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Poetry can transform an individual’s life – and society

Von John Kazadi / 29. Juni 2022
picture alliance / PhotoAlto | Eric Audras

Are you aware of what poetry can do to humans? Do you think of it as just a regular form of art? It is more than just a mere way of expressing ideas; instead, it is a safe place where individual growth and potential are discovered.

You will be amazed to see how poetry is used by young people in a refugee camp in Malawi. Poetry can be used to break boundaries within communities as well as build a hopeful collective. It is a strong tool that educates, entertains, and can be used to voice out critical issues affecting an individual or a society by simply putting them in writing or performing.

Worldwide, refugee camps are known as temporary places for forcibly displaced people. They are also famous for their poor living conditions, congestion, hunger, and hopelessness. Well, this perception is true but not the full definition of what refugee camps are supposed to be like.

I arrived in Malawi, specifically Dzaleka, in 2011. I was a grade 8 learner. Over the years, this has become home. And now I am a diploma holder in “Social Work“. Here, I have learned and developed my skills in writing and performing poetry. And as a refugee poet, I have developed a passion for poetry in a difficult situation and used it to empower fellow youth. Because isn’t home supposed to be a place where you find peace of mind and live without fear?

The Dzaleka refugee camp has taught me how to be a good person in a multicultural society. As a human being, I have always had the desire to ensure that the social environment is conducive for everyone by engaging in changing the mindset of young people and allowing progress to happen. Yes, refugee camps do consist of marginalized communities, but that has nothing to do with the people inside.

John Kazadi (right) reading one of his poems while celebrating a friend’s birthday in the camp. (Photo: Jeanpy Kayembe)

As a refugee, I have discovered just how many talents are wasted in these communities, and if given a chance, they could impact significant change in the world at large. The truth is that I, too, never imagined expressing oneself through writing, and that performing poetry would have so much influence, not just on me, but on the fellows here with me.

Are you wondering how poetry can transform an individual or a society? Youths in Dzaleka refugee camp might be just a step ahead of other youths in other societies around the world because of how they perceive writing and performing poetry.

Developing Passion For Poetry In A Refugee Camp

As a child born into a Christian family there are several things that my parents expected from me. My dad insisted that education was all that could pave the way for me and my little siblings. Most importantly, they taught me to have faith in myself. I have become a great believer in having faith in oneself. I remember performing poems in primary school. I envied this art, in particular those who performed it. It was at this point that I became inspired to begin writing poems about my life. At a given time, my family became a barrier. My parents discouraged me from engaging in the activity while claiming that it was taking much of my time and that it would eventually affect my academic performance. Surprisingly, my performance in school got better and better, and this was the beginning of embracing massive support for my poetry.

I never imagined myself performing to a large audience outside the refugee settlement. I gained recognition from other poets outside the camp, from Dzaleka poets, as well as from fans who admired my work. Since then, I have been writing pieces that promote multiculturalism, solidarity, and gender equality as well as raise awareness of climate change. I have grown as a poet, through sharing my work and performing with Malawian poets like Robert Chiwamba, Chris Msosa, and Qabaniso Malewezi. Perfecting one’s talent is a process. I used to be nervous when presenting my very insights but considered the constructive feedback I got from friends and other poets in order to improve my art. As a poet, I am now able to mentor beginners.

Poetry Gaining Acceptance By Young People To Address Critical Issues

Living in an environment rich in prejudices, the community does not fully support this. Poetry is known as the art of the educated, and I have personally changed this perspective by organizing workshops and teaching people how to write poems in their native languages. In my experience, it is much easier to communicate in the camp through poetry than through music, because all one needs to write a poem is a pen, a notebook, and an audience to perform for. The impact has grown so much now that different people can write poems in their mother tongue while reaching out to the entire 50 000 Dzaleka inhabitants and beyond. 

A youngster performing with John Kazadi (right) in front their audience. (Photo: Jeanpy Kayembe)

For most people, it is hard to make a living through poetry. Despite having very few poets meeting personal life demands, the number of poets keep rising in the camp, which also directly increases the audience and promises great support in the future. At the beginning of my journey, other people thought that for one to write poems, they must be good English speakers. This perspective can be broken by frequently organizing these events that also promote content in vernacular languages such as Swahili, Kinyarwanda and Kirundi, hence reaching out to more people and enlarging the support system in order to allow the idea of progress. 

What Defines Individual Transformation 

How would you define personal transformation? In my view, it happens when one discovers strength in something they are capable of and are implying it for the benefit of others. It is seeing oneself moving from where one was yesterday. From grief, regret, hopelessness, and disappointment, I here stand strong as a pillar supporting young people to overcome their fears by bringing out the best of themselves through writing and performing poetry. Always.


By John Kazadi (DRC)

We have taken away the Earth’s greenery

we are standing on a dying globe

we are crying with our hands in our pocket

it’s like enjoying a cool drink but waiting to

be hit by a rocket

I see a young man walking away from a

burning forest,

billion of trees cut down

million of lives insecure

and many living species vanishing for good

I see a young woman, snapping at rising sea


A negligent person is his own devil

I see a young man running

I see a young woman starving

floods have occupied her home

days are warmer and so are the nights

when are minds are colder, no wrong is right we are making of this haven a hell of a paradise

we are our murderers and parasites I am now hiding in a shaking roof

And the sky as red as blood

Who would save us from this plight? there’s a huge storm coming in my direction it’s a storm that took away my home the land now rejects crops

I am as good as a living corpse

we owe the ground an apology

planting more trees can clear the agony and maybe spare the future generations a chance to survive a little bit longer, they say,

recycling help reduce greenhouse gas emissions

but recycling our minds, still stands out as the best solution

(Eine deutsche Übersetzung dieses Beitrags findet sich hier.)

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