartened to hear that the vast majority of these children are enrolled in the camp’s primary school. One teacher told me that over 3,000 (!) kids are enrolled in the camp’s school, and that the numbers are increasing every month. 

Everyone working around me seemed incredibly focused. There was a population count while I visited the camp, which is when new refugees are registered and given new ration cards. Each family receives a ration card for a month of food from WFP; the ration card registers the number of members in each family,

It was difficult for me to see families with four or five children, knowing that many of these families had traveled a distance equivalent to Oslo to Rome on foot just to get to the safety of the camp.  That’s nearly 1,560 miles or  2,511 kilometers! Amidst the incredible uncertainty of these refugees’ lives, it was very good to see that the refugees at the camp at least had access to health care, food and schooling. This gives me hope that they’ll have a brighter future.   

Day 2: Support for education
Next day in the field, we visited the small town of Kasungu, a few hours outside the capital. WFP runs several projects in the area, including a school meals programme. The principal, Synica Phiri, at Chambidzi Primary School told me how they work together with volunteers from the community to prepare and serve food at school. Parents from the surrounding villages make the porridge, serve it and clean up afterwards - no small task at a school with nearly 1,500 students!

At first, I worried I might seem a bit frightening to the children. Eventually, however, they warmed up to me and were eager to be photographed. It was clear that the distribution of the school meal is a highlight of the day. The students Nyuma Piri Banadara and Edward, both twelve years old, told me that the food they get at school makes it easier for them to concentrate all day and that it makes the school a better place to learn. The WFP school meals programme in Malawi started in 1999. Today, the programme reaches over 600,000 children in 679 schools across the country with a nutritious meal.

This school meals programme is just one of many projects where WFP works to improve the nutrition of children. It was incredibly exciting to see how childhood nutrition programmes like this work in the field.

During my visit with WFP, I traveled to several more schools supported by WFP’s school meals programme and saw many other types of food and nutrition projects. I would fill a whole book, however, if I tried to write down all that I saw and learned.

I can, however, summarize that the job being done by WFP and its partners in Malawi affect thousands of lives every day. Without exaggeration, I can say that the efforts to fight hunger in Malawi give thousands of people a better and easier life.
Daniel Arukwe Johansen