By Marie-Consolée Mukangendo
Chiaquelane, February 2013 – Gaza has been the scene of some of the heaviest floods of the Limpopo River, with hundreds of thousands of residents displaced, mostly in the Chiaquelane camp near Chokwe in the Gaza Province.
It’s a hot, dusty afternoon, and I have spent the entire day running around the camp coordinating with the local government and other partners around the emergency response. When Lembranza Razao Sitoe, mother of 1-year old twin girls Flora and Dionisia, caught my attention I had just given a TV interview about the UNICEF emergency response. As the reporters packed their camera, I noticed a frail woman watching me, a little overburdened with the weight of the two babies she had on each arm, seemingly waiting for me to finish what I was doing. Despite her frailty, she had a commanding presence that demanded attention. She must have been waiting for a while and getting tired, because she kept shifting her weight as she struggled to keep her daughters in her arms. I walked towards her.
The babies were restless and cried as they tried to breastfeed at the same time. It was a scene of distress but Lembranza remained calm and soothed and hushed her little ones so we could talk.
”The floods took us by surprise,” she began. “I did not receive any previous information and was shocked when I saw the levels of water in my courtyard. I only had time to grab my babies and run. I was lucky, I managed to get a ride to the Chiaquelane camp. It was a scary ride, there was so much water everywhere and the babies wouldn’t stop crying.”
The entire district was devastated by the flooding and most of the residents escaped with whatever they could grab, leaving behind their homes submerged by violent waters.
“Some of my neighbors managed to escape with some of their most precious belongings. I couldn’t take anything with me, I had two babies to carry. I lost everything else,’ she recalls.
She explained that her babies were now hungry, but that she had heard through announcements made by vehicles circulating in the camp that UNICEF was providing food for children and cooking utensils. She was referring to the UNICEF distribution of BP5 high-energy biscuits and family kits, which contain a set of basic household items such as cooking tools. It was clearly that my bright blue UNICEF t-shirt was what had brought her to me.
I pointed out the distribution points to Lembranza, and as I watched her walk away with her two lively babies, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of accomplishment at the fact that it was the mobile units that had been her initial source of information. This was the UNICEF project I was personally working on here in Chiaquelane.
During an emergency situation UNICEF provides communication support to the government through a Communication for Development (C4D) programme. Using a mix of different media as well as face-to-face communication, social mobilisation in emergency aims to empower affected families, communities and service providers, by giving out information and knowledge that ultimately reinforces positive behaviour change.
Mobile unit in action
In Chiaquelane, mobile units have proven to be effective in spreading information while circulating continually in the camp to support the work of volunteers, joining forces with local government and community leaders in encouraging frank dialogue and debate on key hygiene, health, and child protection issues.
The mobile units, a UNICEF supported initiative, are run by a team of trained community mobilisers from the Institute of Social Communication ICS (Instituto da Comunicacao Social). In Chokwe the mobile unit vehicle, equipped with a video projector, a giant screen for projection of films, a radio, a tent and educational materials, travels all day around the major resettlement areas.
By the time I left Chiaquelane, at least 40,000 camp residents had participated in the public video sessions of awareness-raising, which were followed by debates on health, nutrition, hygiene and sanitation, HIV prevention, child rights and education. These interventions conducted by the mobile units are as important as water, food and vaccines. They are perhaps less tangible than a latrine or a school building, but they are just as important as they often provide vital knowledge and information about life-saving services.
Carrying both twins in her arms alone will probably always require extra effort for Lembranza, but thanks to the mobile units, at least finding food, and cooking her own, are now a little bit easier.
For more information, please contact:
Patricia Nakell, UNICEF Mozambique
Tel: +258 82 312 1820; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100;