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The Democratic Republic of the Congo
39 years old
Biography collected and written by Lisa Gilman


In 2013, Nelly fled her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, with her children. They made it to Malawi where they have lived ever since in the Dzaleka refugee camp. She is the mother of three children, two girls and one boy. Her son Nellyson (son of Nelly) is the Team Leader for Dance for the Dzaleka Art Project. She also has a grandson, Alvin, who dances in the Forus Crew and paints. In addition to her own children, since 2015 she has cared for a ten-year-old orphan who has no family in the camp.

Nelly started knitting and crocheting in 2014. The woman who was with her was also a refugee and has since been resettled to the United States. The woman taught her how to make basic items like bathing gloves. After mastering the basic techniques, Nelly has developed them further to make more and more complex things. She has also learned sewing and embroidery skills. She now makes many types of items, including blankets, tablecloths, decorative pieces to put on furniture, socks, shawls, and bikinis. She is able to buy the materials in the nearby capital of Lilongwe, which requires money for transport.

Selling these items can be good business. A shawl can sell for MWK 20,000 (20$) and a bathing glove for MWK 1500 ($1.50). However, most of her customers are refugees, and they are few and far between. They tend to buy items to take with them when they are leaving to be resettled.

Previously, an American woman who lived in Malawi because her husband worked for UNHCR worked with artisans in the camp to help them sell their goods by finding customers in Lilongwe. Business was good then, and Nelly was able to earn more money to support her family. Unfortunately, when the woman left, so did Nelly’s access to these customers. She now sells very little.

Nelly enjoys crocheting and knitting. It helps her relax and forget about her past and all her current problems. But as soon as she stops, the worries immediately return. She realizes that she is still where she is, and she worries about how she will feed the family.

Each month, each member of the household receives the equivalent of about $5 from UNHCR. With seven people, that amounts to $35 a month, which allows her to buy enough food for only one meal a day. They augment their family budget with her sales and money that her children can contribute from any revenue-generating activities that they do. It is never enough.

Nelly would like people who read the book or visit the website to know that things are hard. It is hard to find enough to feed the children. That is why she makes these things.

Nelly is hopeful about the family’s future. They wait and wait and continue to pray for something to happen so that they can leave the camp and reestablish their lives somewhere safe and permanent.

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