How the flood disaster almost stole their future

Trifonia getting her note book from a plastic paper carrier provided by UNICEF.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Gregory Gondwe

By Gregory Gondwe

The area of Havala at Chisi in Zomba district suffered flood disaster that did not only wash away homes of residents, it also washed away dreams, hopes and aspirations of children of the area most of whom go to Havala Primary School.

Zomba district is located about 60 kilometres or so, east of Blantyre, the commercial capital of Malawi.It is in the classrooms at Havala Primary school where tens of 15 households sought refuge.

Young survivors narrate how water that quickly submerged their homes gripped them with fear. They fled to nearby schools where they would remain in camp with internally displaced people for three months.

The night the floods hit In the household of the Buleyas, 13 –year-old Ruth and her 12-year-old sister Trifonia were doing their homework. Their six-year-old younger brother Benjamin, was asleep.

Their father was attending to a visitor while their mother was bathing their four-year-old baby brother, Benedicto.

“All of a sudden the house started caving in as the walls had become so wet and soft after many days of heavy rainfall,” started Trifonia before Ruth chipped in: “We dashed out of the house and grabbed a few stuffs our hands could manage to pick. We lost a lot of property including bags of maize, clothes and school books,” Ruth explained.She says her family was the first to arrive at Havala Primary school.

Life at the Camp

Learning was disrupted as classrooms had had turned into shelter and storage for families whose homes had been washed away. Ruth says it was difficult to live their normal lives in the three months they spent in Havala school camp.

 “I lost my school books, my uniform and clothes,” she explains.

Every morning the parents were asked to vacate the classrooms and to return in the evening to create space for classes.

Ruth says they failed to even rescue a single blanket and therefore they could only use wrappers to cover themselves at night when sleeping.

“We were doing everything else here; women and girls were bathing in ladies’ toilets while the men and boys used the boys’ toilet,” she narrates.

Ruth says they lost their privacy. They were crammed in a manner that only permitted them to sleep due to fatigue.

“Some people brought along with them bedbugs and you know this became a serious bother, not to mention issues of hygiene,” she recalls.

Patricia Chisoni, 13, says there was also rampant theft at the camp. The little, especially school material, that was salvaged when they were escaping from the floods was stolen from them.

Standard 8 learner Kusala Makono said the situation was worsened the behaviour of people in surrounding villages who would be throwing stones on the roof of the classrooms while they were studying.

And as if all this is not enough, some men would come at night and try to open doors to the classrooms the girls were sleeping in, prompting their parents to stand guard against such mischief.

Havala Primary School head teacher Alemanawo Mariha in her office.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Gregory Gondwe

Havala Primary School head teacher Alemanawo Mariha, who has been managing the institution for 4 years said they accommodated families displaced by floods in three classrooms; two classrooms for women and one for men.

She says although they were asking the displaced persons to clear out from classes during the day time, it was, nevertheless, not easy.

“Children were unable to use some of the classrooms because they had become infested with bedbugs. We therefore resorted to open air classrooms; some classes were under the trees,” she explained.

Mariha says, materials to help the teachers and the learners were not available. They did not have enough teaching boards because they never anticipated that one day, there will be need for portable teaching boards. They were only depending on the classroom boards.   

Secondly, she observed that most of the learners that sought refuge at this school had lost a lot of their school materials.

Its all smiles. Trifonia (left) with her Elder sister Ruth.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Gregory Gondwe

Then, the help came!

Things started looking up as various organisations moved in to provide relief items. “UNICEF helped us greatly with education supplies. They brought all sorts of materials like exercise books, pencils, sharpeners, campus etc,” recalls Trifonia. When UNICEF came, Trifonia adds they gave them a sense of relief. UNICEF brought sports balls, exercise books and carrier bags.

Kusala who now wants to become a doctor says she owes it all to her volunteer teacher who motivated her. The volunteer teacher, Anne Nhlane, says she works with other teachers in the school to support the 56 girls and 33 boys in the school who were affected by the floods.

“During sports days on Wednesdays and Fridays, I work hand in hand with the sports teachers. There is also sanitation teacher that we work with in planning together each and every morning to ensure that the sanitation of the school is top notch,” she explained.

Annie also explained that they created a girl’s group of those that have reached puberty stage considering that they are vulnerable to sexual abuse. In the girls’ club, they discuss how they can protect themselves and attach value to their future besides practising good hygiene.

“We talked about harmful effects of early marriages and the importance of working hard in school and achieve their goals for the future,” she says.

Most of these girls have been hugely inspired. Anne explains that previously, that upon failing to get secondary selection, girls used to get married, but that is no longer the case.

“Kusala, one of the girls who was affected was not selected in the previous selection and she has instead opted to repeat with the hope of making it this year instead of opting for something else,” she stated.

The head teacher who has taught for 24 years says that while teaching and learning resources that were given to them by UNICEF have had a huge boost, they are yet to improve on the sanitation front.

She said for example, when they hosted IDPs there was a lot that suffered. They had 12 school buckets but they are now all stolen and gone.

Anne Nhlane, Volunteer teacher at Havala Primary School helping a student in class.
© UNICEF Malawi/2019/Gregory Gondwe

Mariha says the volunteer teacher has transformed this school tremendously because among others, she has created user-friendly environment for all the learners.

“The school has managed to now have flower gardens all around. The culture of cleaning toilets is on full drive although we do not have enough materials to facilitate this sanitation drive,” she said.

She also commended the extra-curricular activities where she gathers the learners together to do all sorts of games, reciting poetry, swapping folktales and riddles etc.

The volunteer teacher has also taught the learners on how to prepare for any such eventualities like the flooding as school learners.

“The advantage with that is that the learners have taken home these messages and shared it with their communities,” said Mariha. “The volunteer teacher has really helped us a lot and we are happy to have her around.” Havala Primary school has enrolment of 1700 out of which 896 are girl learners, the newly acquired enthusiasm that is palpable at the school makes you believe when the learners say, they can only see a brighter future after the flood.

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