The devastating effects of March’s cyclones linger on - but it is community volunteers who are leading the march towards recovery and ongoing resilience.
Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique on 14 March 2019, bringing with it three months' worth of rain in just 24 hours. Homes, crops and classrooms were all lost to the floodwaters. But there's a force stronger even than the cyclone itself: the Mozambican people. They've shown incredible resilience and courage, and through VSO, hundreds of them have stepped up to support their communities as volunteers in a range of ways.
Volunteers as first responders
A year before Cyclone Idai hit, we began training our hundreds-strong network of community volunteers in resilience and disaster response, shoring up communities to better deal with disasters. With funding from EUAV and DFID, 750 volunteers were trained and ready to respond to disaster.
When Cyclone Idai arrived, it put VSO volunteers to the test. As volunteer Carolina Banda, 33, remembers:
“When the cyclone hit, I was at home with my husband and brother-in-law. When I looked outside and saw the strong winds, I was filled with fear. But then I thought of the people without the shelter I had, and this gave me the courage to move outside and rescue others."
Carolina helped many people to evacuate their homes, including elderly and sick people, and one pregnant woman in labour, who delivered safely once transported to hospital.
“VSO training stayed with me," says Carolina, from Macate district.
"I learned how to alert people to disasters, how to give first aid and how to give people advice on how to reduce the risk to themselves."
Delivering emergency supplies
Countless stories have emerged like Carolina's. In those first hours and days, when communications were down and roads were closed, they were often the first on the scene providing practical help and emotional support to people who had lost everything.
As the storm subsided, communication networks returned and the scale of the damage became apparent.
Almost 60,000 homes lay under water, as did nearly half a million hectares of crops. VSO quickly began to organise a response for the thousands of people left living in makeshift camps amidst severe food shortages.
Volunteers once again played a critical role in organising and executing food distribution. 45 volunteers reached over 13,000 people with a month's worth of food supplies and other important items like soap.
Jonah Tendere is a volunteer resilience advisor who has spent his career helping plan for such events. At the time of Cyclone Idai he was placed in Sierra Leone, but wasted no time in volunteering to help lead VSO's Cyclone Idai aid distribution in Mozambique and his native Zimbabwe.
"I could not be an onlooker in this disaster," says Jonah, "I felt compelled to volunteer closer to home. People were starving."
"I expected a lot from my team, but it paid off — we handed out 180 tonnes of food aid in just two weeks."
The ripple effect
We've seen that willingness to stand up and be counted in the face of adversity time and again. One of the most moving things about the aftermath of Cyclone Idai has been seeing the swelling numbers of Mozambicans joining as volunteers.
One of them is Rosario Tomé. Just 18 years old, she's still a student, but she was compelled to volunteer when Idai hit her community of Sede, Macate.
"I became a volunteer the day after the cyclone," says Rosario. "I was motivated after I saw how my community members were suffering. I joined up with the other volunteers in my area, who were helping those less able to help themselves, like the elderly, disabled and lone children. We encouraged people to leave their homes and find shelter in schools and churches."
Preventing the spread of disease
Rosario is one of many volunteers who joined up after the cyclone, and were trained by existing VSO volunteers like Carolina, who is now a mentor figure to Rosario.
"Carolina trained me and others. She instructed us in what to do to help the affected population. I learned how to offer first aid and teach people how to wash their hands with soap and water to avoid infections."
As well as distributing soap and training on avoiding disease, volunteers have also distributed mosquito nets to help affected communities avoid malaria. They also share important messages on sexual health and rights, distributing contraceptives and explaining the dangers of child marriage.
Almost six months have passed since the cyclone first hit. Flood waters have subsided although impacts on food security and damage to shelter are yet to be overcome.
Carolina and her team of new volunteer recruits are still busy. They go door to door collecting vital data from families that will help us better understand the impact of Cyclone Idai and make people more prepared for any future disaster.
Mozambique has shown its spirit of volunteerism runs deep. Its dedicated volunteers are a source of inspiration and hope for the future, whatever it brings.
As Carolina says, "Volunteerism has no choice: when a need arises a volunteer must get out of their comfort zone and act."
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