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Life after Cyclone Idai getting girls back to school

Life after Cyclone Idai: getting girls back to school

Six months after the cyclone hit, your support is helping girls get back into education

September is my favourite month of the year. It always reminds me of that classic ‘back to school’ feeling – wearing a brand-new uniform, filling a new pencil case with brightly-coloured pens (and the scientific calculator I never quite worked out how to use) and embracing the chance of a fresh start.

But for many girls who have been forced out of education because of a crisis, going back to school isn’t an option. When disaster strikes, adolescent girls in particular face an uphill struggle to access the education they deserve.

Cyclone Idai: six months on

Earlier this year, Cyclone Idai caused widespread devastation across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

The disaster claimed hundreds of lives, left hundreds of thousands of people homeless, and affected an estimated 1.5 million children.

I recently travelled to Chipinge and Chimanimani in Zimbabwe to meet girls affected by the crisis, and – although this month marks six months since the cyclone hit – I spoke to many girls who are still desperate to get back to school.

‘When the cyclone hit, our house crumbled’

Chenge and her grandmother
Chenge and her grandmother lost their home in the cyclone

Chenge is one of those girls. She watched her house, which she lived in with her grandmother, get destroyed by the floods.

“When the cyclone hit, our house crumbled,” she says. “Water was oozing from the ground, forcing us to spend the whole night standing on wood poles. My grandmother was hit by falling bricks while trying to recover some property. We were struck by fear.

"I was regularly attending school until the cyclone. My books were soaked in the rains and I lost my school uniform. I stopped attending classes because I had no clothes or school fees."

After the cyclone, Chenge’s grandmother couldn’t work because of her injuries, so Chenge had to take a job as a housemaid.

“What made me go to work was so that I could earn money to help my grandmother rebuild our home,” she explains. “I worked for one month, and I bought books so that I could go back to school.”

‘We could not come to school because we could not cross the bridges’

Sylvia in Zimbabwe
Sylvia and her family's temporary shelter, while their home is being rebuilt

14-year-old Sylvia escaped from her house as it fell down during the cyclone.

“Our field was completely washed away. The house walls fell on the maize we kept in the house, so we had no food, or clothes,” she says.

“We could not come to school because we could not cross the bridges, since they were all under water. My mother then told me that she could no longer afford to pay my school fees.”

Today, Sylvia is back at school again, but she isn’t sure if her family will be able to afford next term’s fees. When she is in class, she’s still struggling with the trauma of losing her cousin, Puro, in the cyclone.

“Sometimes I cry at school. When I’m asked why, I just say ‘nothing’,” she says. “I am not comfortable with telling people why. My teachers try to comfort me.”

Getting girls back to school – for good

For girls like Chenge and Sylvia, education is a lifeline. It offers a safe space to learn, receive much-needed psychosocial support and find out more about their rights – which in turn means they’re at less risk of forced labour, child marriage and gender-based violence.

Sylvia at school
Sylvia is back at school, but paying the fees remains a challenge for her family

Thanks to your support for our Cyclone Idai appeal, and the generosity of players of the People’s Postcode Lottery, we’ve been able to implement our Education in Emergencies Programme in Zimbabwe.

As well as repairing damaged school buildings and providing teaching and learning materials, we’re also delivering dignity kits, back-to-school kits and uniforms to girls, and in some cases paying their school fees.

At the end of last month, the UK Government made a £90million donation to the Education Cannot Wait Global Fund – the first global fund dedicated to education in emergencies. It’s a significant step, and one that we hope will pave the way for other international leaders and donors to act.

With education in emergencies in the spotlight, there’s never been a more important time to prioritise every girls’ right to an education, including those growing up in crisis, so they have every chance to rebuild their lives.

An update from Mozambique

Ben, our Education in Emergencies Specialist, has recently returned from Mozambique, where our response to Cylone Idai is also continuing. He shares an update on the challenges facing the children and their teachers – and how we’re supporting them to create safe learning spaces where girls and boys can continue their education.