Months after the cyclone . . . what about the children?

13 Feb, 2020 - 00:02 0 Views
Months after the cyclone . . . what about the children?

The Chronicle

Jephiter Tsamwi

Probably the above was a homework. Maybe a class test, I am not so sure. It stuck painstakingly dominant at the chalk board of one classroom at Ndakopa Primary School in Chimanimani District. 

It summarises what life has principally become for a community that used to be a self-sustaining green bub and national breadbasket of enchanting fruits and vegetables. Cyclone Idai wiped out their hope, leaving them with nothing in a country hard hit by economic challenges and droughts. 

That day, we drove for about 10 kilometres on a dusty broken road; a deathly silence prevailing along the way, in what used to be a busy trade zone. 

The heat was scorching, chasing away even the birds into their hiding places. It is a disturbing sight, a once blooming community left with little, but only scars of disaster written in every space. 

The mudslides distorted even the once fine-looking scenery. The road twists and turns in the valleys, patched with temporary fillings. Chimanimani used to be beautiful. Everything was destroyed in just two days. Cyclone Idai had no mercy. 

We passed through Dzingire Primary School, one of the oldest in the district. Seventy-nine children perished in the cyclone, along with three teachers and the headmaster. The pain the community members in this region are enduring is unimaginable. Think about the children at this school. How are they coping? 

We proceeded down the now scary valleys of the ruined road to our final destination, Ndakopa Primary School, located just 200 meters away from the river that flooded and destroyed everything they love. 

As we cross the river, our driver stops to show us a flood of huge rocks covering a width of almost 100 meters, and stretching for almost a kilometre. To the shock of my life, he tells me this used to be a busy business centre-with houses, a police camp, and school boarding houses. It was one of the busiest places in the district. 

On the 15th of March 2019, villagers woke up to a lifeless scene, just piles of rocks dragged by the floods, wiping everything on the way, along with lives of hundreds of women and children. 

Chimanimani is mountainous and a place that I would classify as one of the neglected zones. Children walk long distances to get to the nearest school; some as far as 10kilometers. This centre was slowly turning into a boarding house centre for such children. 

For now let me ignore the potential child protection risks associated with children renting houses for themselves, in unregistered and unregulated spaces. Cyclone Idai came, vicious and destructive. They all perished. 

On this day, we had some focus group discussions with villagers and the children as we try to get an in-depth understanding of the child protection issues in disaster affected areas. I have never seen such distressed faces ever before. The children told us how sad they are. Their school secretary died. Fellow children died. A number told us they lost their parents. Orphaned at such a tender age in painful circumstances in which they lost even the opportunity to see the bodies of their departed loved ones. 

They tell us how scared they become each time it rains. What used to be a symbol of hope and precious moment has suddenly turned into a dreaded constant phase. Rains bring back memories of the saddest day of their precious lives. A teacher at the school told us some of the children start crying each time they see dark clouds filling the skies in anticipation of the rains. That is the extent to which the little souls are traumatised. Normal lives for these people have not been restored yet.

We are told by the villagers that a number of bridges are still broken, making rivers impassable for the children. Each time it rains, school attendance drops. And true to these upshots, the pass rate at Ndakopa Primary school dropped from 78.38% in 2018, to 63.89% in 2019. It is the children that bear the greatest pain of climate change. The world cares less about the environment. The impact of the resulting adverse weather condition bites the innocent. At global level, there is still no significant commitment at least to support the current green movement. Perhaps the cynics need to visit Chimanimani and come face to face with the certainty of cyclones and drought. 

There is nothing more troubling than seeing your children hungry, circumstances that have become daily experiences of parents in this area. The entire community’s livelihoods used to be sustained through agriculture. The cyclone destroyed the banana plantations, wrecked down the avocado trees and cleared off all the vegetable gardens, leaving the community with nothing but hope for the next donor to bring relief. It is a pain. 

Tambudzai Risinamwana (36) narrates how in desperation, mothers have resorted to reducing their daily meals from three to one and preparing what they call sodoma, a meal prepared with boiled and salted green bananas. Villagers and some teachers are beginning to suspect this meal is causing children to be sleepy while in school, affecting class performance in the process. No research has been conducted on the health consequences of some of these coping mechanisms. 

World Vision is among the partners that have done magnificently well to help restore normal life to these people. I spoke to the response manager, Mrs Diana Gundumure, a beautiful lion she is. It is not easy working in this environment. The organisation has established safe spaces for the children, provided temporary shelter for the affected, it is repairing damaged classroom blocks, training teachers to provide psychosocial support and providing some cash assistance to the affected among other interventions. But it is never enough. More is needed for the children. 

Until today, some families are still living in tents. They told us the temporary shelters are beginning to leak. The construction of houses to relocate those families has not yet started. Until when shall those married adults continue to share one bedroom with their children? What about the children? 

Pictures of the affected living in the tents are no longer allowed.  I personally understand. These people, desperate as they are, must be tired of being forced to smile at cameras. They have seen them all, the slay kings and slay queens in tight jeans, miniskirts and beautiful sun glasses, taking selfies to show they have been there, ignorant to the deep rooted pain of fellow citizens in the background of their shameless pictures. An insensitive society we have become. Pictures no more.  

Like ordered, we just drive past this area. Big rocks stuck in front of houses. Ruins of what used to be other people’s homes lay scattered across the hills. Cyclone Idai was just destructive. Life will never be the same again for the displaced children. 

I am appreciative of the work that has so far been done in Chimanimani. I appreciate millions of dollars have been directed towards the response. Dedicated people are still there, working to transform and give hope. I know class rooms have been built or repaired to restore normal education. I know toilets have been built to bring back sanitation. But there is just need for more. The children still need support. More psychosocial support. They need food. They need a solid social protection system. They need Government and development partners to do more. And true to the call by the community members I spoke to, they need less of donations. They need sustainable livelihoods, for they have years of experience in feeding themselves. 

“Our irrigation pipes were destroyed. Help us with those. Our soils were leached. Yields have been reduced. Help us with inputs and fertilisers. We need to feed our children,” Janet Mutumwa (44), one of the villagers told us. 

If we cannot do it for Janet, let’s do it for the children. They deserve more, for they are our future. 

Jephiter Tsamwi is a writer based in Harare. He was born and grew up in Manicaland Province, the province with districts (Chipinge, Chimanimani and Buhera) that were affected by Cyclone Idai

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