By Isaac Salima
Ill-judged, they live on the peripheral of society.
When absent from communities, they are seldom missed.
As such, some will give in to alcoholism.
That is how we find them at 11am this Saturday morning; they have had one too many and are drunk.
Meet the canoe operators from Chindoko 2 Village, Traditional Authority Makhwira, in Chikwawa District.
They are errand boys for canoe owners as, after toiling throughout the day, they are given something. Unfortunately, most of them end up using it for watering their lives with alcoholic beverages.
However, canoe operators have suddenly occupied a position of significance in the Shire Valley, which was battered by Tropical Storm Ana on January 24 this year.
As the country continues to grapple with the effects of the storm, the canoe operators have sprung to action, complementing the efforts of the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) and other stakeholders.
These include Malawi Defence Force and Malawi Police Service personnel, all of whom are making sacrifices to save property and people’s lives.
At the mention of one Khunga Levi, from Chindoko 3 village in Chikwawa District, everyone starts paying attention.
Through his efforts, which include helping people cross flooded rivers on canoe, he has earned the respect of all, including Maria Andsen.
We were in Chindoko 2 area on a mission to meet a group of young men that earn a living from the water. Their workstation is Lupiya plantation area, where people flock to to attend to farming and fishing activities.
Andsen recalls one Monday morning on January 24 2022, when she nearly brushed shoulders with death after coming in contact with running water that had become part of floods due to heavy rains.
She had gone to attend to farming activities at Lupiya and floods, which had been triggered by Tropical Storm Ana the previous night, found her there. She said the area, which borders Ngabu, is surrounded by a river which had swelled up at the time, with water running all over the place.
“We were over 60 people at the place because others were being housed there. The river continued swelling up and the situation became dire because we could not cross it,” Andsen said.
She said they saw themselves kissing goodbye to dear life as water had started submerging the entire place. By sheer grace, canoe operators who were on the other side came to their rescue.
“After risking their lives and saving us, they went back to save other stranded people. They are the reason I am alive today,” Andsen recalled.
One of the canoe operators, Lazaro Harold, admitted that they decided to face the risk and cross to the other side of the river because other people were in danger.
“As we canoed to where they were, water was getting into the canoe. It was risky, yes, but we could not do otherwise,” Harold said.
His colleague Manyenje Malekeza said he was happy to have saved some lives on the day.
“It would have been catastrophic had it been that we were not there. I am happy that we managed to join hands with others in saving those who were on the verge of losing their lives,” he said.
Tropical Storm Ana hit the country between January 23, 24 and 25 2022, resulting in flash floods that destroyed crops and houses in 17 districts. About 870,000 people were affected in the country, with Chikwawa and Nsanje registering about 440,000 survivors of the storm.
According to Dodma, 46 people have been confirmed dead, with 20 reported missing as a result of the flash floods.
Currently, many people are seeking refuge in camps after being displaced by water. A report that Dodma presented to President Lazarus Chakwera three weeks ago indicates that the storm affected the 2022 education year as almost 100,000 learners are out of school.
This is because 29 schools have been occupied by displaced people. Companies and organisations continue to reach out to survivors.
As people are joining hands in supporting those affected by the floods, it is apparent that there are some people who gave their all to save those that were in danger using tree products such as canoes.