It is a scorching Saturday afternoon when locals from communities surrounding Fatima Community Day Secondary School in Nsanje North throng the institution to watch football and netball games strategically organised to spread significant messages.
Sophia Kautsitsi, 32, is one of them and, in the sweltering heat— one of the highest in the Shire Valley district—she marvels at the young, sporty girls who leap with vigour on a sandy and uneven netball court.
“These girls are strong and are able to play netball with a lot of energy, perhaps because they are careful about their diets,” Kautsitsi says with admiration.
And a few yards away, 22 men are also fighting for glory in the final match of a tournament that has allowed Concern Worldwide Malawi to fulfil its goal of promoting early recovery and resilience for Cyclone Idai victims.
The shattering weather phenomenon, that badly ravaged southern Malawi and parts of Mozambique and Zimbabwe, left over 1,000 dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.
As Kautsitsi watches the girls spring to and fro on the hard netball court, she remembers that her two daughters at home developed a penchant for sports.
“I am working hard to ensure they have the required food combinations so that they grow healthily. We have been constantly reminded about giving our children meals which have the six food groups in them,” Kautsitsi says.
Her household of four people was one of those heavily hit by the floods.
The furious waters destroyed the food that she had kept in her house and that which was still in the fields waiting for harvesting.
“We were left without food. My children were becoming malnourished until Concern Worldwide came in to teach us about how we can improve our nutrition status using some very basic foods.
“Right now, I have a backyard garden where I grow different kinds of crops and my children are healthy. I hope they will realise their dreams of becoming athletes,” Kautsitsi narrates.
The mother of three, from Dogo Village, Traditional Authority Mulolo, Nsanje North, is also among 1,700 individuals targeted by Concern Worldwide in its recovery project funded by US Philanthropy.
Bit by bit, she has risen from the ruins of the floods, praying that more support comes her way as she strives to build her household’s resilience.
Their nutrition improvements are being propped up by good sanitation and hygiene practices instilled by Concern Worldwide in the households affected by the flood.
“Floods often leave poor households like mine poorer and it is such households that are also very prone to sanitation-related outbreaks. But after the messages on good sanitation practices sank in, we are able to take care of ourselves,” Kautsitsi says.
She also waxes lyrical about the sports tournaments that Concern Worldwide Malawi has been organising, describing them as perfect therapies in times of stress.
As the flood waters receded and the damage became apparent, Kautsitsi recalls, most affected households lived in constant fear of how they would survive.
“In fact, the trauma itself was too much but the sports activities have proved important as they act as recreation moments,” Kautsitsi says.
Such sentiments are echoed by Concern Worldwide Malawi Country Director, Yousaf Jogezai, who hopes that the targeted households have sufficiently recovered from the aftereffects of the disaster.
“We are also confident that through our interventions, the affected households are more prepared about how they can bear future disasters.
“They are also adopting new agriculture methods which will allow them to respond to adverse weather patterns. They should be able to graduate from poverty to self-sustainability,” Jogezai says.
He also praises the Department of Sports in the Ministry of Sports, Youth and Culture which he says has been instrumental in the organisation of the sports activities.
Through such activities, Jogezai recounts, promoting awareness of different post-floods initiatives has been easy as locals see sports as a unifying factor which brings together people of different backgrounds.
Director of Netball, Mary Waya, who presided over the final event of the football and netball tournaments, on behalf of the ministry’s principal secretary, agrees with that position.
“We are happy that organisations such as Concern Worldwide are deploying sports in their programmes. This is also helping in the improvement of sports in the country. We are able to see the talent that is there in our communities,” Waya says.
To Kautsitsi and several other households in T/A Mulolo, that were hit by the March floods, beyond the wreckage left behind by the disaster, hope is rising again.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje