Malawi Association for Counselling Reaches Survivors After Cyclone Freddy

Malawi Counselling
by Dominc Nsona, Malawi Association for Counselling President and IAC Africa Regional Representaive
Malawi was one of the worst hit countries by Cyclone Freddy. "We have nothing left; we lost everything: our families, our children and parents, everything," said a representative of one camp for survivors. "Today I have to take alcohol to sleep," he continued.

In Malawi, the cyclone was devastating to communities, with a state of disaster being declared in 14 districts that were severely affected. Over 500,000 people were displaced by the storms and the death toll rose to over 1,000, while more than another 500 people were reported missing. Public infrastructure such as schools, health facilities, and district and main roads were damaged in all affected districts.

Behind each of these shocking figures is a story of a person, a family, a home washed away. 

As in most countries faced with a similar situation, partners rushed to provide support food, shelter and clothing, the basic needs for the body. The soul, i.e. emotions and feelings, however, was mostly left unattended. The need for counselling services was huge.
The Malawi Association for Counselling (MAC) collaborated with the All-Africa Conference: Sister to Sister (AAC:SS), a team of professional psychosocial counsellors, to provide needed support to the survivors. The goal was to access technical support in the area of counselling for the sisters and plan to visit the camps. MAC provided an orientation, an initial assessment to understand the areas that needed support for the counsellors since some of them were trained many years before. Following the orientation was a plan for counselling activities at the camps. Selection included hard to reach and never visited camps, among others.
During the visits, survivors shared their experiences and the deep pain of the loss of their loved ones, property, and land. The counsellors provided a chance for them to narrate their lived experiences, including watching their loved ones die, houses collapse, property being washed away, and land being filled with sand, rocks and wood. The survivors expressed their feelings towards themselves, the government, and partner organizations. They were safe and free to cry, and they sang funeral songs, something they were unable to do during the burial rites of their loved ones. The counsellors travelled to the burial sites with survivors.
Traditionally in Malawi there is an expectation when one visits somone encountering life difficulties, that the visitor will tell the person what to do. This is one of the challenges the counsellors faced. The counsellors, however, were able to provide support and encouragement to move forward. AAC:SS provided for the logistics to travel and MAC supported technical aspects of the visit. The end result was that the survivors were visited and psychosocial support was provided. This is the importance of collaboration and partnership.