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A Good Samaritan helps his fellow flood victims

Felix Mateus
© UNICEF Mozambique/2013/Kristine Garn
Felix Mateus, a flood evacuee himself, helps make sure everyone at Chiaquelane camp gets on the distribution list for food aid.

By Kristine Dandanell Garn

Chiaquelane, March 2013 – About 40 women carrying young children in slings made of the traditional Mozambican “capulana” cloth have gathered under the shade of a large tree, not far from where food aid is being distributed to residents of the Chiaquelane camp. The leafy tree provides a bit of relief from the harsh sun, as the buzz of flies fills the air. Felix Mateus is one of the few men in the group. He holds a piece of paper with the neatly listed names of 101 persons from ‘bairro’ (neighborhood) 2, and 35 names from bairro 3. These are the names of those who escaped days after the flood waters rose, some having survived for days living on roof tops without access to clean water or food. The names need to be added to the list of those receiving food aid. Many have not received any food in the past 3 weeks, but people here help each other out and share what they have, Felix explains. Making sure that everybody gets their fair share of food supplies is a common challenge in emergency situations such as this.

The camp is divided into the same neighborhoods or bairros as in Chokwe city, where the majority of camp residents are from. Each bairro has a community leader tasked with keeping lists of those living in his or her area, on the basis of which food and other aid supplies are then allocated. But sometimes the lists are not up to date, or people are intentionally kept off them because of old grudges or other disputes.

Felix is 31-years old and escaped his house in Chokwe city with his wife Macia and their 1-month old daughter Junis. A friend phoned him warning him of the approaching flood waters. Felix breaks into a big smile when he talks about his daughter Junis. His wife has been breastfeeding since Junis was born.

"It is very important that the baby is breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of her life. The first milk is called colostrum and it cleans and gives strength to the baby. It is the same with animals", he explains.

Felix is a farmer back home, growing crops and breeding livestock, so feeding and nutrition are a little familiar to him. Also, he learned about breastfeeding from television programs and from health staff at the hospital where his wife gave birth, who told them about the importance of only feeding the baby with breast milk.

Felix is quite knowledgeable about the value of breastfeeding, though some misconceptions still persist with regards to breastfeeding when HIV positive, which he believes is not a good thing. This is sadly a common misunderstanding. The World Health Organization has recently issued a new recommendation according to which all mothers are advised to breastfeed exclusively for the first 6 months of a baby’s life, regardless of the mother’s HIV status. This policy was adopted by Mozambique’s Ministry of Health in the spring of 2011 but health professionals as well as the general public are still not always aware of it. UNICEF has worked with the Ministry of Health to produce easy guides on breastfeeding promotion and other key nutrition interventions in emergencies, which have been distributed to health staff working in the camp. But behaviour change rarely happens overnight, especially during stressful situations such as emergencies, where people are struggling to adapt to many new realities.

"Life in the camp is tolerable", Felix says. "We were provided with a tent when we arrived and have had enough to eat since then".

His wife was also given ‘energy bars’ together with the regular food rations. These bars, or Ready to Use Supplementary Food (RUSF), are provided by UNICEF to supplement the diet of children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, groups that often need additional calories, vitamins and minerals. But not everybody has been as lucky and this worries Felix, which is why he collects names of those who still have not received food aid, helping ensure they end up on the distribution list. Otherwise, he spends his time looking for work. The work of a Good Samaritan never ends, but getting paid is another story.

"I have lost everything and I don’t have any money, so it is very difficult. I need a job to be able to start over again", he says.

Throughout the flooding emergency, UNICEF Mozambique has provided continuous technical assistance related to nutrition to local government, as well as to partners working in the Chiaquelane camp and other affected areas in order to ensure a coordinated response, including promotion of breastfeeding and treatment of acute malnutrition. About 36,500 children and pregnant and breastfeeding mothers received a nutritional supplement (RUSF) to prevent undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies.

For more information, please contact:

Patricia Nakell, UNICEF Mozambique
Tel: +258 82 312 1820; Email: pnakell@unicef.org

Gabriel Pereira, UNICEF Mozambique, tel. (+258) 21 481 100; 
email: maputo@unicef.org

 

 
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