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Courage in face of disaster

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KALUA—There is need for learning to
continue even during disasters

At 13 years, Chisomo Banda of Allan 2 Village and Methusela Majiga of Sekani Village, Traditional Authority Lundu in Chikwawa District, have already experienced the ugly side of climate change.

Though living far apart from each other, the two girls share a story, having survived the devastation that was caused by Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods in the Shire Valley in January this year.

While Chisomo and family members sought refuge at the nearby Masukambiya camp, which was set up to accommodate flood survivors in the area, Methusela and her family found sanctuary at Sekeni camp, which was also set up for the very reason— to cater for those whose homes were damaged by floods.

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The floods came in the middle of the night and it was neighbors who saved their lives by alerting them about the overflow, Chisomo recalls.

“The floods damaged our house, destroyed our crops in the field and livestock we used to keep, to the extent that my mother could not provide for us anymore and our only hope was the food provided by organisations at the camp,” says Chisomo, the first born in her family.

Chisomo and family spent a difficult month at the camp, where food, clean water and a good place to spend the night at could only exist in their dreams.

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Not only that; Chisomo also lost a month of learning time at the camp while, elsewhere, children of her age were still enjoying their right to education.

“Like all the other children at the camp, I thought I would never go back to school. I lost hope as the floods had also taken with them my school materials such as textbooks, exercise books and even my school uniform, things that my mother could not afford to replace while taking care of us at the same time,” Chisomo narrates.

Despite several challenges that she experienced while at the camp, Chisomo managed to sit her Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education (PSLCE) examinations and has been selected to Ng’abu Secondary School in Chikwawa District.

She is now concerned for her two sisters, who she says are still living in dire poverty.

“All I want to do is work hard in school so that I can assist my sisters and mother because I know that, without me, they will continue being helpless,” says Chisomo.

Methusela has the same story; she was the first to notice the raging waters as the mattress she was sleeping on, on the floor, got soaked as her mother was fast asleep on a bed nearby.

“I woke my mother up and, together, we tried to open the door but could not until some neighbours came to our rescue. By that time, the waters had already reached hip level,” Methusela says.

At Sekeni Primary School camp where she, together with her family rushed to, life was not easy.

There was no school, no opportunity to play with friends, at least in the first days, and no food.

“The government and other well-wishers used to bring maize floor, soya pieces, beans and cooking oil but these were not enough for us all. As a result, my mother would do some piecework to find money for buying us some food,” Methusela says.

Like Chisomo, Methusela, who wants to become a doctor, fought hard and, against all odds, sat PSLCE examinations.

She has been selected to Ng’abu Secondary School in the same district.

Her dream of becoming a doctor in the future is back on course after the disruptions caused by the natural disaster.

Chisomo and Methusela are among over 2,000 girls in 20 schools in Chikwawa that were affected by the tropical storms in January and March this year and have benefitted from initiatives aimed at ensuring that the girl child continues with her education despite facing challenges such as floods and other natural disasters.

Through an education in emergencies initiative, Child-centred organisation Save the Children has been providing learning materials and toys to children, especially girls, that were displaced by floods and were living in camps in the lower shire.

The organisation also established child corners in camps where children affected by the floods received psycho-social support and other forms of health care.

It is through such initiatives that Chisomo and Methusela managed to sail through the tough times in camp and get selected to secondary schools.

Save the Children Projects Manager Mercy Kalua says natural disasters, early this year, affected and denied many girls their right to quality education.

Kalua cites menstrual hygiene as among critical parts of a girl child’s life that were affected by life in the camps.

“There is, therefore, a need for stakeholders to not only react on time when disasters strike but also promote community resilience and build the capacity of community members to prepare well ahead of emergencies.

“We need, also, to come up with creative ways of ensuring that learning continues amid such disasters,” Kalua points out.

Recently, Malawi joined the international community in commemorating International Day of the Girl Child.

Speaking during the commemorations, Gender, Social Welfare and Community Development Minister Patricia Kaliati acknowledged that women and children bear the brunt of climate change.

“Girls face a lot of challenges, especially when disaster strikes. For example, natural disasters, including the Covid pandemic, exposed girls to abuse both in camps and at home as schools remained closed.

“That is why we, as government, continue to push for stiffer punishment for people found to have committed such crimes as defilement and rape,” Kaliati said.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DODMA) says 33 people were killed as the tropical storm that swept across much of Southern Africa impacted more than 840,000.

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