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Democratic Republic of Congo
Dzaleka Refugee Camp, Malawi
+265-99-704-6461 (WhatsApp)
Nellyson_Deo is the Team Leader for Dance for the Dzaleka Arts Project

Nellyson Deo

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Biography collected and written by Solomon Tejan Kanu

Nellyson_Deo was born in the northern part of Kivu Goma, which is located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, at the age of eleven, he fled the country with his mom, and three younger siblings due to the ongoing political war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. Many more have died since the outbreak of the war in 1998, which has been labeled by the United Nation as the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.

After Nellyson’s departure, his journey to the Dzaleka refugee camp in Malawi was no easy task. His family had to beg for money and food from strangers and church members along the way. On the first day of their arrival, Nellyson felt lost and deluded from reality. This feeling was not only affecting him mentally, but also physically in the sense that he lacked basic necessities for living. There were no mattresses, nor blankets for him to sleep on. He had to sleep on the ground until further needs were provided from the camp. Luckily, the camp provided food supplies that are worth six dollars per family member each month. He was very grateful to have such a hardworking and caring mother who took care of their needs every day.

As time went by, Nellyson and his family got accustomed to their new environment. His sister even had a baby, so there is a new addition to his family. The idea of education is highly valued in his family. Nellyson realized how important his education was and started taking it seriously at the start of 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. As a dancer, his crew did not acquire any bookings due to Covid regulations, and that changed his mind drastically on the importance of education. He worked extremely hard and managed to achieve his goal by graduating high school in 2022. As of late, he has applied to several universities, and hopes to receive positive feedback.

Nellyson first danced with the Salama Africa organization. One of Salama’s founders and leaders Toussaint Farini Buunda stated that Nellyson was amongst one of the youths that he sought out for recruitment because he possessed many talents in his dancing ability. He is now a member of the Forus Crew, the acronym stands for “force”, “unity’, and “success”. The Forus crew was formed around 2014, and Nellyson joined in 2015. Before being selected, he had to put in hours upon hours of dedicated time to rehearse and learn new techniques. His passion for dancing was beyond his imagination. Dancing was a sense therapy that provided an escape from all the problems he faced in the real world. For instance, he loved the feeling that he obtained from performing for his audiences and seeing their expressions. One of the good things about Dzaleka is the fact that Nellyson is inspired from everything in his environment. Whether it’s kids fighting or adults dancing on the street, it gives him motivation to create new dance choreographies.

Nellyson’s crew has participated in many cultural events that have attracted tourists from around the globe, including the Tumani Festival, which occurs yearly. They’ve been featured in many music videos from Malawi’s top artists, such as Tay Grin, Gwamba, Sangie, Hazel Mak, and many more. They’ve also performed with one of the biggest DJs from the United States known as “The Major Laser '' back in 2018. Despite all these accomplishments, his crew faces many challenges along the way. Challenges include unfair payments, and restrictions on traveling outside the country due to their refugee status.

Nellyson dreams that someday he'll be resettled outside of the camp for a better life. One of the countries that he wishes to live in is the United States because he considers it to be the land of opportunities. The limitations that are holding him back consists of his documentation from the UNHCR bureau, which is a United Nations agency that’s mandated to protect refugees and assist them in repatriation, local integration, and resettlement to different countries. Luckily, Nellyson and his family are amongst the people that were selected by the UNHCR to be resettled in the United States, but he isn’t sure how long they’ll take to process him; it may take several months, or even years. Only time will tell.