In January 2020, you know – “the time before” – I participated in a project building two primary schools in Mozambique with All Hands and Hearts. It already seems so long ago! Why Mozambique, you ask? Well….let me tell you the story.
On March 15, 2019, Tropical Cyclone Idai slammed into central Mozambique as a Category 3 storm. After lingering in the Mozambique channel for six days, Idai made landfall near Beira, Mozambique, and tracked inland towards Malawi and Zimbabwe. The storm brought severe wind and flooding and caused extensive damage to homes, schools, health facilities, and infrastructure, impacting nearly 3 million people.
As with most natural disasters, the media spotlight faded relatively quickly. Attention shifted to other current events and compassion fatigue set in, reducing overall support for recovery of these communities (here’s an interesting article that talks about this phenomenon). However, survivors were still living in dire circumstances. All Hands and Hearts decided to answer the call.
Two primary schools in rural communities in the Nhamatanda District of Sofala Province, Mozambique which had not yet received governmental aid were identified as potential high-impact projects. Each school served 400-600 students in grades 1-7 before the storm. Both were completely destroyed. A plan was formed whereby volunteers from around the world would work with local masons at each school site to construct 4 cyclone-resilient classrooms, a teachers office, and a permanent, hygienic lavatory facility.
I was excited to arrive in Mozambique (my first time!) and start working on this project. Everything was new and, well, I loved it! It’s impossible to capture the spirit in words but trust me – it was an experience I will never forget. I worked for a few days building roof-trusses at our pre-fabrication site.
Then I headed out to the Julius Neyere Primary School. Part of the joy of this site was the ~45 minute commute each day through the countryside. We witnessed many scenes of daily life and got the warmest welcomes!
Before one of our workdays, it had rained all night. As we drove to work, we passed by many flooded houses – just from a few hours of “regular” rain. This gave us a somber hint at what things may have been like in this area during a cyclone.
Work over the time I was on project was to (literally) raise the roof. The first trusses were set but it was time to install those hip and incline trusses that we had been constructing in pre-fabrication.
We worked through unbearable heat and then several days of rain, but we got it done!
And then, on the day before I had to leave, the metal sheeting started going up, woohoo!
In addition to the primary classroom buildings, we also spent some time constructing a temporary learning center for the students to use until the completed buildings were ready. While I was on the project, students were on their winter break but they were due back in just a few days! Here’s how we set them up for continuous learning.
An amazing part of this project was how closely it was tied to the community. This isn’t just an opportunity for outsiders to come in and feel good about themselves. Local masons were hired and played a major role in the success of this build. As guests in their community, we as volunteers provided labor, technical advice, and funding but we always deferred to the needs of the community. We spent a lot of time getting to know the people on our worksite and, in turn, they were eager to know us and learn – English lessons happened often!
I enjoyed getting to know these local workers – they were all fun, friendly, hard-working, open and eager.
One of the senior masons, Albano, shared with us his story.
Albano lives close to the Julius Neyere Primary School with his wife, 3 children and 1 granddaughter. He also has 3 married daughters who live with their families nearby. On the night of the storm, he was visiting his extended family about an hour away from his home. The storm prevented him from returning home that night and when he was finally able to venture outside around 4am, Albano discovered that many of the surrounding homes were destroyed.
He immediately started for home to reunite with his family and ensure they were safe. The mini bus he boarded only made it about 15 minutes before severe flooding halted their journey. Albano began walking the 15 kilometers to Nhamatanda, wading through water which was a times nearly 1.5 meters high. In Nhamatanda, he was able to catch a motor taxi to Metuchira. When he arrived, he found that the flooding was less severe than the area where he had come from, but nearly everything in town was destroyed, including his house. Strong winds had ripped away the roofs of many homes. And since most homes are constructed from sticks, bamboo and mud, they had simply washed away in the heavy rains. Everything in the town was destroyed, including his own house.
Albano found his family sheltering at the local community leader’s home. Not wanting to further impose, he went out and gathered whatever he could find – sticks, scattered metal, and nails – in order to build a temporary structure for his family. He dug holes for the sticks, and nailed on metal roofing sheets as walls and a roof. His family is living here until he is able to rebuild his permanent home.
For the three days after the storm food was very scarce, but Albano had two bags of corn from his family visit. After 3 days, the distribution of food by NGOs began in the village, including a bag of rice every 15 days. As time went on people began to work to regain normalcy, cleaning up debris, tending the fields, and rebuilding homes.
Albano saves the money he earns as a mason in order to buy bricks and roofing sheets with a goal of building a new house. He not only works tirelessly each day, but always has a smile. He loves meeting people from all over the world and sharing stories so that they can learn about each other. He is proud to use the skills he has learned from his time building the Julius school, in order to build his own home and help others to do the same. ❤️
Unfortunately, with just a few weeks left to go before these schools were scheduled for completion, it became necessary to recall all volunteers and suspend the collaboration due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While disappointing, safety always is paramount and I’m still proud to have contributed and made a difference in this community. The local masons, true to form, have been working hard and today the schools are nearly complete. It’s just a matter of time before 600 students per day get the chance to continue their quest for knowledge in these buildings.
There is still a great need in the communities in Sofala province. If you are able, please consider a donation to support ongoing work in this area using this link. Every dollar makes a difference.
* This post contains information and photos provided by multiple staff members of All Hands and Hearts Volunteers – Smart Response. Their support and willingness to share is much appreciated!