By Patricia Nakell
It takes a village to make life in Chiaquelane transit centre, Mozambique, clean and safe for families who have fled the floodwaters of the Limpopo River.
CHIAQUELANE TRANSIT CENTRE, Mozambique, 25 March 2013 – It is almost lunchtime, and the smell of cooking fires wafts through the air. A boisterous group of sanitation volunteers have gathered near a handful of tents pitched along one of the main paths that cut across Chiaquelane transit centre.
The sanitation volunteers have come from inside and outside the camp to raise awareness about hygiene and sanitation. They have their work cut out for them.
In recent weeks, tens of thousands of people have fled as the waters of the Limpopo River have risen and flooded the land. The overcrowded Chiaquelane camp is in dire need of proper sanitation facilities, and the spread of disease is a serious risk.
A few feet away from the volunteers, who are engaged in a lively debate, is Manuel, 9. He sits on his haunches, quietly observing the scene. He has cropped hair and large, attentive eyes. In his sleeveless shirt, tied at the navel, and a pair of threadbare jeans that hang off his thin limbs like curtains, Manuel looks uncomfortable – unhappy, even – in what are clearly not his own clothes.
“The flooding started very suddenly,” he says, remembering the day he and his family had to flee the family village near Chokwe. “The water was rising around me, and I was afraid of drowning. I didn’t have time to take anything at all, not even my clothes. I only have what I was wearing that day, and, once we got here to the camp, I borrowed some clothes from one of my older brothers.”
Manuel comes from a family of farmers. They live off the land near the Limpopo River basin, which floods regularly – though it has been a while since the flooding was this serious. The land is very fertile. For many families, to move to higher, safer ground would require finding alternative sources of income, which is a tall order in one of the poorest countries in the world. Some residents never leave at all.
“My best friend in the village is Mataninha, and he and his family stayed behind, living on the roof of their house. The waters have gone now, so he is safe,” says Manuel.
School at Chiaquelane
Manuel says he hasn’t made friends yet at the camp. And with all his toys and schoolbooks lost in the flood, he doesn’t have much to do during the day. It gets boring, he admits.
But in the past week, he has begun attending classes at the local school in Chiaquelane. It’s only a couple of hours a day, and the classes are overcrowded, but at least he is reading.
In fact, class is about to begin, and he doesn’t want to be late. Especially not today, he says.
UNICEF is distributing learners’ kits to the schoolchildren – bags that contain copybooks, pens and other school materials – and Manuel wants to make sure he isn’t left out.
Towards good sanitation and health
As Manuel scuttles off beyond the tents, the health volunteers break into a traditional chant, typically sung at the end of a visit. The sound of claps and voices reverberates across Chiaquelane.
Thank you for hosting us, remain in good health, until we meet again soon.
For life to return to normal for thousands of children like Manuel – and their families – in the hard-hit province of Gaza, UNICEF is seeking US$6.8 million for the anticipated six-month response and recovery effort. These funds will be utilized to provide sanitary conditions and safe water in camps and home communities, and to distribute medical supplies, food, school and family kits, as well as information, communication and education materials.