Storms destroy two church institutions in Zimbabwe

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Key Points:

  • Heavy rains and strong winds wipe out classrooms, offices, a clinic and teachers’ residences in both East and West annual conferences.
  • Noting the COP26 discussions in Glasgow, Scotland, Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa attributes destruction to climate change. 
  • As students move into makeshift classrooms and prepare for exams, United Methodist leaders appeal for financial assistance.

Heavy rains and strong winds left a trail of destruction of property worth thousands of dollars at two United Methodist institutions.

Munyarari Mission in the Zimbabwe East Conference (Mutare District) and Mashambanhaka Mission in the Zimbabwe West Conference (Murehwa Uzumba Maramba Pfungwe District) saw significant damage from the Oct. 31-Nov. 1 storms. 

Roofs of classrooms, offices, a clinic and teachers’ residences were blown off. Some debris landed more than half a mile away. Computers and Wi-Fi modems, financial records and other important documents, student projects, textbooks and furniture were soaked. At a maternity clinic, food, linens and medicines were lost.

Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa attributed the destruction to climate change.

“Within 24 hours, all roofs were blown off from buildings at our two institutions by a heavy, windy storm. Experts are saying that it is because of the change in the climate,” he said.

“We never used to get cyclones in Zimbabwe,” Nhiwatiwa added, noting that leaders from different countries were gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, at the time for COP26 to discuss climate change issues.

“Environmentalists are saying that gas emissions are depleting the ozone layer, causing   temperatures to rise more than before.” The bishop warned that without precautionary measures, temperatures may continue to increase, eventually making Earth uninhabitable.

“We should not cut trees indiscriminately,” Nhiwatiwa continued. “Trees help in the formation of the clouds and, subsequently, the rains. Let us replenish our vegetation by planting trees. This will help the next generations.”

Teacher Tendai Madzukwa describes storm damage to the United Methodist Mashambanhaka Primary School, northeast of Harare. Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said the storms illustrate the impact of climate change and called on United Methodists to care for the earth. Photo by Kudzai Chingwe, UM News. 
Teacher Tendai Madzukwa describes storm damage to the United Methodist Mashambanhaka Primary School, northeast of Harare. Zimbabwe Area Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa said the storms illustrate the impact of climate change and called on United Methodists to care for the earth. Photo by Kudzai Chingwe, UM News.

Tendai Madzukwa, a senior teacher at Mashambanhaka Primary School, said a hailstorm demolished six classrooms, offices, a computer laboratory and a poultry yard.

“All of a sudden, there was a heavy downpour accompanied by very strong winds,” he said. “Children and teachers, who were enjoying their lunch break, had to rush into classrooms to escape imminent danger. However, it was the case of out of the frying pan into the fire. 

“The roofs were blown away, and many had to hide under tables to escape from the rain.”

Liberty Sithole, headmaster at the school, called the disaster’s impact grave.

“We used to be the second-best school in the district,” Sithole lamented.

Classes are reduced to meeting on alternate days. “Teachers are working from under trees because their offices have been destroyed,” he noted.

Because the computer lab was ruined and technology tools were damaged, some classes are suspended.

Most staff residences, heavily impacted by the storms, were condemned by the Ministry of Education building inspector. Teachers are lodging in surrounding villages.

Bettina Ndambakuwa, a teacher at Mashambanhaka, said, “Grade 7 candidates, who are supposed to sit for ICT (information and communications technology) examinations for the first time, have been disadvantaged as they are no longer able to do practical lessons. The Zimbabwe School Examinations Council information for grades 6 and 7 has been destroyed.

“In addition,” Ndambakuwa said, “we are no longer able to access the internet as the Wi-Fi modem was affected by the rain. The modem was assisting us to receive and send information to different offices, e-learning, e-banking and other communication needs.”  

Nyorovai Masvanhise, who chairs development efforts at Mashambanhaka Primary School, said the children and teachers are still in a state of shock and disbelief. 

“Some teachers are traumatized, feel insecure and wish to transfer.”

In the Mutare District, Munyarari Mission faced the same calamity. 

The Rev. Adam Mutemachani, pastor in charge of the circuit, said 10 to 15 minutes of heavy rain and strong winds wiped out Munyarari Mission. The mission includes Munyarari Primary School, a clinic and Chinyauhwera High School.

Nyemwerai Saungweme, Munyarari Primary School headmistress, said the hailstorm blew roofing from the school library, which doubled as the administration office, the infant block of four classrooms, four teachers’ houses, a bathroom and the grades 1-4 block. “One teacher’s house cracked and is now too dangerous to accommodate anyone. Textbooks, photocopiers and stationery were destroyed,” she added.

“Currently, the administrators are operating under a shade, hindering efficiency,” she said. “Two Early Childhood Development classes and grade 1 and 2 classes are now packed in the church, reducing effectiveness in teaching and learning.

“The school coffers are dry, making it difficult to repair the damages with urgency. The school garden, which used to generate income, was destroyed. Psychologically and emotionally, the entire community was affected.” 

Temporarily without electricity to pump water, the mission is operating without running water. “We are at a health risk, especially during this COVID-19 era where continuous hand washing and toilet cleaning are a must,” Saungweme said.

High school headmaster Leonard Mutibu said teachers are crowded in a few rooms and are in danger of contracting COVID-19. “Teachers and learners are living in fear,” he said.

Student leader Lorraine Saungweme said the storms have left many feeling hopeless.

“Nature failed to be on our side,” she said. “We are in despair and hopeless. We are appealing to well-wishers to help us with building materials, school equipment and food for our teachers who are now in poverty.” 

The Rev. Munyaradzi Timire, Zimbabwe East Conference education secretary, said repairs will be difficult. 

“Because of the economic situation of Zimbabwe, it will take a while to put things in place.”

The church is launching appeals for aid. “This is an urgent issue,” Timire said, “because the rains are about to begin, which will affect the quality of learning and cause a high level of absenteeism if the issues are not resolved.”

Mildred Marimbire, head nurse for the Munyarari clinic, said most of the clinic’s roof blew off. 

“The clinic is not functioning due to damages. Sick people are having problems accessing medical help. It is our hope that God would intervene.”

Samantha Bire, a student at Mashambanhaka Primary School, recalled running for cover when the wind and rain began.

“We watched helplessly,” she said, “while our future was being destroyed. Now, everyone is psychologically affected, and any few clouds in the sky remind us of that incident. Some children are no longer coming to school because of the trauma. Help us, God.”

Chingwe is a communicator for the Zimbabwe East Conference.

News media contact: Julie Dwyer at [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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