Teachers Pick Up The Pieces After Cyclone Idai

Villagers use a makeshift bridge to cross the Nyahode River at Copa Business Centre in Chimanimani where a good portion of the settlement was washed away by Cyclone Idai.

By Luthando Mapepa

Nearly five months have gone by since the worst cyclone to hit Zimbabwe, Idai, left a trail of unprecedented destruction in Chimanimani and Chipinge and teachers in the worst hit area, Chimanimani, had to pick up the pieces in the second term of the school calendar as they grapple with traumatized children whose parents, relatives or friends could have been swept away and may never be seen again.

In the seminal work by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, the soothsayer warned the Colossus, Julius Caesar, the man, that he should ‘beware the Ides of March’ and when he ignored the chilling admonition, he met his death on 15 March. Paradoxically, Cyclone Idai buffeted the two Manicaland districts on the very same day when Julius Caesar met his fate at the Capitol.

One of the badly damaged houses that was left standing at Copa Business Centre in Chimanimani.

Ndima High School was one of the hardest hit schools as it lost a number of students and teachers on that fateful night when raging waters from Rusitu and Haroni Rivers destroyed a whole settlement at Kopa and all that remain of that built up area are boulders and sand and a few badly damaged houses which survived the onslaught.

One teacher lost his wife and child and he remembers the day as if the events took place a day ago.
“I saw my wife and child swept away by the angry waters and I could not do anything to save them,” the teacher, who chose anonymity, said in an interview.
Another teacher also told The Teacher Magazine of the difficulties they were facing to cope with the tragedy.

“My friend, his wife and children have not been accounted for, three months after the tragedy. We mourn them but in our culture, closure only comes after we have buried the deceased. How do I comfort my students who lost their loved ones when the memories of my lost loved ones bring tears to my face even as I teach? My friend had returned home from where he was heading and he met his death,” the teacher suppresses a sob as he reminisces the days he and his friend were teaching at the same school.

St Charles Luwanga Secondary School, a Roman Catholic Church-run school in Chimanimani is believed to have suffered student apathy as the scholars were reluctant to go there for the second term in view of the bad memories associated with the school after a rock rolled and killed three people at the school during the cyclone. Several organizations have submitted that they are willing to help in relocating the students from this area where they suffered the disaster.

It is an indisputable fact that trauma in students’ lives takes emotional and physical toll on teachers as well. Students are having short attention spans and the irritability of teachers rises also.
“In such situations, it is incumbent upon the teachers to encourage students to talk it out and it may mean that they have monthly wellness groups as the cyclone has had far reaching consequences to the students especially for those at the primary school level,” a Social worker, Mr Richard Sikoya, said.

It is unfortunate that many teachers are never taught how to deal with students who have experienced trauma. With that in mind, education authorities in the two districts may have to engage specialists in post-trauma counselling especially for the affected schoolteachers and students. It may entail including the traditional leadership and the community.

Infrastructure was destroyed and that means the road and communication networks are hamstrung and some of the coping mechanisms may present problems for the teachers but it is worth a try.
One psychologist who refused to be named for professional reasons said teachers might have to inculcate in students coping mechanisms.

“We are talking about schools with more than 50 students who perished or a community which lost many souls. These students may not be able to cope with such a disaster and it is the teacher who is the last man standing and he/she has to build confidence in students. He has to be empowered to deal with these traumatized children and help them realize their potential notwithstanding the natural phenomenon which cut them off from their loved ones,” he said.

A student who learns at a high school whose head remains missing says she cries every time she passes by the head’s office and it is the duty of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education to make use of its Schools Psychological Services arm to bridge the gap.

Without doubt, experts say, trauma can wreak havoc on a student’s ability to learn and that is why teachers in the epicentre of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani must build coping strategies.
A Sociology graduate from the University of Zimbabwe, Mr Rekerai Tiriwokufa, said while it is true that trauma could have long lasting results on anyone, children are the soft underbellies of trauma.
“Teachers can teach their students to count up to five, visualize a calming place, go for a walk, read or watch a movie and they would eventually suppress the visuals of what happened. In this case, there is need for a lot of activities to be carried out in the affected schools. If there is financial help extended to those schools by development partners, it is important to factor in those coping strategies that include exchange programmes which benefit the teachers as well as they were affected in one way or another,” he said.

The brain has a way of responding to a fear-inducing event. It emits a fear response, releasing excessive cortisol and adrenaline that can increase the heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration and releases a flood of emotions which may result in anger and headaches.

Thus, teachers should be compassionate; it’s a pity that it is the teacher who bore the brunt of this track back to innocence but pedagogues are taught Psychology of Education as a core module and they are the ones who have to implement what they have learnt over the years. This is teaching practice revisited.

A retire school head, Mr Edson Zvironzo Mlambo, said there was need for teachers to revisit their college notes and do what they were taught to do when the going gets tough. He said the current generation, which had seen Cyclone Idai, might probably never recover from the tragedy but the onus is on the teacher to rise from the ashes like a phoenix and help the traumatized generation.
“Now is the time for the teachers to create calm, predictable transitions. They are coming from a tragic event and they must feel that the future is secure and comfortable. Teachers have to praise students publicly in order to raise their self-esteem. If the child has done something that warrants criticism, it is ideal to criticize privately,” he advised.

Slowly Chimanimani is rising from a devastating occurrence and the teaching profession is once again called to justify itself as a noble profession. Government has been urged to look into the conditions of services of teachers in view of the deteriorating economic environment.

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