Resilience in the Face of Climate Disasters
In Chikwawa District, Malawi, climate change impacts, particularly cyclones, have damaged roads and disrupted livelihoods, hitting women the hardest. Despite the challenges, they show resilience by finding alternative ways to secure food. Their persistent efforts contribute to both community resilience and food security.
As one drives through Chikwawa District, potholes, cracks, and washed-away sections of the road reflect the cyclone’s devastation. Innocent Dula, Project Officer with The Hunger Project (THP) Malawi, draws our attention to a section of the road that has been completely washed away.
He recounts how three family members died there on a fateful morning in March. This district is located in southern Malawi. It is known for its vulnerability to climate change impacts, particularly in terms of drought, floods, and extreme weather patterns; especially cyclones.
These challenges disrupt livelihoods, affecting women the most. They are now finding ways of living through the turmoil they have endured. In Misomari Village, the women’s beautiful welcoming songs are quickly followed by tales of survival and resilience.
“We sleep outside guarding our crops,” they say. Their farms were destroyed by cyclones and their food security was compromised. So, they had to find alternatives to get food. One alternative involves renting farmland during the summer season. Since summer is dry, they can spend nights outside until the crop harvesting season.
During this period, women guard their farms. “If we do not take care of our land, we will not harvest anything,” they say, highlighting their adaptability. It is not only through farming that they demonstrate resilience. Grace Nambile, 45, is the most ideal example of this. The experienced carpenter lives in Chepananga village, where she has her workshop.
Empowering through carpentry
Carpentry was not a traditional job for women in the past. It is apparent from Nambile that the women are determined to break gender stereotypes and to actively participate in income-generating activities to support their families. In addition to her carpentry work, she has a farm on which she harvests and sells vegetables and food produce for extra income. She runs a vegetable shop that doubles as her workshop, allowing her to carry out carpentry work alongside her business.
“Carpentry training was free and when the opportunity came through the women’s empowerment programme to train as a carpenter, I took it because I wanted to do something unique,” she says. Hers is not the only tale of inspiration. Modesta Donesiano from Muunda village narrates how she lived in abject poverty. To fend for her family, she looked for casual jobs until she met other women. Together, they started a women’s group to support each other.
In this group, they save together. This enables members to borrow from their savings, use the money to set up a business and pay it back later. “I’ve built rentals, my house, and bought cattle among other things,” she proclaims loudly. Still using these savings, Donesiano can send her children to school and provide for basic needs.
The savings group that started with seven women today has 28 members. The challenge she says is getting younger women to realise how worthwhile saving is. “They do not take savings seriously and most have nothing to share at the end of the calendar year.” According to Donesiano, young women need to change their attitudes and save.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush, so the proverb states. This applies to Chikwawa women’s efforts to reverse climate disaster effects. These may seem meagre but as they say, “It is not the thunder of the roaring storm but the persistence of the raindrops that water the plants.” Today, their efforts not only contribute to their resilience but also to food security.