Tzu Chi volunteers share the inspiring tale of rebuilding lives after Cyclone Freddy in Malawi. From shattered homes to vibrant communities, learn about their journey of hope and reconstruction.

In late February 2023, the record-breaking "Cyclone Freddy" struck the countries of southern Africa and regained strength after returning to the Mozambique Channel. On March 13, accompanied by strong winds and heavy rain, it made landfall in the southern region of Malawi, and caused terrible disasters in Blantyre County the next day.

Many homes were damaged by days of heavy rain. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/03/14

Since Malawi is an impoverished country with poor infrastructure and energy resources, local people cut down trees for energy. Continuous deforestation, along with a cyclone bringing heavy rain for five days in Blantyre, capital of Malawi, led to floods and rockslides. Many homes and villages were destroyed.

Volunteers rode motorcycles, and carried heavy supplies while pushing carts through muddy and challenging roads. They reached deep into badly affected areas to provide care and distribute aid. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/03/17

The rain and wind continued for three days after the cyclone hit. From March 15 to 17, Tzu Chi volunteers rode motorcycles or pushed carts on muddy roads to transport supplies. They went into hard-hit areas like Chigojo, Machinjiri, and Tavera, surveyed the damages and gave food to those affected.

Post-Disaster Reconstruction

Many homes of both residents and volunteers were damaged or completely destroyed by this disaster. Following a joint disaster assessment by Tzu Chi volunteers from South Africa and Malawi, the "Brick House Reconstruction Project" was launched to rebuild 177 brick houses in fifteen villages in Blantyre and provide shelter for the affected residents.

Volunteers learned about specifications and prices for door frames and iron windows. | Photo by Daud Kazembe | Machinjir, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/04/30

On April 30, Tzu Chi volunteers Yachi Yuan (袁亞棋) and Frank Zhu (朱恆民) from South Africa, along with local leaders, went to the Machinjiri market to learn about materials for rebuilding houses. They checked the quality and prices of doors, windows, and wood, to choose strong materials for the reconstruction.

After checking the costs of building materials, volunteers quickly went to Chigojo village to see how things were after the disaster. It had been over a month since the storm; yet the villagers had no money to repair their homes. Despite being scared that their homes might collapse, some residents could only live in their partially ruined houses. Others stayed with relatives, but the crowded living conditions made things difficult for all.

Several walls of Grandma Magret's home had crumbled, and she feared the whole house might collapse at any moment. Every night, she struggled to sleep due to constant worry. | Photo by Heng-ming Zhu | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/04/30

"Can you help me build my house quickly? Otherwise, I'm really scared," 77-year-old Grandma Magret (Magret Laison) pleaded while holding Yachi's hand during their volunteer visit. The storm badly damaged her home, leaving just one dry bedroom. Afraid the damp walls might give way overnight, she did not dare sleep there. Instead, she slept in the adjacent room with a missing wall. If she still felt afraid, she would spend the night sitting against the wall in the living area, which also had two missing walls.

Living alone and supporting herself by shelling corn for others and relying on villagers' assistance, Grandma Magret had no way to afford the cost of repairing her home.

While surveying, Yachi always talked with local leaders about how to assess and rebuild. She emphasized the importance of helping the vulnerable elderly. Once they agreed on the rules, they quickly took action to meet these urgent needs.

Mobilizing Residents for Home Reconstruction

The reconstruction project began in the Chigojo village. On May 9, Chief Joward Stonard met volunteers at a community meeting. They explained the plan to rebuild homes and invited everyone in the village to join and help in the reconstruction process.

On May 12, construction workers and volunteers entered the site. They began building twenty brick houses simultaneously. Every day, hundreds of volunteers worked in specific areas assigned for rebuilding.

Chief Joward Stonard was personally affected by the storm with half of his home's walls having collapsed; he settled his family with relatives. He promptly joined Tzu Chi's relief efforts. In the reconstruction, the chief not only protected building materials but actively helped affected villagers build their houses with his construction knowledge.

The new brick houses were built right in front of the original homes that were severely damaged by the cyclone. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/05/16

The whole community joined forces for the reconstruction. Men built houses, women managed logistics, cooked meals, and provided water for making cement. Even children got involved, with older ones helping to move bricks and younger ones stacking them – everyone had a job.

The entire community mobilized to participate in the brick house project, with even children helping to carry bricks. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/05/19

When construction materials like cement and wood arrived, everyone worked together to unload them. They teamed up to carry cement bags;  the stronger ones carried them on their heads or backs. They transported materials to Chigojo village and stored them in the community's kindergarten.

Learn While Rebuilding

As the reconstruction progressed, volunteers not only devoted themselves to the work but also acquired professional construction skills like bricklaying, metalworking, and woodworking. This aimed to develop Tzu Chi's own construction team in Malawi.

After a month of construction, several brick houses took shape. The woodworking team then initiated roof beam construction, quickly forming house structures.

The construction team trained volunteers under the guidance of the metalworking master to learn welding. Everyone practiced welding iron windows. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/06/02

At the same time, young volunteers in the metalworking team learned welding techniques from Daud Kazembe's father, master metalworker Yusuf Kazembe. They prepared to make iron windows and door frames—measuring, cutting, wearing face shields, practicing welding, and refining details. They remained very focused.

Secure Homes from Future Storms

Five months after Cyclone Freddy, Tzu Chi finished twenty brick houses in Chigojo village. On August 20, volunteers began delivering the homes.

Each new house is tailor-made based on the number of family members in the affected household, with the corresponding number of rooms. The houses were painted in beautiful sky-blue. Metalworking and woodworking teams ensured safety with crafted iron windows and wooden doors.

During the home handover, volunteers presented the keys to the new homes, hong-bao (red packet) for blessings, and a Tzu Chi Q&A booklet translated into Chichewa, the local language. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/08/23

Volunteer Michael Kachimanea translated Tzu Chi's missions into the local language, Chichewa, and created a Q&A booklet. He distributed it during the home handovers along with a hong-bao for blessings. Such a gift to the families has given hope to villagers, so that they can now restart their lives.

Grandma Magret, deeply moved, knelt down as she received the keys to her new home from volunteer Edward Abraham (left). | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/08/23

After five months in temporary shelters, families joyfully moved into their new homes. Grandma Magret, who tearfully pleaded during the volunteer visit, knelt to receive the keys to her new home. Overjoyed, she expressed her deep gratitude.

Chief Joward Stonard and his family were separated after the storm damaged their home. Now they are finally reunited in the new home built by Tzu Chi. | Photo provided by Tzu Chi Foundation | Chigojo, Blantyre, Malawi | 2023/08/23

Chief Joward Stonard, relocated to Tzu Chi's housing, became a homeowner in the new house. He said: "We are very fortunate to have such a three-bedroom new home. I am very happy and grateful for everything Tzu Chi has done."

After moving into their new homes, the affected families in Chigojo village could finally settle down and restart their daily lives. The Cyclone reconstruction work for the remaining fifteen Blantyre villages of Malawi will continue.

Story by Yachi Yuan and Tsai-Rung Yang | 2023/11/14