Schooling continues at Chumani Primary School in Mulanje District as classes house families displaced by Cyclone Freddy, freelance journalist JACK MCBRAMS writes for Unicef Malawi;
At Chumani Primary School, west of Mulanje town, a block of four classrooms stands stripped of its roof, blown away by the raging windstorms that accompanied Tropical Cyclone Freddy on the weekend of March 12, 2023.
Currently, two blocks are still standing, but one has been transformed into a camp for displaced families, leaving only one block functional for learners to continue their education.
Following the devastation caused by the longest-whirling cyclone, government temporarily suspended all classes in the affected areas.
But at Chumani, the Standard Eight classes continued uninterrupted in preparation for the Primary School Leaving Certificate of Education examinations slated for May 17 2023.
In Standard Eight, class teacher Sylvester Fyson takes his 31 pupils through a mathematics lesson, one of the last three chapters he has to conclude before the national examinations.
“We have work to cover and we cannot waste any time,” he explains. “The government has not changed the dates for the final exams for Standard Eight, so we have to do what we can with the limited time that we have.”
The teacher explained that he noted that some of his pupils, especially those that have directly been affected by the cyclone, have shown signs of trauma.
He narrates: “I noticed that some of the learners, especially those that were directly affected, seem to be showing signs of psychological trauma, their concentration in class is low and they contribute less.
“I think that they are reflecting on the events and thinking of the problems back home as some of them lost everything. And even some of them are here in the camp where the situation is really not that good as they sleep on the floor and there is no privacy.”
Fyson fears that the pass rate would be lower than they had initially projected.
“But we are hopeful because we are working with the affected children by counselling them and encouraging them because it is only by assuring them that they can regain their confidence,” he says.
The camp houses 125 people from the neighbouring villages devastated by the floods.
Among the pupils are 15-year-old Esther Mwiwe and 14-year-old Daliso Dinesi, who fled the floods and now live at the camp.
Esther, from Makhaula Village, is one of the brightest pupils in her class and she witnessed the floods as they swept neighbours and relatives away on March 14.
She explains that she is finding it difficult to keep pace with her education as the environment in the camp is not conducive to teaching and learning.
“I study during the night, but sometimes people in the camp disturb me so it’s difficult,” she says.
With all her books and possessions washed away, Esther has to start collecting notes from scratch.
“Studying will be a little difficult without the notes that I had collected through the year,” says Esther, who dreams of being a nurse.
On his part, Daliso, who aspires to become a teacher, says he has no choice under the circumstances but to work a little harder.
“It’s difficult to concentrate here in the camp when one wants to read. But we have little time left before the final exams, so we have to just put more effort. We will continue studying under the circumstances. It’s not like we have a choice,” he says.
As of Friday March 24 2023, at least 437 schools had been affected from 15 education districts.
“At least 139 929 learners have been affected, of which 23 066 are adolescents and 1,853 are learners with disabilities and at least 307 teachers have been affected.
Also, 242 schools are being used as spaces for internally displaced people,” the Ministry of Education said in a statement.
The Department of Disaster Management Affairs update on the devastation caused by Freddy has affected about 2.3 million people, displacing 659 000 people now living in 747 camps across 14 affected councils.
On Friday March 24 2023, the death toll nationally stood at 679, with 2 178 injuries and 537 still missing.