Chrissy Eliasi, 18, of Nyachilenda Secondary School in Nsanje has been staying with her fellow children on rent when she was in standard 4, 9 years ago.
At the age of 9 Chrissy had to leave her parents and start staying alone closer to her new primary school in order to continue her education before her colleagues joined her years later.
She says due to the floods which hit their area almost every year and the rivers she has to cross to get into the school she just had to rent a house and start staying alone away from her parents.
“When I passed the examinations in standard 3, I had to go to standard 4 but due to the long distance and the rivers which are always full to where the school is, I just had to rent a house and start staying alone. It was not easy but I had to take the risk to rent a house closer to Nyachilenda Primary for me to continue with my education. Since that time I have been in rented house”, said Chrissy.
She says she was forced to start staying in the rented house alone as her former primary school, Nyankholokolo is only up to standard 4 and it is not recognised by the government.
Her father, who is also Senior Group Village Headman Mpambachulu, of TA Nyachikadza in Nsanje says as parents they had to take a risk of allowing their nine year old girl to start staying on rent so that she continues with education.
“Chrissy told us that she wants to be a nurse so as parents we had to make a decision whether to deny her or renting her a house so that by the end of the day she realises her dreams. So, though it is hard, but we had to agree and start paying rent for her and allow her to stay alone because we didn’t have any other choice”, said GVH Mpambachulu.
Mpambachulu further says it is hard to educate children in TA Nyachikadza once the child reaches standard 4, as they have to be transferred to Nyachilenda, which is far from their area.
“The floods have disadvantaged us so much as children have to be detached from their parents at an early stage and start staying on rent. This is hard especially for girls and already we have had cases where parents thought their children are going to school only to realise later that they got married”, added Mpambachulu.
Commenting on the same, Chrissy said since standard 4 she has witnessed a number of her friends getting married to business people in the area due to lack of support from their parents.
“The major challenge is that we start staying alone at a younger age, so being at the trading centre as big as this one, most girls get unnecessary pressure from business persons who take advantage of us being alone and lacking support from parents. This has been a major issue which in my staying here for 10 years I have witnessed over fifteen girls being forced into marriage and others being taken to Mozambique with their parents realising the issue after some days when they come to see them”, said Chrissy.
Speaking to the head teacher of Nyankholokolo Primary School, Harold Nyankhawawe, says the school is not registered by the Ministry of Education since the government has marked the area as disaster prone due to the floods which hit the area every year.
The school therefore is not registered and all 4 teachers are working on voluntary basis just to help children have access to basic education.
“It is true that the area is prone to floods but all we want is equal treatment. We are Malawians, that’s why ballot boxes find us at the same school which the government doesn’t recognise. So, we know the government has marked the area as risky hence with limited interventions but at least the government should understand us, our children need education as such as we have always been saying, the government should construct a school in our area”, said the head teacher.
Ironically, during the recent floods the whole school submerged in water forcing the pupils to move away to the upland.
Despite such an experience however, both the head teacher Mr. Nyankhawawe and SGVH Mpambachulu insists on requesting the authorities to consider erecting structures in the area to aide education of their children.
“We need our children to have access to education without challenges so we will continue asking the government and authorities to help us. So far, the dedication of our volunteer teachers is bearing good fruits, we have one young man who is at Sky Way University and my girl has also managed to get up to form 3 which to us is an achievement. There are a lot of brilliant potential children in our area but they are being denied access to education due to lack of capacity of parents to pay rent for their children once they reach standard 5”, said SGVH Mpambachulu.
However, in 1997, the Government of Malawi declared T/A Nyachikadza a flood-prone area and ordered people in the area to relocate upland, the neighbouring T/A Ndamera being the nearest safety point.
This has led to limited interventions in the area which according to one of the Health Surveillance Assistants (HSA’s) who visits the area, Beatrice Kamzazawa, they only go there during special programs but it is not on their routine activities.
“Since the government declared the area as flood-prone area our interventions have been on special occasions only. When we have vaccination campaign or mosquito net distribution campaign we go there otherwise we encourage them to seek medication at the upper land”, said Kamzazawa.
LIFE AT THE RENT
A visit to one of the houses children from TA Nyachikadza are living exposed a number of children headed families forcing them to source needs on their own.
Omega Nelson 14, stays with her brother both in primary school. She says they have to fetch for food and other needs required at the school on their own as their mother cannot manage to provide the necessities.
“It is hard for us to source food and at the same time report to school. My mother struggles to source 2000 kwacha per month for rent as such cannot manage to give us all the necessities we need for our education here so we have to source on our own”, said Omega.
On the other hand Chrissy says girls are also exposed to men who connive them to date so that they are given the needs which they lack.
She says since they stay alone men take advantage and have access to their houses which puts them at panic.
“Since we do not stay with our parents here men take advantage of that and have access to our homes which puts us at panic. These men connive us with money to force us to date them to the extent that some of my friends have fallen in love with them and consequently dropping out of school”, said Chrissy.
She however appreciated the role their neighbours play in assisting them with needs when their parents fail to make it on time.
Dickson Jussa, a neighbour to Chrissy said since their parents stay away they provide the children with immediate needs as they wait for their parents to come and support them.
“We help these children when they are in dire need of support and when their parents come they refund us. We share with them salt and other needs and where necessary provide guidance to them to successfully pursue their education”, said Jussa.
The head teacher for one of the schools which pupils of TA Nyachikadza attend, Nkapako Primary School, Mr. Elisha Louis says they face a lot of challenges at the school due to the inflation of figures of pupils during rainy season and downsize when the rainy season is over.
“When the floods hit, we mostly have the rise in number of pupils which puts us at pressure as with the same space and same number of teachers we have to incorporate them. But since there is no other way we allow them and provide them with necessary support though they lack proper transfer letters to help us know which class they are supposed to be”, said Loius.
Mr. Loius further says they have set proper arrangements with their parents which among others are frequent Parents Teacher Associations (PTA) meetings to help the parents have frequent updates on the performance of their children and the needs.
“The challenge is that when the children come here they have a changed environment. This is a trading centre with business persons as such girls are more exposed to men which puts them at risk. So, to help them continue with their education we counsel them and provide guidance though it is not easy as we still have a good number of girls who drop out due to pregnancies and early marriages”, added the head teacher.
RESISTANCE TO MOVE TO THE UPPER LAND
Throughout the conversation with the communities of TA Nyachikadza at Bitilinyu camp where they moved after the floods, the resistance of the communities to move to the upper land was very clear.
For example, despite the whole school submerging in water during the recent floods, chiefs and volunteer teachers at Nkholokolo School in TA Nyachikadza insisted on asking the authorities to consider building structures in their communities to aide their children have access to education and good health among others.
Probing further on why they are still interested to stay in the land despite the area being declared floods-prone by the government, the communities mentioned fertile land for agriculture and lack of capacity to integrate in the new communities as some of the factors which keep them at the floods prone area.
“There are a lot of factors which we have to consider when we relocate, for example we have to rent a house, find new ways of sourcing food for our families and integrate well with the communities in our new set up which is not easy. We have fertile soils which when we grow crops we harvest and feed our families, so unless if we can be assured of adequate support when we relocate we can do so”, said one of the communities Zaka Joseph.
However, while some are showing resistance to move upland some communities in flood prone areas have been forced out due to the loss of property leaving them with no choice. Thayo Mako who is staying at Nkhungubwe camp in Nsanje says he lost everything and sees no reason of continuing staying at the lower land.
“I have been affected by floods in the past years but this time around, the water were harsh than ever. I lost 32 bags of maize, 15 goats and everything I had was taken away by the water. This gave me conviction that I have to move out and I have just done that”, said Mako.
He said, so far he has managed to buy land where he has constructed a temporary shelter as he is soliciting funds to construct a permanent home.
“Of course, it is not easy as I have to still go and farm. Currently I cross rivers with some water reaching in my shoulders when crossing, but that’s the only thing I will do. Otherwise before rainy season I Will be moving my harvests upland”, added Mako.
Soon after the cyclone Idai hit some parts of the country, the Department of Disaster and Management Affairs (DODMA) coordinated all the efforts to respond to the floods.
Through the department and other relevant government departments NGO’s supported the government’s efforts in providing the immediate needs to the flood survivors.
One of the NGOs which supported the government in Communication for Development (C4D) interventions is Story Workshop Educational Trust (SWET) with funding from UNICEF which through the coordination with the National Social Mobilisation Committee (NSMC) they assigned each camp one drama club to sensitize the survivors on issues of health, social protection, education, agriculture and nutrition.
According to the Projects Manager for SWET, Ambele Gogwe apart from the community mobilisation activities in the camps and surrounding villages SWET also conducted community dialogues with leaders from affected areas to allow them develop action plans on how they are responding to challenges they are facing to build resilience among them.
“As Story Workshop we believe the solutions to the challenges the flood survivors are facing are with the very same communities, so we just have to provide guidance, interact with them to agree on what they have to do to avoid similar cases next time. So, community dialogues help the communities understand themselves and their role in responding to the effects of the cyclone Idai as they are recovering”, Gogwe.
Through the community dialogues with the flood survivors it was clear that though the communities may consider moving out from the flood prone areas there are a number of factors that needs to be considered to have people such as those of TA Nyachikadza move out.
It is clear that despite the government’s declaration of TA Nyachikadza as flood prone area, most communities are not ready to relocate hence risking their lives due to lack of basic necessities such as hospitals, schools and transport.
In this regard parents of the girls who want to continue with their education from standard 4 still have to cough more in order to meet costs of renting houses and risking their children to vulnerable situations in a quest to help their children realize their dreams.