Pupils stuck in disaster ruins

Flooded crop fields, homes ripped to rubble, 106 people dead, 172 missing and 230 000 displaced. The floods that affected almost 1.1 million Malawians in 15 districts in January 2015 were devastating.

Three years on, some children remain hopelessly stuck in ruins as the disaster is slowly being forgotten.

Malita Makoko, 17, is in Standard Seven at Namiyala Primary School in Fatima, Nsanje.

She still learns under tree shades and tents as the remote school has no classrooms and desks.

Her peers keep dropping out, saying they could not cope with sitting on the floor.

Almost 260 pupils crammed in a tent at Namiyala Primary School

In fact, no pupil has been selected to secondary school since the floods wreaked havoc.

Malita presses on, hoping things will change and she will fulfil her dream to become a nurse.

Monday to Friday, she braves the Lower Shire Valley district’s blistering temperatures, learning in a bush.

“Our problems are many,” she says. “We endure dust and cruel sun. We have to stretch our eyes to read the writings on the scratched chalkboard.”

During the visit, we found almost 260 Standard Three pupils overcrowded in a worn-out tent. Some classes take refuge in a natural forest nearby.

The tents government and other agencies donated three years ago are the only prominent structures at the underdeveloped school.

Enrolment has more than doubled since the school moved from a flood-prone area after the humanitarian crisis.

Thomas Banda, a teacher, says managing pupils is not easy.

“Pupils are constantly distracted by passers-by. A teacher cannot mark all 260 exercise books within a  period. Sometimes, we mark just a few,” he says.

Head teacher Bright Chipojola says the children are getting a raw deal and they face a bleak future.

“The floods came, destroyed buildings and vanished, but it seems they also watered down the performance of our school,” he says.

Now, rains constantly disrupt classes as the pupils, left with nowhere to hide, escape to their homes.

“In January, they learned for just four days in two weeks,” said Chipojola.

Since 2015, there have been various interventions to ease the hardship of affected communities.

But the change agents seem not to see the unmistakable need to construct school blocks at Namiyala.

Village Head Chabe, who thanks Malawi Red Cross Society for constructing decent homes for some villagers hit hard by the floods, says pupils deserve better facilities.

Red Cross spokesperson Felix Washoni said the task of rebuilding education facilities was given “to other partners”.

“Out of many sectors created to coordinate the disaster response, we responded to the housing and health sectors which government allocated to us,” he explains.

Villagers surrounding the constrained primary school embarked on a self-help project to construct a classroom  block to lessen the suffering of their children.

Each family contributed K650 a month to fast-track the moulding of bricks.

However, a company Nsanje District Council hired to construct the block abandoned it at window level last October.

District education manager Towela Masoka Banda says the project was bankrolled by Local Development Fund (LDF) along with the one at Chikonje Primary School in Osiyana.

Nsanje District Council chairperson Mavuto Kamba says the council is using its “meagre resources” to improve the teaching and learning environment at Namiyala while waiting for other partners to intervene.

However, he asked for more time to gather facts.

Paradoxically, director of disaster recovery Paul Kalilombe attributed the sorry state of the school to the district council for not including it in the Malawi Floods Emergency Recovery Project.

“Districts had to identify schools to be rehabilitated. Since the project is ongoing, maybe the schools will be rehabilitated. But the council should have more information,” said the official from the Department of Disaster Management Affairs (Dodma).

In East Bank, four primary schools collapsed and pupils are learning in undesirable conditions that are deteriorating as the 2015 disaster slowly becomes a distant memory to decision-makers.

The cries of the children mired in the effects of the devastation are fading as they get accustomed to their undesirable conditions. However, duty bearers need to listen hard to realise they need to do more and faster. n


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