When strangers become family

When the waters came in the dead of the night, 52-year-old grandmother Esnath Makumbi hardly had time to react.

She and her grandchildren were awakened by fellow villagers running away from the rising waters.

Luwiza Mateme carries her relief items in Zomba

“We heard people shouting ‘water! water! water!’. But before we could do anything, the water was already making its way up our veranda and into the house. So, I just told the children to grab whatever they could and we ran off to seek shelter at a nearby school,” she explains of the floods that hit most parts of the Southern Region three weeks ago.

Makumbi hails from Chinkwangwa Village in T/A Mwambo in Zomba and takes care of one child and six grandchildren who have been living at Chinkwangwa Camp since the floods hit on May 8.

“When we came back to access the damage in the morning, the houses had fallen, the livestock had been washed away and all the crops were gone,” she said.

Such was the damage in Zomba that some old and frail villagers who had gathered to receive relief items at an impromptu camp at Chaweza Primary School in T/A Mwambo’s area in Zomba narrated how they had gone the whole day without food.

 “Yesterday I went to do some piecework sieving rice at the mill, so I managed to get a little food to feed the kids,” Makumbi said.

She wants to get back to her home quickly to try and rebuild her life.

“We will try to salvage what has been left of the house and try to rebuild,” she said.

Similarly, Luwiza Mateme, 80, was caught unawares when the floods hit Mwaliwa Village in T/A Chikowi, Zomba.

“I have never seen such devastation since I was born,” said the pigeon pea, maize and groundnuts farmer who looks after seven dependents.

Both women were part of 400 survivors in Zomba who received start-up relief items from the Pakistan Welfare Association to help the neediest households get back on their feet.

According to vice-chairperson Ali Akbar Kamdar, the association first surveys the affected areas, visiting their homes and assessing the needs of every victim before issuing a coupon for redeeming various relief items.

He states: “The basic thing is that we all are Malawians, we all are brothers. Our third generation is born here. So, Malawi is our home. This is not our second home anymore; this is our first home.

“So, when this disaster hit, we thought it was time we came out to help our fellow Malawians. But this is not only for the disaster. During the holy month of Ramadan, we have been doing the same,” he said.

The Pakistanis have so far spent over K22 million to aid 800 affected families in Chaweza and Kathebwe villages in Zomba as well as Chimombo, Phutheya and Malambwe villages in Phalombe.  The relief package included food, utensils, blankets, cash and clothes.

The association was created three years ago by Malawians of Pakistan origin. According to Kamdar, the funds for the relief items were sourced from members and friends both within and outside Malawi.

Group village head (GVH) Chaweza said the devastation floods Phalombe River caused in his area was gross. He appealed for more relief items, especially tents and building materials to enable the victims return to their villages to rebuild.

“The camp is not a place to live. As you can see, this is a school and it does not have the facilities to handle such crowds. Besides, it is inhuman. We have to move people out in the morning to enable the lessons to take place,” he said.

GVH Kathebwe hailed the Pakistanis, saying anyone who comes to assist one in need ceases to become a stranger.

“For what they have done in our time of need, they have become part of our extended family here in Zomba,” he said.

According to the traditional leader, heavy rains have damaged 562 houses in the area while over 400 houses were partially damaged.

Effects of heavy rains early this month affected about one million people in 14 districts in the Southern and Central regions. Fifty six people died while 577 were injured, with 125 000 displaced. n

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