Malawi: International solidarity helps union to lead post-natural disaster relief activities for teachers
With the financial assistance of Education International and its affiliates, the Teachers’ Union of Malawi spearheaded diverse relief and support activities for teachers affected by the devastating Cyclone Idai, which struck the country in March 2019.
In March 2019, the intense tropical Cyclone Idai caused severe flooding throughout Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe resulting in over 1200 deaths. Idai ranked as the second-deadliest tropical cyclone on record in the Southern Hemisphere, an area that includes the Australian, South Pacific, and South Atlantic basins. More than three million people experienced the direct effects of the cyclone, with hundreds of thousands in need of assistance. Total damages from Idai across Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, and Malawi were estimated to be at least US$2.2 billion (€1.98 billion), with US$1 billion (€900.000.000) alone in infrastructure damages, making Idai the costliest tropical cyclone in the South-West Indian Ocean basin.
On 25 March 2019, after contacts with the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, and the Organizaçao Nacional dos Professores/Mozambique, Education International (EI) appealed to all member organisations to contribute to the Idai Solidarity Fund to assist affected colleagues, their families, students, and school communities in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.
Education unions globally responded to the call and the Teachers’ Union of Malawi subsequently used part of the Idai Solidarity Fund to set up post-cyclone relief activities to help its members.
Firstly, it organised union solidarity visits to severely affected teachers and schools in four districts, i.e. Chikwawa, Nsanje, Rumphi, and Mzimba. It brought support to 302 severely affected teachers, providing them with psychological-social support and reassuring them.
Representatives from the Teachers’ Union of Malawi also lobbied district authorities and companies for further material support for affected teachers.
“It is undeniable that this activity increased union membership in the visited districts, and it improved union visibility and the general public perception of the union, as well as the working relationship between district union leaders and district education authorities in the districts,” stressed Pilirani Kamaliza, Programme Coordinator at the Teachers’ Union of Malawi.
The union also secured a commitment from district councils to include affected teachers when distributing disaster relief aid.
In addition, the Teachers’ Union of Malawi undertook a study entitled Flood preparedness factors influencing teachers' participation in teaching and learning in public primary schools in Malawi - The case of Chikwawa, Nsanje and Rumphi.
The research aimed to:
•Ensure teachers are prepared to act in cases where floods affect their teaching and learning.
•Determine how the damage to school infrastructures and subsequent poor working environments affect teaching and learning.
•Assess mitigation measures that influence teachers’ coping mechanisms.
•Set a basis to produce a documentary “The effect of Cyclone Idai on quality of teaching and learning” in public schools, to be used for future lobbying and advocacy activities.
The findings showed that, given the history of flooding in Malawi, the country needs to ensure that teachers are prepared to respond effectively to the negative impact of flooding on the teaching and learning process. In addition, public authorities and communities should undertake mitigation measures to counter other effects of cyclones or floods on infrastructure and the school environment.
The study also made recommendations for the Ministry of Education on how disaster preparedness of teachers in public primary schools can enhance their teaching and learning in Malawi’s flood-prone areas. One recommendation was that the education ministry should include disaster preparedness in the curriculum.
Students may also increase their understanding and awareness of flood-related risks, thanks to this research, enabling teachers to work more effectively and efficiently.
The report’s recommendations included that:
•Schools in disaster-prone areas should develop and implement disaster management plans such as school safety manuals, and so on.
•School management committees should engage qualified professionals to assess the structural safety of damaged school buildings, and design, construct and maintain school facilities to be resilient whenever a disaster such as floods happens.
•Teachers’ unions should advocate for adequate hardship risks/allowance and insurance for teachers working in flood-prone areas and disaster preparedness should be integrated into the primary school curriculum.
•Trainings on flood preparedness and early warning systems should be delivered to teachers in disaster-prone areas.
•Affected teachers should receive compensation.
Other prevention activities
The Teachers’ Union of Malawi also conducted a two-day teacher training on flood preparedness mechanisms and early warning systems, to:
•Create teacher awareness on early flood-warning signs and disaster-coping mechanisms whereby teachers are able to discharge their duties effectively in times of disasters
•Develop initiatives aimed at reducing the risk of damage to schools’ infrastructure
•Build teachers and school leaders’ capacity to engage in disaster risk reduction activities
The union also developed a disaster response – targeting climate change – and a strategic plan for its membership.
A presentation on the Malawi’s union’s activities, undertaken with financial assistance from EI and its affiliates, is available here.