Last month, torrential rains caused severe flooding and devastated communities in southern Malawi. Mphatso Tembenu is one of nearly a quarter of million people who lost their homes and have been displaced by the floods. A few weeks ago, the 42 year-old mother of three noticed that water levels were becoming dangerously high and threatened to rip apart the Mkando Bridge located near her home in Mulanje District. The floods have destroyed several of the country’s roads and bridges, making it difficult for people to access food and health care.
“It was a horrible sight. I saw nearby houses washed away. I managed to cross the fragile bridge and get home that day,” recalls Mphatso, a mother of three.
Mphatso was returning from Thuchira Health Centre, where she has worked as an Expert Patient since November. Dignitas International runs an Expert Patient program where HIV+ patients provide counselling and support to patients who have been recently diagnosed and/or have just started HIV treatment. Expert Patients like Mphatso also offer administrative support at health clinics, which gives medical staff more time to provide care to their patients. Mphatso tested positive for HIV in 2010 and has been taking lifesaving antiretroviral drugs since.
That night, Mphatso and her family went to bed as usual. At around 2am, Mphatso woke up to the sound of water gushing into her home. She quickly grabbed her children and escaped to the house of John Manaye, the village chief. But before making her escape, Mphatso managed to grab a small plastic bag that she had safely tucked under the roof of her house.
“I lost my property, my clothes and my food but I didn’t lose my HIV medications,” shared Mphatso.
The reprieve from the flooding was short-lived. The rising waters cornered her and fellow villagers at the chief’s house. They then fled and found refuge at the Thuchira Seventh Day Adventist church.
“We stayed there for two weeks until the church could no longer accommodate us,” noted Mphatso. Now, she and other flood survivors sleep in a tent provided by one of the relief organizations responding to the crisis. The same tent doubles as a daycare during the day as the community’s nursery school was also destroyed. Mphatso keeps her personal belongings bundled in what is left of a nearby house.
Despite the ordeal, Mphatso remains hopeful and resilient. As an Expert Patient, she takes pride in helping others. She expresses her gratitude for this role with Dignitas International, for which she receives a small stipend.
“The stipend is the only source of money I have been able to rely on to recover from the disaster. Last month, I used my stipend to pay for school fees and clothes for my first-born,” said Mphatso.
Despite the challenges she now faces, Mphatso echoes a sense of local determination and commitment to working together and helping others in the community through this difficult time.