Malawi: Tropical Storm Ana threatens children’s education and dreams
By Charles Kabena
At the centre of a village that was recently inundated by water, just outside a camp of internally displaced people, smoke is rising from amidst the surviving houses. A young boy, Yamikani, is squatting next to a kiln, packing grass around a mound of dirt and wood, blowing, determined to light up the fire for charcoal.
With a family struggling to help Yamikani with his future, he has taken matters into his hands and today he is burning charcoal.
When Yamikani went to sleep at his grandmother’s place, all was well. Before he left, he and his siblings had eaten nsima (a mix of maize flour and hot water) for supper, prepared by their mother. Earlier in the day, his father had helped him with his mathematics homework, assigned by teacher Banda in his Standard 2 class.
And that was the last time he would be in his father’s house again, as Tropical Storm Ana-induced floods passed his village, washing away everything on their way to the Shire River.
“When we were coming back from school, it was raining”, recalls Yamikani. “At night, it was also raining”. But his parents never thought the floods would pass through their community.
“The closest we have to the village is Lalanje River and it is people who live down that stream who always come up here for safety. We don’t get flooded over here and this was quite surprising”, said Thomson, Yamikani's father.
That night, Yamikani woke up to cries in other houses. As he tried to rush out, his grandmother stopped him by the door.
“There was a lot of noise, people were blowing tin pails and shouting, 'Water! Water! Water!'”, recalls Yamikani. For reasons he did not understand first, his grandmother’s house was safe.
As he stood at the door, he saw his mother and father carrying his two siblings, coming towards their house. Yamikani's grandmother went to receive one of the children as Yamikani’s father waded through the water back to their house, to see if he could salvage anything from the wreckage. But there was nothing. The house had completely collapsed, covering everything that remained in the rubble.
“We lost food, utensils, clothes and Yamikani’s books”, bemoans Thomson, who said he is working as hard as he can to help his family and his children survive.
But Yamikani is still at pains over the losses suffered. While school has been closed for some days, Yamikani is sad that he has no books to take to school, should they reopen any soon.
In typically what every father in his situation is doing, Thomson says he is trying, but his primary focus is on finding food and not exercise books. Watching his son engulfed by the smoke as he blows into his kiln, Thomson says he is a sad man to see their challenges stretching into many other avenues of life, especially education.
But he is helpless as a father as well.
“You see, after the damage suffered, we can’t find anymore piecework in people’s gardens, and that means no money. All that I had has gone into buying food and it’s sad because if feels like I’m neglecting my child”, says a crestfallen Thomson, who is even worried that in the absence of immediate support, food may run out.
Meanwhile, World Vision is running an emergency response to support families affected by the disaster, and has so far distributed over 10,000 exercise books to children in affected communities.