Hanna Butler, IFRC
Women sing in the rain as they set up tents for people displaced by the latest devastating floods to hit southern Mozambique. Like many of the 200,000 people affected by the flooding, these women too have lost their homes and livelihoods, yet they spend their days helping those, who they say, need it most.
Amelia Cossa, a Mozambique Red Cross Society field officer, heard the flood warning for the district of Chowke, but instead of going home to protect her house and collect her belongings, she went around her community helping people evacuate. Her home and all her belongings have now been washed away.
For the last three weeks, Amelia has had the huge job of distributing food to 50,000 people living in the tented camp they now call home. She directs trucks, volunteers and workers bringing in crucial relief for people who have nothing.
Her co-workers say she is the only person who could do this – she is strong, well organized and has a big heart. She is hot and tired, but Amelia says she loves helping out. “I feel happy when I am working with people and I am here, so I can help.”
It’s not the first time Amelia has been a hero. In the year 2000, when floods swept through Chowke killing over 800 people, she set up a health centre on the second floor of a building and treated patients using her first aid skills.
Trained Red Cross volunteers like Amelia are crucial for communities in high risk areas as it is always the locals who are the first to respond. “It will often take weeks for international aid to arrive after a disaster,” said Alexander Matheou, regional representative for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “In the meantime, people survive through mutual aid and community solidarity.”
Amelia isn’t the only one who has lost her home and is now helping in the camp. Every morning at 7 o’clock, 30 Red Cross volunteers meet outside the tents in which they are staying to coordinate health, sanitation and distribution activities for the day. One of the volunteers, Bernadita Cossa, says that even though she is suffering, she saw the needs and knew she could help while she is here.
Meeting the many needs of the affected people is an enormous task. Amelia says they are desperate for more shelter, latrines and food, and it is obvious. Few in the camp have tents, some have tarpaulins, but many are under makeshift polythene coverings, trees, some even sheltering under trucks. It is a dire situation in stifling heat, but with the rainy season in Mozambique lasting another month, the camp is the safest place to be.
Amelia doesn’t know how long she will stay here. She says she will remain as long as she needs to and then, like the other volunteers who have lost their homes, she plans to return to her village, rebuild and keep on going.