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Belfast man David O’Hare, who works for Trόcaire, has been visiting Zimbabwe and finding out about the challenges facing local people in the southern African country…
I travelled to the Mutare region of Zimbabwe, around six hours by road east of the capital Harare, and met people in the village of Ngangu, nestled at the base of a range of highlands.
Three years ago on the night of 15th March this small community was caught up in a disaster of epic proportions. Cyclone Idai, which devastated parts of Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe, struck Ngangu.
The winds and torrential rain that the cyclone brought caused huge landslides on the hillsides that engulfed part of the community while they slept. More than 300 people lost their lives.
Jennifer Mhondera (50), who has lived in Ngangu for more than thirty years, told me what happened that night.
“At around 4pm that day the sky got very dark and the wind and rain started. They got worse and worse as the evening wore on and the electric all went off. Then later the water and mud started to come down from the mountain followed by huge boulders. People were sleeping when the rocks started hitting the houses. Thankfully my house was spared as it was on the other side of the village from the landslide. But my neighbours on the other side weren’t so lucky. Their houses were just totally destroyed with them inside,” Jennifer said.
“People were screaming for help but it was pitch black and the rain was torrential so we couldn’t do anything. Trees were falling all around us – I was so frightened. I didn’t want to stay in my house so I went to the church. They started bringing in the injured and then the bodies. It was horrific to see the injured people in so much pain.
We couldn’t access the nearby clinic as we couldn’t cross the river because it was raging. People were screaming with pain and there was nothing we could give them. Then seeing the bodies of people I knew. One entire family I knew were wiped out – a mother, her two children and two visitors that were in her house.”
Jennifer assisted the injured who came to the church, cooked for the survivors, comforted the bereaved and helped bury the dead. But the events of that night will stay with her forever. “Any time it rains heavily now, I think of that night,” she said.
Before the disaster Jennifer had been an active member of the local Justice and Peace group which was set up by Trόcaire partner, the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. In the aftermath Trόcaire supported CCJP in helping the community in various ways and Jennifer was involved with this.
An information kiosk, staffed by Jennifer and others, was set up in the community where people could go for support.
“CCJP trained me and others in how to provide psycho-social support to people to help them with the awful trauma they experienced. We also were a point of contact for people who wanted to know what support was available from the government and we were able to relay the needs of people to officials. And we were also able to speak to people and provide advice on how to mitigate for any future disasters. It was great that the members of the community were able to speak to people that they knew and trusted.”
“I found the psycho-social support I was able to provide particularly useful and I enjoyed helping people. I also received this support from Trόcaire myself and it helped me a lot,” Jennifer said.
In the time since that terrible night in Ngangu, Jennifer and others have continued to provide psycho-social support to those that need it. The kiosk has also been utilised to disseminate information and advice on the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Trόcaire and CCJP reacted very quickly to the disaster that befell our community and we are incredibly grateful for this support. We are still benefitting from this help,” Jennifer said.
Trόcaire’s Lenten Appeal is focussing on Zimbabwe. All donations made by the public in Northern Ireland to the Appeal will be matched pound for pound by the UK government until 1st June doubling the impact you can make.
This extra funding will be used in Zimbabwe to support people in creating a better future for themselves and their families.
To make a donation click the donate button below.