Intense but tremendous life experience: Cyclone Idai, Mozambique, with TSF

Posted on April 7th, 2019
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It was with mix feelings of anxiety and excitement that I left Pau to Mozambique on March 22nd. I knew it was going to be an intense mission but I also knew it was going to be a tremendous life experience.

One week after the deployment of the first members of Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) in the country, I was asked to join the team to reinforce TSF’s emergency response capacity.

Indeed, after the passage of Cyclone Idai, the needs appeared to be increasing as more and more devastated areas were getting discovered. Their inhabitants, who had been isolated for days, were not only in need of food and medicines but also of communications!

TSF was among the first NGO in reaching Beira, fourth city of the country and one of the most affected by the cyclone. Less than 2 days after it hit its coast, our technicians were already setting up the first satellite connection to the benefit of humanitarian coordination at Beira Airport. This coordination center then become the main hub for all humanitarian actors on the ground : UNOCHA, WFP, IFRC, UHNCR, IOM, UK AID, Care, MSF…. and TSF.

A humanitarian worker using TSF's connection at the Beira Coordination Center
A humanitarian worker using TSF’s connection at the Beira Coordination Center

Like many organizations at the beginning, Beira was our base. From there, we went to different affected areas in fonction of their accessibility. I was sent to Chimoio and Matarara (province of Manica) to conduct assessments and Humanitarian Calling Operations (HCO). With Paolo, our local volunteer we went from camps to camps, in search of people in need to call their loved ones. The help of Paolo during these operations was crucial. His tremendous ability to approach people and his capacity to explain, in Portuguese, to the local populations TSF’s work facilitated many of our actions.

But let’s not forget that my primary role at TSF is Head of Communications! So while I was doing HCO, I was also taking as many photos, videos and testimonials as possible in order to report and disseminate the work of TSF to our audience.

Some testimonials were truly heartbreaking. During a HCO in a refugee camp in Matarara, I talked with Gilo. After staying a few days in a tree to escape the floods, he managed to get on the other side of the river, were the camp now sits, with his wife and two kids and few other people of his community. He lost his phone while crossing the river. The only phone number he could remember was the one of his friend that he called thanks to TSF’s satphones. He was our first beneficiary that day. After making his call he did not hesitate in going around the camp to spread the word among the population. Suddenly, we had dozens of people coming with a piece of paper and a few phone numbers written on it waiting in line to use our satphones.

Paolo (right) and Gilo (center) during a HCO in Matarara.
Paolo (right) and Gilo (center) during a HCO in Matarara.

I will also never forget about Mike’s testimonial. I met him in a farm improvised in a coordination center in Matarara. TSF’s technicians were setting up a satellite connection in order to facilitate the coordination of the volunteers working there. With the help of Mercy Air and other organizations present such as Convoy of Hope or SOS Attitude, this group of mainly South African farmers were organizing food and kit distributions covering an area of close to 10 isolated communities with about 1,500 families representing over 8,000 people. Remarkable work, dedication and organisation!

Mike Scott (left) Coordinator of the Matarara Coordination Center
Mike Scott (left) Coordinator of the Matarara Coordination Center

These testimonials are just a few examples of the many people I met during this mission and that really inspired me by their courage and commitment.

Mozambique still has a long way to go to recover from Cyclone Idai. But it is thanks to people like Gilo and Mike that the country will overcome all the work that still needs to be done.

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