Photo credit: Sacha Myers/Save the Children, April 2019.

Child Protection and Emotional Support for Cyclone Idai Survivors

Written and Photographed by Sacha Myers, Emergency Health Unit, Save the Children

“Tell me about your average day when you get a chance.” The message, from a friend thousands of miles away in Australia, popped up on my screen. I leaned against the car and looked up from my phone at the tents surrounding me.

There was a hum of activity as people started their evening routine. Women milled around the
water points waiting to fill their buckets. Children ducked and weaved between the tents playing their last game of tag. Smoke from small wood fires created a haze across the darkening sky.

I looked back down at my phone. My average day?

Before and after
I’d spent that morning with children who had lost their homes when Cyclone Idai tore through central Mozambique a month ago.

They were doing an exercise in one of our child-friendly spaces – drawing their home before and after the cyclone.

The children took such pride in their “before” drawings. They used rulers to carefully draw the
outline of their house with their bed inside and food in the kitchen. Later they added pictures of their family members holding hands with love hearts between them.

In stark contrast, the pictures they drew of their community post-cyclone depicted an entirely
different reality: mothers crying as they clung to their babies; trees stripped bare and uprooted; great torrents of brown water; pieces of metal flying through the air; homes in ruins.

Photo credit: Sacha Myers/Save the Children, April 2019.
When Cyclone Idai struck Mozambique, 13-year-old Suraya recalls running out of a house carrying her brother after a tree crashed through the roof.

How did they survive?
Once the children had finished the activity, they took turns in presenting what they had drawn. As I listened to them, I couldn’t help but wonder how they had survived.

They described scenes of chaos. The walls of their bedrooms collapsing on them. Falling into
floodwaters as they ran for safety. Spending a week in waist-deep water waiting to be rescued.
Thirteen-year-old Suraya told me: “While we were sleeping, a tree fell down on top of the house. My mum told us to get out. We ran out of the house. The wind was increasing. We were running and I was holding my brother. On the day of the cyclone, I thought I was going to die.”

“My family is all over”
When 14-year-old Beatriz* sat down to present, her story silenced us.

She explained in a quiet voice how she was an orphan before the cyclone. She lived with her
grandmother. When the cyclone stuck, their house collapsed, and Beatriz’s grandmother was hit by a tree as they were running for safety. She later died in hospital.

Beatriz is now entirely alone. She lives in a tent with eight other people she doesn’t know. I alerted Save the Children’s child protection team immediately about Beatriz. They support separated and unaccompanied children and work with the government to try and reunite them with their family or caregivers.

Tragically, Beatriz’s story is not uncommon. Many people lost loved ones in the flood waters or became separated from their family in the rush to find safety.

Fatima, a mother of three, told me: “My family is all over. I don’t even know where [my husband] is. Even my two sons are not with me. We separated when we took the boat. I don’t know where they are. The way I’m living is hard. It’s painful.”

Rebuilding children’s lives
This was just one day in post-cyclone Mozambique. An average day.

While I felt emotionally wrecked afterwards, I also had hope. Because children are extremely
resilient, and with the right support and a safe environment, they can recover from the stressful events they’ve experienced. And that’s why mental health must be included in the recovery plans for Mozambique.

Mental health is a core part of Save the Children’s work. We’re rolling out a comprehensive child protection and emotional support program in some of the worst-hit areas in Mozambique. As part of this, we have set up six child-friendly spaces in and around Beira and will open up to 50 more spaces in the coming weeks.

*Name changed to protect identity

To learn more about the work Save the Children is doing to support emergency response following Cyclone Idai, visit our website.

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