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"Flooded with trees, not water" – Malawi's children plant hope for a safer future

Students at Kaporo primary school playing a disaster risk reduction-themed game which is a fun and creative way to learn about the importance of preparing for and preventing disasters. ©World Vision

The weather is becoming more unpredictable for Southern African countries. Cyclones and floods alternate with droughts, leaving the population vulnerable and impoverished. In Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries, food shortages are looming as many parts suffered a long dry spell followed by floods. Since 2008, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) has piloted a disaster risk reduction plan in the region to strengthen people’s resilience to weather hazards and promote innovative approaches. Children make up more than half the population of Malawi, so what better way to have a lasting impact than to recruit them as agents of change? World Vision is one of the European Commission's partners doing just that.

Stefanie Glinski, Field Content Manager, World Vision UK @WorldVisionUK @stephglinski

Stefanie Glinski, Field Content Manager, World Vision UK @WorldVisionUK @stephglinski

In Karonga, northern Malawi, children are taking the lead of the future. Through child-to-child Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) clubs they are planting trees and hope. In a region which has been ravaged by both floods and drought over the last few years, children have decided to take their communities by the hand and take steps to protect themselves, their loved ones, their schools and homes.

"Our club has influenced planting of trees, construction of latrines and catchment area protection ... In our club, World Vision has taught us about the environment and why we should protect it by planting trees to avoid disasters", said Esther, a DRR club member at Kaporo Primary School.

Esther, aged 14 years old, is one of the 1 497 girls and boys involved in 30 different DRR children's clubs. The clubs have been set up across schools and villages in the Karonga district with funds from the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and are run by World Vision. Using board games, drama, dance, quizzes and group visits, children are learning about the causes and risks of floods and drought, and are trained in ways to prevent and cope with disasters, which they can then share with their peers, parents and wider communities.

In the past, some in the area believed that floods were caused by evil spirits. However, through the clubs, children now understand that the floods come about due to human activity, such as deforestation, and that people can also take actions to reverse the problem. A key message the clubs deliver is afforestation; planting or replanting trees in flood prone areas.

Clubs like Esther's have taken the message to heart and turned their training into action. Some have already planted fruit trees (mainly banana) around their school, helping to protect the school's environment and, additionally, giving the children nutritious snacks.

Esther and her friends have taken things even further, leading a community meeting which inspired parents to plant 2 100 new trees in their community. In total, 69 800 trees have been planted in schools and communities by the children themselves thanks to the DRR clubs. Eight of the groups even have their own orchard or woodland to cultivate.

Austin Simwela, a local head teacher at Kaporo Primary School, has been so impressed with the DRR clubs' activities that his school has decided to expand the message. To ensure that all pupils are involved in disaster risk reduction activities now and in the future, the school has brought in a policy whereby each pupil plants two trees every year.

"In five years' time nearly every place here at this school shall be flooded with trees, not flooded with water," he says.

School patron Mr Mwakaonga has the last word, affirming that adults and children alike are inspired to take action and pass on the messages:

"I am so proud of what we have achieved and the support from World Vision that we have received, training us and giving us some useful resources to make disaster risk reduction a reality."