Eustina Ndaona: Risks her life to fend for her family

They say faith is a belief, so too is fear. To 18-year-old Eustina Ndaona of Phalombe, the two are just sides of the same coin.

The relief aid she has just received at Nkhulambe Evacuation Camp has left her torn apart; between hoping for the best and fearing for the worst.

She is a person with albinism.

Of course, she calls it a welcome ‘disturbance’. She has had no choice anyway in her life. Destitution has been the order of the day.

Her life is embroidered in hardships. She has rarely known any joy.

Eustina is a second born in a family of six, three of whom are dead.

“I lost my parents when I was about seven. Mum was the first to die before dad followed a year later. They both succumbed to varying illnesses,” she said.

Their death meant her aged and ailing granny was left vulnerable. There was no one to support her. Eustina had to step up to help fill the gap. She would alternate the roles between the granny and her two siblings.

She explained: “It means I was now turned into a breadwinner by default. Up until now, it’s a child-headed family, with me at its head in terms of providing the basic needs. As expected, it’s a struggle, but life has to go on, doesn’t it?”

Come early March 2019, another calamity struck again.

The recent floods did not spare her village, Siyankhuni, in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkhulambe. It was one of the worst hit in the 16 districts that were hit by the floods.

The Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma) reports that over 23 000 households were affected, displacing over 80 000 people in the district alone.

These would later be accommodated in 35 evacuation camps government and other relief agencies set up.

Eustina’s family home was destroyed. The flood also washed away the maize crop in the field. The task to ensure survival of her family just got tougher.

All hope to beat starvation and hunger this year was gone. For a moment, she felt like looking inside her own grave as fate was having its own desires on her family.

Fast forward five weeks, the same fate would place a rare smile on Eustina’s beleaguered face. She was identified as the first group of beneficiaries to the core relief items the UNHCR, the United Nations (UN) refugee agency, had airlifted into the country to help support about 10 000 flood survivors.

The items included family tents, plastic tarpaulins, blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats, solar lamps and kitchen sets.

The agency is part of humanitarian working in close collaboration with government and other humanitarian partners to ensure people receive the required assistance and are protected from risks and dangers.

It has also deployed emergency staff to support relief efforts.

Of the relief aid the agency has distributed over the past week across affected communities, UNHCR Country Representative Monique Ekoko said: “I have seen first-hand the devastation this [Idai] cyclone has brought on people in Malawi, leaving them in dire need of humanitarian support. Our supplies will help provide shelter and basic items to survivors, including women and children, as they have lost everything.”

Nevertheless, Eustina is back to her worrying former self.

As if her condition as someone with albinism is not life-endangering enough, the relief items have just added to her vulnerability.

Among the relief items she got is a tent which is enough to host her entire family, some beddings and quality kitchen utensils.

“I am very grateful to the agency for these, but I’m still scared,” she says.

“I am more worried about our safety now. What if this will attract others who may not have benefitted from the same, to attack us?

It sounds a genuine concern.

Eustina, a primary school dropout, spends much of the day fending for her family. She relies on doing some piece works for their survival.

The granny is usually left alone to ‘defend’ the household.

In its recent report on the state of albinism across the continent, the African Union (AU) argues that though home is supposed to be a place of solace, refuge, rest and safety; most African communities have since turned into places of unspeakable horrors to persons with albinism

And Eustina can attest to the same: “The thing is, I have always felt targeted. The bullying I got at school in the early grades convinced me that I was a mistake. Perhaps that was what contributed to my dropping out later on, though my parents’ demise was the major one. It’s a pity I still get some stick over my skin colour today.

Village head Siyankhuni shared Eustina’s fears. He was, however, quick to allay them, arguing the community had enough structures to ensure her safety.

“Much as it is hard to trust anyone these days, we have committees specially looking into the welfare of such people.

Besides, the police around here have always been supportive enough to our community policing endeavors,” explained the village head.

According to AU chairperson for persons with albinism Overstone Kondowe, there have been about 600 reported cases from 28 countries in Africa since 2000.

The AU cites Malawi and Mozambique as countries experiencing the highest number of attacks on people with albinism in Southern Africa.

“And we believe that a lot more goes unreported when we consider that the majority of Africans with albinism live in remote areas with very limited access to police, the media and any other authorities,” said Kondowe.

Luckly for Eustina, such structures seem to be a stone-throw away in her community.

In a separate interview, Phalombe District Commissioner Memory Kaleso concurred with Siyankhuni.

She argued that the first line of defense still lies in the communities in which the vulnerable live.

“We have also identified structures that are directly responsible for such individuals with special needs, including Eustina. There are child protection workers and community police among the communities who coordinate safety measures to the affected.

“As for people with albinism, it’s a bit easy because we have them in clusters and we know exactly where one is,” she said.

In a report presented this month at a side event for persons with albinism during the 12th session of the conference of parties (COP) to the convention on the rights of persons with disabilities at UN Headquarters, in New York, USA; the AU called on member states and governments to do more.

“Whilst recognising the positive steps which our governments have made by putting in place laws, policies and national action plans (Kenya, Namibia Malawi, Nigeria and Mozambique) to address these atrocities, we call on them to implement and enforce these policies, laws and plans by having special protected budgetary support. We hope doing that will make a difference in our lives.”

For Eustina, it is yet to be seen whether the relief aid she got would be a stepping stone or yet another stumbling block in her young life.

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