The IAFR Blog

Field notes, perspectives, stories, news & announcements

A hospital for the heart

March 15, 2023

Pastor Olivier with Jacob Tornga in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi

"Dzaleka refugee camp does not exist on a map. It means we as refugees are forgotten as if the world does not know that we exist."

Olivier's words are not bitter, only honest. He is a refugee pastor, and he speaks for the pain of his community. Dzaleka is a hard place with much pain and trauma. It grieves me that my friend's community experiences so much suffering amid so much isolation in their corner of the world.

Because you came, we know God has not forgotten us.

With the grace I know him for, Pastor Olivier continues his feedback, "But when you came here to bring us this training, not once, but three times, and to care about our trauma, we knew God has not forgotten us." I feel my heart swell with both gratitude and sadness. Sadness for the suffering I cannot alleviate and grateful that God has allowed us to walk alongside my friends in a small but tangible way.

This trauma training has been my dream as a doctor.

Eugene joins in the discussion from his wheelchair. He is an elderly doctor who has come every day to this training, despite the arduous journey through the camp and down the road to the training center. He speaks with profound weight and clarity.

"This training has been my dream. I was a doctor in my country and studied at Penn State University in the U.S. I have treated people's flesh all my life. This week, I learned what it means to treat the heart and the soul, which is what our people in the refugee camp need. This is what I want to spend the rest of my life doing."

Trauma care training in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi

Powerful outcomes from a grassroots healing movement.

IAFR responded to a request from a group of pastors in the camp back in 2019 with a three-part trauma training project that finished last year. The testimonies of Pastor Olivier and Eugene encourage us that this was something that connected with the lived experiences of many in the community.

Perhaps the most powerful outcome of this training has been the development of a grassroots refugee group called Tazama. It is a Swahili word that means "Behold. Come and see what the Lord has done." The idea is to say, "come see what God has done in healing us from our traumas." The group has developed an incredible ministry in the camp that has led hundreds of people through “healing groups” of 8-12 people using the Healing the Wounds of Trauma materials.

People are still alive because of Tazama.

One of the pastors, who wasn't connected to Tazama initially, pulled me aside and said,

"Trust is difficult in a refugee camp. I did not originally know any of the founders of Tazama. None of my members had connections, either. But I heard about them and decided to send a parishioner struggling with deep trauma to them for help.

Now, because of the help this person received, Tazama has become like a hospital to me. People with malaria or any other physical sickness can go to the hospital, but those who need emotional support know that Tazama is a place where they can go and find help.

Many people who wanted to commit suicide in this camp are still here because of Tazama."

You are comforting those who suffer.

God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When we see suffering, we can give others the same comfort God has given us.

CLICK HERE to learn more about our work in Dzaleka.


Learn more about refugee life in this report from The New Humanitarian (28 Feb 2023).

- Jacob Tornga

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