In one of the schools in a rural village on the east coast of Madagascar, a child stands on the school’s walkway also used as a stage. He is surrounded by fellow school children, mostly in their brown-coloured school uniform, while energetically leading a cheer that they do before ending their morning class.
After leading the cheer, he heads to a three-room concrete toilet painted in white and blue. It’s a building Medair constructed following the damage that Cyclone Batsirai brought to their village.
At first glance, you won’t see any evidence of devastation, except for a wooden toilet locked with a key and without a roof. It is built beside the concrete toilet fenced with bamboo and a backdrop of rice paddies and a hill.
Christian, a 12-year-old child and survivor of the cyclone, recalls how he felt when the cyclone struck their village. “I was scared because our roof blew off in the heavy rain.” He continued, “When we were soaked by the heavy rain, my mother, pregnant elder sister, and I ran to an evacuation shelter along with our neighbours. We spent our night in the temporary evacuation centre.
Christian is a sixth grader and the youngest of three children. He is raised by a widow. According to Christian, the morning after the cyclone, he and his mother went back to their house to rescue what they could retrieve from their damaged house.
“After cleaning our house, my friends and I went to our school. The roof of our classroom was on the ground and so was the one on the toilet. The huge branches of the tree [pointing at a huge tree to his right] had fallen and scattered on the ground,” he says.
But Christian candidly adds, “But because of that cyclone, we now have a new toilet,” which makes his schoolmates and good friend of his age, Erik laugh.
Christian’s school is one of eight which received latrines constructed by Medair. He and Erik, and over 4500 school children have new toilets in school.
“I get to enjoy the toilet because we don’t have it at home,” Christian adds. When followed up on where they go when nature calls, Christian whispers and shyly says, “In the forest near our house.”
Christian and Erik accompanied Medair staff members to the forest, walking through a passageway through their neighbourhood.
After over 10 minutes of passing through a three to four feet wide narrow alleyway surrounded by wooden houses, they reached the bare ground. Christian then pointed his finger to a forest with what seemed like a decades-old tree, covered with banana trees and grasses.
According to Christian, most of the people in the neighbourhood use the forest when they don’t have latrines. He leads the way into to the forest while covering his nose with his t-shirt, while Erik seems to be holding his breath so as not to smell the unpleasant smell. The forest is adjacent to a brownish-coloured stream.
To Christian and Erik, the newly constructed toilets are a sign of relief to them as they no longer have to run to the forest in the middle of school hours when nature calls. “With the new toilet, we also have a new habit of washing our hands regularly, especially after using the toilet,” Christian adds.
Last year, on February 5, Cyclone Batsirai struck Christian and Erik’s village when it made landfall near the south-eastern city of Mananjary, 530km from the capital Antananarivo, at around five in the afternoon.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 62,000 people sought temporary refuge in evacuation shelters, and at least 121 died in the cyclone.
Medair rehabilitated water points, constructed household latrines, provided hygiene kits, and sensitized the vulnerable affected population on the importance of good hygiene practices.
Medair’s recovery interventions in Madagascar are funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
This content was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.