ShelterBox response team member Becky Maynard (UK) is currently helping to deliver shelter to communities in the district of Mulanje in Southern Malawi, following devastating flooding that first started in January. Becky shares her experiences of visiting a makeshift camp near the village of Chisamba.
‘I was awoken at four this morning by driving rain on the tin roof of the room I am staying in. Maybe the surface made it sound more ferocious than it really was but I can’t go back to sleep. All I can think about is what it must have been to live through rains like this, and so much worse, with just a flimsy shelter, or more terrifying, with nothing. Nothing to protect your children or your elderly relatives, and no idea of what help might come for you or when.
‘Although the team often works in blazing sun and sweltering conditions, the weather in Malawi can still be truly fierce, even as we draw towards the end of the rainy season. In the last week we have had periods when it has rained incessantly for 48 hours and, with the winds driving the rain into every available space, any gap in a shelter is victim to the downpour.
‘A week ago we visited a camp, near the village of Chisamba, in the Southern Malawian district of Mulanje, which had been set up in the grounds of a school. Families whose houses had been completely destroyed by the floods in January had been living since then in makeshift shelters made out of sticks and thin plastic sheeting, sleeping at night under one of the school porches with just a blanket for protection or in the outhouses of their neighbours which themselves were cramped and leaking.
‘The plastic shelters had been badly degraded by the extreme sun and ripped by the gales; the gaps in the roofs offered little protection against the extreme conditions. One of the young women told us: ‘‘At night when it rains we cannot lie down. We just have to stand.’’
‘One of the villagers is a widow called Alice. She isn’t sure how old she is but she had lived in her home since 1949, most recently with her three grandchildren, before it was completely destroyed by the flooding and storms. Now nothing remains of her house except for the slight rise where its foundations stood and the vegetation that has taken over the soil.
‘It is almost impossible for families like these to rebuild during the rainy season as they can only afford bricks made of sunbaked mud which will disintegrate in the rain before they can be hope to be built into into a home. The local roofing materials won’t have grown until July at the earliest and even these are at risk as the flooding damaged many crops and the sand that was carried up onto the fertile land has made growing crops even harder.
‘Along with the eight other families whose homes were completely destroyed by the floods and rain, we provided Alice with a ShelterBox, which includes a tent that will keep her and her grandchildren safe and dry until they are able to start rebuilding their home with the support of their community, along with other essentials to replace their possessions that were washed away in the storms.
‘Tonight I am back in my room and after a brief respite in the afternoon the rain is hammering on my roof again. In the last two weeks our team has provided shelter for more than 450 families and the thought of them sleeping safely in tents or under decent roofing gives me comfort as the storm continues.’
So far, our teams in Malawi have provided aid to more than 1,400 families throughout the districts of Chikwawa, Zomba and Mulanje since January this year.