By Foster Benjamin:
Standing on the rubble of bricks that once served as her home, Charity Kathumba, 14, cuts out a wretched figure.
She is not alone. Sitting nearby are her three siblings. They, too, look like refugees in their own home village of Gawanya in Traditional Authority Mabuka in Mulanje District.
Charity’s family members—Chisomo, 10; Misheck, three; and Rex Abrahamson—exemplify the harsh reality that some survivors of storms experience.
On February 15 this year, a raging storm swept across Gawanya Village and others where it displaced over 355 households, according to Mulanje District Council Relief and Rehabilitation Officer, Maria Joseph.
In the moment of chaos, Charity and her siblings stood still.
“We went to bed while rain kept falling outside. We then woke up to the fierce shaking of the house. Raging waters then found their way into the house,” she recalls.
A wall fell on the children who got injured before they were rushed outside by well-wishers to watch the swift water flatten their house.
“Now we don’t have a house to live in and we lost almost everything. We cry every moment we look back to the time our parents were alive,” Charity, a Form One learner, explains.
Her father died in 2012 after a battle with heart complications with his wife following six years later due to similar conditions.
The parents’ deaths marked the genesis of trouble for the family left behind.
Today, over a month after the devastating rainstorm, Charity and her three siblings are homeless.
They are seeking shelter in a rickety and tiny house belonging to their grandmother, Tereza Magonjwa, who is also extremely poor and has a speaking impairment.
Hunger has become a familiar guest in their household but Charity is refusing to resign to fate.
“I frequently do piece work such as doing laundry for wealthier families or working in gardens. I sometimes also pluck tea to earn something,” she says.
She earns an average of K500 from the piece work which keeps the family going.
Charity has to mix school and moving from one house to another to seek some work from where she earns the little money.
“Sometimes the piece-work is not there. We survive by God’s grace,” she says, a sad look registering on her small face.
The family is not on government’s social cash transfer programme, through which vulnerable households receive cash packages to meet some of their basic needs.
“Those who were identifying beneficiaries skipped us apparently because we did not qualify. Yet, we are orphans with no sustainable source of income,” Charity says.
Village Head Gawanya admits the child-headed family is not benefiting from the programme which seeks to lift poverty-stricken households out of their misery.
She claims she was not part of the team that identified and registered beneficiaries.
“Extension workers would be better placed to explain why they left the family out. In fact, I’m also struggling to make ends meet,” she says.
On her part, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati says the programme is fraught with problems.
She pushed the blame on those tasked with the responsibility of identifying beneficiaries at village level, saying they sometimes register undeserving households.
“The programme targets ultra-poor households like Charity’s but it appears some traditional leaders ignore such households for their own reasons.
“They opt for individuals who do not even meet the requirements. It is regrettable,” Kaliati says.
She charges making a difference in the lives of the ultra-poor is an urgent priority and promises to move around and see for herself who is not benefiting from the social cash transfer programme.
In the meantime, Charity’s family can afford a smile after Malawi Red Cross Society (MRCS) gave them K65,000 cash under the humanitarian organisation’s emergency response initiative.
About 177 beneficiaries were reached out in the intervention.
MRCS Communications Specialist Felix Washoni says the charity coordinated the emergency response as part of its mandate.
“We gave vulnerable families cash to rebuild their lives. We are ready to respond to any humanitarian crisis since it is our mandate,” Washoni says.
Charity is grateful that her family was among those that benefitted from MRCS’s response but seeks more support.
“We are still without a home and struggle to find our daily meals. The maize was washed away from the fields,” says the girl who aspires to become a nurse.