The Faces of Cyclone Idai
Death, destruction, and havoc barreled through Mozambique and southeast Africa on March 14th, 2019 with Cyclone Idai. Below you will see the faces, read the names and words of people whose lives will never be the same as a result of this natural disaster. These testimonials are a sobering reminder that people with disabilities are often among the most vulnerable during and after emergency situations.
"My mother had a physical disability, but she was the pillar of the whole family. I’ve lost everything. I do not know what to do,”
The aftermath of Cyclone Idai took the life of Alima's mother – after the strong winds destroyed their family home, her mother Alice contracted malaria which rapidly spread in the affected provinces due to stagnant flood water. The family tried to take the mother to the hospital, but by the time they reached it, there was no medicine left.
Alima’s 70 year-old father Ntondoro has health problems too, and she also has three young children to take care of.
"My mother had a physical disability, but she was the pillar of the whole family. Now my father is alone and a broken man. I’ve lost everything. I do not know what to do,” she says.
“I can’t get my mother back…so for now I just need a place to live because here it is not safe, there are a lot of mosquitoes, and no food or clean water for my children.''
The terror and fear of epidemics like cholera can be seen on the faces of many people.
Although reconstruction has begun, the situation is a challenge for the inhabitants of the Sofala Province. Idai has made thousands of people homeless. People with disabilities are particularly affected. They have limited access to shelters to receive vital assistance.
Luísa Francisco is 36 years old. She is a widow and lives with her two children who have hearing impairments. Alexandre António, 10 years, and Gina António, 8 years.
Luisa lost her house and everything she had. "When the roof flew away, I took my children to the neighboring house. I cannot describe these terrible moments, with words. By the grace of God, we still live today. We have no food, no clothes or no sleeping space. In order to clean ourselves and meet other needs, we have to ask our neighbors. Idai not only took away our home but also our dignity.''
People with disabilities, such as Luisa's family, urgently need help: food, medical care, psychological support, clothing, and assistance in rebuilding their homes.
One of the regions most severely affected by Cyclone Idai is the town of Buzi, which is home to a widower named Fernando and his 8 children. So far, he has no contact with his sons due to the damaged communication systems and flooding in the area, he fears for the worst.
Fernando has a physical disability which does not allow him to get around without support, so he needs help to do some of the most basic things.
“At the moment I do not worry about my disability, having lost my house or the fact that I do not have anything to eat. My main concern is my other children and whether they are alive or not. Fear and despair are killing me. "
Although he is not worried about the precarious conditions in which he is living, Fernando is aware of the danger that he and his daughter are facing.
“Our situation is painful. To make sure that my little daughter has something to eat, I had to beg for a plate of food. So today I'm going to go to sleep hungry because I only have one dish and my priority is my Cristina.''
Cyclone Idai completely altered the life of Cleusia and her family. Cleusia, 27 years old, has had cerebral paralysis since birth. For almost three years, a local association (ADEMO) has provided physical rehabilitation for Cleusia with support from Light for the World along with funds from the Austrian Development Agency.
Luisa, Cleusia’s mother, sifted through rice offered by a cousin of hers while sharing their story with us – this will be the only meal of the day for them.
"When the bad weather began, I was in Dondo, were we also stayed with the house partially destroyed. But the fear and the worry made us travel from there to Beira, about six hours on foot between heavy rain and strong winds, " recalled Luisa.
The father of the family, Francisco, began surveying the damages caused by the cyclone while sharing with us the difficulties people with disabilities endure in emergency situations.
"My daughter and I both have disabilities. But we did not think about going to the host or accommodation centers because they were too far from our zone and the road conditions do not help. The nearby schools that could welcome us are all destroyed. And since we have nowhere to go, we are staying here with the coconut tree which shattered our dream of having our own home. It´s not easy for us. ''
Lack of housing and food are the biggest challenges faced by Cleusia and her family.
“The neighbors who could support us are equally affected. Everything got wet and broke that´s why all the support will be helpful."
Quisito is a Community Based Rehabilitation activist for Light for the World. He has physical disabilities and works towards rehabilitating other people with disabilities in the Dondo district near Beira.
The cyclone completely destroyed his house. Quisito is now living in a small hut with 10 other relatives including his mother, wife, and children.
Their biggest challenge right now is to have a place that they can call home.
Manuel is 64 years old and has lived in the Dondo district for more than 50 years. He lost his sight at an early age but does not know what caused his disability.
His house was destroyed by Cyclone Idai; however, this was not his biggest loss. His wife and grandson were crushed by the walls of the house. Both were only found two days later when Manuel complained to the neighbors that they had disappeared.
"Because of my visual impairment, I did not realize what had happened. When the storm got stronger I crawled out to the nearest tree which saved my life. The next day, there was only silence and I couldn’t find the walls of my house. I screamed their names, but they didn’t respond."
Isabel is a single mother of three. Cyclone Idai completely destroyed her house. She and her family have been forced (along with 2,000 others) to seek shelter at a local school. Daily life there is difficult. There is no electricity, poor hygiene, and rising crime. "I have not only lost my home, my clothes, and all my belongings - I have also lost my dignity." Isabel told our team.
People with disabilities, such as Isabel, are especially vulnerable in humanitarian disasters such as these. They often face difficulties getting access to emergency relief, become trapped in dangerous situations and are more susceptible to crime.
Elisa (14 years old) lives in the 19th district in the outskirts of Beira city. She has a physical disability and was orphaned when her parents passed away six years ago.
Elisa lives with her grandmother, Fátima, and her two brothers: Papaito (8 years old) and José (12 years old).
The cyclone has brought more pain to Elisa´s family who already lived in precarious conditions prior to the natural disaster.
"Because the house was completely destroyed, and it seemed very dangerous to leave, we preferred to stay until dawn to escape the falling rocks. The following day my grandmother went to ask for the leaves of coconut trees, and we managed to elevate this hut.''
Almost everything is missing in Elisa's home.
"We do not have clothes or food, and in order to sleep we use empty bags in order to avoid the cold and humid ground."
Beatriz (16 years old) lives in the Sofala province and aspires to be a journalist one day.
The only thing left standing in her home after the cyclone hit her province was the dining room, which is also at risk of collapsing.
She is currently studying in a school with no roof, windows or doors, Idai has taken everything. The worst part for Beatriz is that it will now take her twice as long for her to get to her school.
“We are studying in an open space without a roof, doors or windows, fighting against all elements. The time I used to take to go to school walking was 30 minutes. Now it takes me more than one hour.”
Her biggest dream is to see her home rebuilt because for now, all 6 members of her family are living in the dining room.
“Another fear and a big challenge we face is our safety and protection. Crime is increasing day by day. Many people have nothing to eat, so they steal and hurt others. Here at our home, we have no roof and it´s not safe for us. We are all very scared."
Beatriz is receiving rehabilitation from the Community Based Rehabilitation project, supported by Light for the World, with funds from the Austrian Development Corporation.
Luciana (55 years old) is now in a very difficult situation because she can no longer earn money to live by renting space in her home.
“I am devasted. All I had is gone, and my health is also complicated. Now I do not walk, I sit all day and with severe pain in the chest. How am I going to solve this situation? My son was about to leave me alone when he felt that the cyclone was intense. Because I cannot walk, I used a dish to reduce the water that was coming in from the door and from the roof that was destroyed. I thought I would die."
Mussa’s story depicts the cruelty and prejudice people with disabilities face, even within their own families. Mussa lost his home to Cyclone Idai and unfortunately, his adult children claim they are ashamed of him and discriminate him because of his physical disabilities.
“I have my children, but they don’t care if am I dead or not. After noticing that the cyclone devasted us, they did not even ask about me or try to reach out to see if I was ok. I would like to be buried along with this house”.
Rodrigues is 45 years old and lives with his mother and three children: Teresa (11 years old), Germano (9 years old), and João (6 years old). Cyclone Idai destroyed most of their home.
"We were caught totally unprepared. I had no idea how hard it would be. We only woke up to reality when we saw the damages. Now my family and I are homeless. "
Rodrigues and his family need all the help that they can get for food, clothes and to reconstruct their home.
“All support will really help. Our situation can make anyone cry. We are facing so many challenges that sometimes we think God is punishing us."
Photo credit: Mango Sound