VHWs & CCWs play an integral role in disaster preparedness and response in affected communities

VHWs and CCWs are part of the community health and child protection structures crucial in ensuring community members are accounted for and supported in disasters and emergencies.

Rutendo Kambarami - UNICEF
A mother of 3, looks at the ruins of her home after Cyclone Ana
04 February 2022

Nyanga & Chimanimani, Zimbabwe –  Martha*, a mother of 3,  woke up just after midnight, began to pray and remained awake thereafter. The rain had persisted for two days in her area in Nyanga District in the mountainous East of the country.

At around 2am one of the bedroom walls collapsed falling inward but she managed to escape. The three children aged 23, 16 & 9 years were in a separate room and just as she managed to wake them up, two walls collapsed, and they escaped through the front. After 30 minutes the roof totally collapsed leaving the house in rubble.  

The next day, Sophia Murambwa – one of five Community Child Care Workers, in Ward  31 in Nyanga Rural District was there to assist.  Working under the guidance and support of the Department of Social Development, Sophia immediately identified affected families and the extent of the damage to their properties to relay to the district office for data collation. She and other CCWs also identified those in immediate need of help.  

At around 2am one of the bedroom walls collapsed falling inward but she managed to escape

“The biggest challenges we are seeing with the damage of Tropical Storm Ana is food, water and the possibility of outbreak of disease.  The other challenge we need to be aware of is that even though we see physically damaged houses, some of those that look fine are also damaged in structure. There is possibility of further property damage. Immediate assistance should be food distribution and with the economic challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and no income generation, families have little to survive on,” she said.

Sophia also explains some key issues affecting children during the COVID-19 pandemic particularly as schools are preparing to go back. “During COVID-19 a lot of child marriages took place. Also, within the pandemic people had become more hesitant to access health services due to COVID-19 testing at health services.”

With children going back to school, Sophia highlighted the lack of educational resources such as books which have been destroyed by the storm, including the financial resources.    

Martha said that seeing the CCW’s brings some comfort and support during this difficult time. “The CCW has been so kind to me and my children.  Losing our house is not an easy matter to handle but the community has also rallied around us and given us assistance with food and shelter.  And seeing them here with this team shows that people are aware of our plight,” she said.

UNICEF through the support of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) has been supporting CCWs through training on identification and referrals of protection cases and providing working tools that include bicycles, bags and uniforms. 

Sophia who is helping communities after Tropical Ana in Nyanga
Community ChildCare Workers (CCWs) Sophia is helping communities after Tropical Ana in Nyanga District under the guidance and support of the Department of Social Development

In the health sector, Village Health Workers (VHWs) also play a vital role in the front line of rural communities across Zimbabwe and during emergency situations such as these storms. In Chimanimani, Rudo and Janet are VHWs and combined they assist 207 households in their villages.  When the warning of Tropical Storm Ana was issued VHWs assisted their communities in disaster preparedness through warning communities of dangers and actions to be undertaken to prepare.   

“As VHWs in our community, we know many of the community problems and challenges. We are aware of those in the community that do not live in secure buildings and with regards to disaster preparedness we teach community members that when storms occur and heavy rains have persisted, quickly inform local leadership and move away from danger and remain safe;” said Rudo

“With permission from village head and families, we took advantage of a funeral in the area to inform people to move to higher ground for safety and in this regard, we were able to help the community in enough time,” she said.

VHWs are also helping communities in managing the aftermath of the storm through health education, such as information on water and sanitation, particularly if water sources have been contaminated or damaged. “We tell community members that when you water sources have been destroyed or contaminated only drink boiled water to prevent diseases. We also distribute aqua tablets when we have them.”  

Both Rudo and Janet indicate how they have applied their knowledge and skills in disaster preparedness and response in their communities, after lessons and capacity building from the response to the major disaster of Cyclone Idai in 2019. 

VHWs play a central role between communities and health facilities, especially in the provision of health services.  Through the Health Development Fund (HDF) (funded by the Governments of UK, Sweden, European Union, Ireland and Gavi) as well as the Zimbabwe Idai Recovery Project (ZIRP – funded by the World Bank) in Manicaland,  UNICEF has supported the capacity of VHWs through up-skilling of VHWs in data reporting of health issues in the communities, and provision of  service kits, unforms and bicycles.

*Not her real name