“Where there is life, there is hope”

After Cyclone Idai, Cecília Chata Valentim, a young mother, and the seven children under her care were resettled to Mandruzi site to start a life. The UNDP Recovery Facility supports Cecília through new housing and women economic empowerment activities.

March 19, 2021

Cecília Chata Valentim and her children in front of the new house under construction. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada

“A mud house in a flood area” describes the home where Cecília, 24, her four children and three orphan nephews lived before Cyclone Idai, which affected 1.8 million people in Mozambique in 2019. “Due to the cyclone, I lost my house and documents. I worked with agriculture and managed to sell my production but, after Cyclone Idai, I had no money and nowhere to live. I thought of how I could go on with my life and get back to normal”, she recalled.

To start over, Cecília and the seven children moved to Mandruzi resettlement neighborhood, an area granted by the local government to vulnerable displaced families under an urban development plan. “At that time, the important thing for me was to find a safe place where we would have our own land, without having to leave afterwards”, said Cecília, remembering the schools and temporary shelters where they had flee before.

Two years later, the family currently rebuilds a new life, with the support of organizations on the ground. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is building a house for the family and has promoted several income-generating activities for Cecilia, who is the head of the family, through the post-cyclone program Mozambique Recovery Facility (MRF), in coordination with Government’s Reconstruction Cabinet (GREPOC), with funds from the European Union, Canada, China, Finland, India, the Netherlands and Norway.

For the first time Cecília and her children will live in a cement house, sturdy to withstand climate events, and safe in the rainy season. From the backyard of the old house, she has been following the construction work of the family's new residence since its foundation. “I see the materials they use and there is a lot of difference from our old house. It will also be simpler to maintain hygiene, while in the mud house which has no windows, the dust never ends.”

Single-family resilient houses under construction with a roof-covered area of 34 m2 each. This is a 'evolutionary housing model' where households can expand the structure or develop new functions for the rooms in the future, according their needs and preferences. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada

The construction of Cecília's house follows resilience standards to endure natural disasters, which are so recurrent in Mozambique. In total, 160 houses are under construction following the same rationale and project in Mandruzi neighborhood by the Mozambique Recovery Facility and are designated to vulnerable families, particularly the ones which are headed by elderly people, single mothers, and people with disabilities or chronic diseases.

Through the reinforced roof and window connections applied by local bricklayers and artisans under the supervision of engineers and technicians, the construction gains the necessary durability while serving as a learning experience for the community to build better adapted houses. The participation of other community members in the construction includes unskilled temporary work arrangement, such as water collection and meal preparation, to ensure an additional source of income for the community and cohesion among neighbors. 

Resilience to climate change

Cecília and her family in front of their mud house. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada

“These storms came to bother us and you never know what might happen but the community knows how to prepare and is building stronger houses. What occured in Idai cannot repeat two, three times… It was very sad”, she warned.

Cecília's testimony is aligned with the facts. From 2019 to 2021, four cyclones hit Mozambique, which further challenged communities' resilience to climate crisis. In each natural disaster, Mozambique loses lives, more infrastructure is destroyed and essential services are disrupted. Disproportionately, it is estimated that by 2100 the poorest countries in the world could experience up to 100 more days of extreme weather due to climate change each year–Mozambique is also one of the ten countries in the world with the lowest human development (UNDP HDI, 2020).

To help build resilience of vulnerable communities in Sofala province, more than 1,100 homes and 18 infrastructures, including schools and markets, are being constructed and/or rehabilitated by the UNDP Recovery Facility, following the Building Back Better approach in which resilient construction techniques are placed to ensure that infrastructure is durable and resistent, which may serve as shelter for communities in possible future disasters and will help reestablish essential services. At least 15,000 people will directly benefit from this initiative.

In addition, to help reduce disaster risk and encourage community engagement, several access roads (960 km) and drainage ditches (8.5 km) were cleared through cash-for-work activities. 

The impact of Cyclone Eloise, January 2021. From 2019 to 2021, four cyclones hit Mozambique, each of them causing loss of life and damage to infrastructure and essential services. Photo: UNDP/Brenda Hada

The impact of Cyclone Eloise, January 2021. From 2019 to 2021, four cyclones hit Mozambique, each of them causing loss of life and damage to infrastructure and essential services.

Livelihoods to create resilience in future disasters

Despite the trauma she experienced with the cyclones, Cecília remains moved by her responsibility of raising her children and has designed a work routine that enables her to “save money so that the children live more comfortably”. "I am both their mother and father. I have to work so they don't feel bad because something is missing in their childhood”, Cecília explained.

Cecilia started to accelerate her livelihood recovery in July 2020, when she started to participate in the UNDP Recovery Facility’s cycle of activities focused on women economic empowerment. She has received an agricultural kit (seeds and tools) and a duck rearing kit; participated in village savings and loan associations; engaged in the cleaning of the local drainage ditches through cash-for-work activities; and helped build the community’s waste management center.

Cecília working in the composting cage for homemade production of organic fertilizer and subsequent treatment of her garden. Maintenance tools and training were provided by the Recovery Facility. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada

Cecília in her work routine in the community. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada

The young woman has also received skills trainings on organic fertilizer production (biological charcoal and composting), entrepreneurship and tailoring. These activities were promoted by UNDP MRF to support poverty reduction efforts and reduce disaster risk in vulnerable communities while also encouraging sustainable actions adapted to women's needs. In the future these women can be the multipliers of activities they had learned.

Cecília's participation in economic empowerment activities has energized her life; she has used the tools and new knowledge to keep sustaining her family and as a way to help her community. She has been planting rice, corn and sweet potato in her garden, flowers and other vegetables in the community crops combined with use of biofertilizers. Her ducks also hatched two nests. Amid all this, another milestone from her tireless effort was the completion of her basic education, coincidentally, in the same school that sheltered her family during Cyclone Idai.

Aware of the importance of her community, Cecília concluded: “I would like to mobilize and sensitize other people, neighbors, so that they do not lose hope. Everything is a process. Where there is life, there is hope”.

Cecília at the waste management and treatment center, where she works with the community to separate solid and organic waste, to produce fertilizers and to plant vegetables and flowers, in an integrated work system. Photo by UNDP/Brenda Hada