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Bringing Hope to Survivors of Mozambique Landfill Disaster

In Maputo, Mozambique, stood a 15m high mountainous heap of trash that collapsed after a spell of heavy rain, burying more than 40 households and taking a toll of 17 lives. Local Tzu Chi volunteers timely reached out to the slum dwellers with aid.

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After Mozambique’s Maputo Landfill collapsed in heavy rains, Tzu Chi volunteers entered the disaster site to offer care and comfort to the disaster survivors.

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Residents living near the landfill are generally slum dwellers, who mostly survive on scavenging for food scraps or useful items among the trash heaps.

The landfill in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, is the largest of its kind in the country. Residents living in the vicinity are generally slum dwellers, including 700-plus households that depend on scavenging for their livelihood. Most of them had come into the capital from other districts. However, due to difficulties in finding jobs, they had little choice but to rely on collecting trash for sale or bringing home scraps of food they had picked up to sustain their families.

Tzu Chi started conducting aid distributions in Maputo in 2015. Its volunteers had aided the residents several times and discussed with the local environment minister how they could provide assistance and support for the needy. Although the government had originally planned to relocate all the residents around the landfill, they met many challenges, resulting in only some of the latter leaving temporarily, due to local security concerns.

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Heavy rains flooded many major roads in Maputo, making them almost impassable to traffic.

On 19th February 2018, the landfill collapsed after continued heavy rain and buried many of the slum dwellers’ homes. The government had mobilized excavators to search for survivors, but as of the afternoon on that day, the confirmed death toll stood at 17.

Timely, Rapid Mobilization

Early in the morning of the following day, Tzu Chi volunteers received a call from the provincial governor’s office, permitting them to enter the disaster area in the afternoon to render aid to the disaster survivors. As such, the volunteers quickly divided themselves into two teams; one team proceeded to conduct a disaster assessment while the second team followed personnel from the National Institute of Disasters Management (INGC) into a shelter.

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A Tzu Chi volunteer listens intently to a survivor’s tearful account of her situation and the disaster, bringing her comforting support.

At the disaster scene, residents who were suddenly rendered homeless due to the disaster waited anxiously to see if the excavators might uncover their loved ones or something useful from the rubble. In the process of digging, there were heartrending scenes of people who were buried alive while they were still sleeping, crushed under the massive heap of rubbish.

Later in the afternoon, the Tzu Chi disaster assessment team at the landfill received news that there were 40-plus households buried under the rubbish heap. One household had survived the horrendous disaster, but the family was psychologically scarred and unwilling to leave the site. In the end, they were forcibly relocated to the shelter, which was situated on a plot of land generously provided by a resident. The shelter took in 34 households who had lost their homes overnight in the disaster.

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A photo of the rescue work in action on 19th February, which was taken by a local Tzu Chi volunteer, Jalane.

At this juncture, the volunteers could only offer comfort to the survivors, lending a listening ear to their tear-stricken accounts of their encounter with this sudden disaster and giving them warm, consoling hugs.

Besides distributing 34 sets of mosquito nets and blankets, the volunteers even lovingly prepared warm food for the disaster victims. Nothing beat the bowls of hot vegetable and potato soup that the volunteers had thoughtfully prepared to warm the bellies of the latter.

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Mozambican Tzu Chi volunteers bearing their thoughtfully prepared aid supplies for the disaster survivors at a shelter, including mosquito nets and warm food.

Over several days, local Tzu Chi volunteers continued their tireless labour of accounting for disaster survivors and serving them warm food. They used their purchases of cabbages and potatoes, as well as a variety of freshly harvested produce from the local Tzu Chi Great Love Vegetable Garden, to cook a rich broth of piping hot soup, a delicious treat that was greatly loved by the locals. The soup made from fresh vegetables was a rare treat for these slum dwellers.

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Local volunteers rostered themselves and automatically turned up daily, to prepare piping hot soup for the disaster survivors.

Expressing Gratitude through Songs

Walking into the temporary shelter encircled with wire mesh, Tzu Chi volunteers personally served warm food into the welcoming hands of each disaster survivor, quelling their hunger pangs.

Even though there were doctors from the Red Cross inside the shelter, the hygiene condition remained a cause for concern. Thus, Denise Tsai, who heads the Tzu Chi volunteer team in Mozambique, contacted Tzu Chi Taiwan to discuss how to tackle this issue. Subsequently, the volunteers purchased urgently needed items, such as anti-bacterial soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bath towels, etc. to be distributed to the disaster survivors in the shelter.

In view of the hot and humid weather, the aid recipients were divided into five groups and sent to the relief distribution zone in an orderly manner. Those who received the relief goods felt especially delighted and broke into bright smiles.

A volunteer translated the loving words of Tzu Chi’s founder, Dharma Master Cheng Yen, into the local language. She highlighted to the recipients that the packages they had received were not only necessities for cleaning themselves daily, but more importantly, they were bundles filled with great love. And Tzu Chi hoped that what everyone received on this day would be re-channeled out to others in need, allowing the love to be paid forward.

The people were deeply moved by what the volunteers had shared, and clapped loudly in great joy. At this juncture, a song expressing immense gratitude started to permeate the air in the temporary shelter, sending out the local residents’ vocal response in gratitude, to the love they had received.

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Volunteers bowing respectfully while they personally hand over supplies of toiletries to the disaster victims, with the hope of helping them maintain their personal hygiene in the shelter.

The Birth of a New Life Amid the Disaster Aftermath

“The Lord created me and our people. All His blessings are upon me. In the midst of utmost joy, how can I thank you enough… How can I thank you enough…”

When the volunteers heard this joyous singing by those who had received Tzu Chi’s aid,  they knew that their efforts and hard work had brought peace and hope to the disaster survivors.

There is also a tiding of great joy amid the disaster aftermath. Matilde, who was due for a premature delivery, finally bore her baby through caesarean delivery on the 25th February. When the volunteers received this joyful news, they immediately visited the mother and child in the hospital, bearing gifts of fruit juice and milk as part of local customs, to provide nutrition for them.

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Residents in the temporary shelter express their joy and applause upon seeing the safe return of Matilde and her newborn child.

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