By Alick Ponje:
At Chagambatuka Primary School, on the eastern banks of Shire River, in Chikwawa, even in the absence of vicious natural disasters that push people out of their homes, four classes still learn outside.
When the floods flattened houses and swept some away between March 5 and 8, the school’s woes were to be heightened as locals slowly trickled in to occupy three of the only four classrooms there.
“We could not turn them away; they were in dire straits,” Head teacher, Moses Nkhoma, said two weeks ago.
The plane stretch, where the school is located, is left with a few baobab trees and spiky shrubs which fail to temper the strong winds that sweep across the school.
Lessons conducted outside are typically disturbed in various weather phenomena: strong winds, rains.
The recurrent problems mean the 752 learners at the school do not fully acquire the knowledge which experts envisaged should be imparted on them within a particular period.
“With the three classrooms taken up by the flood victims, most learners are not coming to school. Missing classes means they miss certain knowledge which they are supposed to acquire,” Nkhoma states.
And there is more.
Along the length of the block whose one room is shelved for Standard 8 learners, women are busy making fires and cooking,
Thin charcoal-grey pillars of smoke waft into the classroom where a teacher is ardently preparing his learners for the forthcoming Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations.
A few coughs from the learners attract the attention of the women who fervently fan the fires to reduce the smoke. They only succeed a little.
“When the smoke gets here, it becomes difficult to concentrate as we cough continuously. Tears roll down from our eyes,” thirteen-year-old Esmie Rex laments.
But if they are to have a meal for the day, the occupants of the camp can only make fires for cooking along the western length of the school block which sufficiently blocks wind that would blow the fire away.
Yet again, another form of disturbance is clear even from a distance.
As you approach the school—surrounded by small trees which Nkhoma says they are planting to mitigate the effects of climate change— you hear palpable noise from children scuttling around the place.
“You cannot control these small children. Some even come to peep through the windows while others throw stones into our classroom,” 14-year-Ruth Feston says.
Such a scenario, according to the learner, should not be at a place keeping all kinds of people bundled together by a natural disaster that did not pre-announce its arrival.
“There are lactating mothers whose children cannot be prevented from crying; there are three or four-year-olds who have found company among their peers here,” Ruth explains.
In several other camps in the Shire Valley district, similar problems abound especially as this year’s flood disaster is said to be one of the worst in recent years.
It caught most locals unawares, says Catholic Development Commission (Cadecom) Diocesan Secretary for Chikwawa, Raymond Chimsale.
“We believe that the damage could have been worse if people were not prepared. The situation in the camps could have been worse,” Chimsale says.
He reckons that even those who were prepared found themselves trapped in the disaster after waters changed their courses.
When we visited Chagambatuka Camp two weeks ago, Chimsale was of the view that more coordination was required to assist the victims.
“We should also be looking at how best to coordinate at district level. When such disasters strike, people are helpless and hopeless,” Chimsale says.
In Traditional Authority Makhuwira—where the school is located—Cadecom is working with communities on how they can manage the environment and improve their income.
While the fruits may not be immediately seen, Chimsale hopes that slowly, the communities are building resilience and will be able to overcome the natural phenomena.
Esmie and Ruth may not be among those learning without smoke in their classrooms or noise from children scurrying around them.
Other learners pushed out of their classroom and other learning spaces by flood victims might also not stop enduring ultra-sunny, windy or rainy moments.
Present interventions could ultimately work for those coming after them.
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