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Reclaiming peace in unlikely places

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By Alick Ponje:

ONE ACTIVITY THROUGH WHICH CHILDREN EXPRESS THEMSELVES—Drawing

A Fast-Paced dance by children at Namachete Primary School, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mwambo, in Zomba District brightens up the face of 10-year-old Enoch Muwawa and over 330 of his age-mates who found themselves at the institution by acts of God.

The children, some returning to their school not to learn but to seek shelter, are slowly recovering from the traumatising experience that drove them out of their homes together with their siblings and parents.

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Others are from outlying areas where structures were swept away by raging waters overflowing from Thondwe River whose banks burst in the wake of last month’s downpour.

“It was a traumatising experience for all of us. Children were the most affected as they could not understand why we are here,” says Febe Selemani who is among women staying at the camp which has been their home for a month and two weeks now.

Thousands of hectares of crops in the location were also destroyed by the floods and heavy rains which experts say might not relent in the near future as climatic conditions continue to change.

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As houses shrunk to their bases, destroying utensils, clothes and food in the process, they mostly brought to their knees poverty-stricken locals who rely on subsistence agriculture for survival.

“We rushed to the school because it was one of the few structures standing after the disaster. It was our last sanctuary—parents and our children,” Selemani says.

Now, at the institution, the children are occasionally found in sizeable affinity groups where they engage in activities that continue to brighten their faces and recoup their lost happiness.

An expansive open space at the school provides them with an opportunity to be freer, perhaps, more than ever before.

On it, they are able to play all forms of games and dance to music coming from a system that is occasionally brought here to create an entertaining atmosphere among those smarting from chaos.

“Things were really bad when we had just arrived at this camp,” Selemani recalls. “Some children kept pestering us on why we are here and when we would return home. Now, they have accepted the situation and are not complaining anymore.”

When we visited the camp on Wednesday last week, we found, perhaps, the busiest people in the area. It was a beehive of activity with children at the core of everything.

Some were outside tents, dancing and singing cheerfully while others were drawing different shapes through which they were able to express their experiences at the camp and elsewhere.

Selemani was even surprised that the children have so easily come to terms with the traumatising experience which has been rare in the flat stretch which was once teeming with healthy crops and freely-roaming livestock.

“Most of them would opt to be alone, in secluded places. Some did not even have friends here but that is no longer the case. They are moving on and that is heart-warming to us, parents,” she says.

She also reveals that, having also been traumatised by the tragic experience, which claimed about 60 lives across the country, parents, too, would easily lose their temper and lash out at their children even without a justifiable reason.

Enock corroborates such sentiments, saying during their first days at the camp, which has 227 households, their parents were very temperamental.

“They would flog us even if we did not do anything wrong. Our parents were mostly moody and it was very difficult to be close to them,” he recalls.

Now, they are either among children, playing with them various games or supervising activities like drawing.

The camp has become a convenient playground for the little ones who still desire to return to their conventional homes, but after having made new friends and having healed from the post-disaster trauma.

“There is no more sorrow here. We are given different kinds of materials to use to drain our sorrow. We sometimes play football or draw shapes so that we should forget what we went through to reach this place,” Enoch says.

Other camps with children across the country are having similar experiences courtesy of Save the Children which, with support from Start Network, is reaching out to them with services and materials to help them heal emotionally.

The organisation also trains caregivers, counsellors and parents on how they can take care of children in the temporary facilities so that they move on following the disaster.

KADZAMIRA—It is very helpful

“In situations like these, children easily get depressed. That is why we are working with them in the children corners and [community-based care centres] so that they drain the trauma,” Save the Children Senior Technical Advisor, Thandizolathu Kadzamira, says.

She further states that traumatised children need special attention so that they do not grow up with the effects of bitter experiences that drove them into withdrawing from interacting with others.

And as they scuttle around Namachete Camp, Kadzamira is contented that the recovery process, coordinated by different parties, is bearing fruits.

“No one should live with any kind of trauma. It becomes a big concern if the victims are children,” she says, glorying in the fact that by merely being busy with all sorts of activities, the children are not worrying about what will happen next.

More and more of them are further opening up to their parents and caregivers about other forms of abuse that they may experience.

“It is very helpful when they express themselves in whatever way. For instance, if they have been abused, they can simply draw something and the caregivers and counsellors will be able to assess and help them. They get rid of the bitter feeling,” Kadzamira explains.

Even beyond the camps, she says, Save the Children is working to ensure children live normal lives and are protected from all forms of abuse.

So, other children who have not been shoved into any temporary facility by the ravaging natural disasters are still being groomed to be better citizens elsewhere.

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