Cyclone Freddy and Education in Malawi: Part 2

Last week, Fanny Nombulelo Malikebu, our ambassador for Malawi, explained how Cyclone Freddy has affected Malawi. This week she considers the impact the natural disaster has had on teaching and learning.

By Fanny Nombulelo Malikebu, Ambassador for Malawi.


The purpose of this blog is to: 

 1. Find out the learners’ experiences of the teaching and learning after the cyclone 

2. Explain the teachers’ role in the teaching and learning process after the cyclone 

3. Explain how parents can support the children teaching and learning process after the cyclone 

4. Discuss the role of the caregivers in the camps on school going age children residing in the camps 


How can a conducive teaching and learning environment be created after Freddy? 

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in disasters. Improving students’ knowledge and skills to prepare for disasters can play a major role in children’s health. School as a place to teach children can make a significant contribution to provide the necessary skills.  

This analysis uses purely Qualitative Approaches to gather data/information, as it targets lived experiences of learners, teachers, learners’ families and their care givers. Data is gathered through narrative inquiry sharing their experiences of how they have been affected by the cyclone, Freddy. 



 I engaged with multiple secondary data sources and a few primary sources to learn about their experiences of the cyclones in relation to the teaching and learning processes in schools as well as relief camps where they are temporarily housed. These include narratives from teachers, learners, parents and care givers.  

 One teacher explained that he noted that some of his students, especially those that have directly been affected by the cyclone, have shown signs of trauma. 

 “I noticed that some of the students, especially those that were directly affected, seem to be showing signs of psychological trauma; their concentration in class is low and they do contribute less,” he explained. 

 With reference to Taylor, (2017), emotional and behavioural difficulties following a natural disaster are not uncommon. Children may have symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression, as well as conduct problems 

 He further indicated: 

 “I think that they are reflecting on the events and thinking of the problems back home, as some of them lost everything. And even some of them are here in the camp, where the situation is really not that good, as they sleep on the floor and there is no privacy, “he said. 

 Teacher houses were turned into evacuation camps, hosting some of the flood survivors and sharing their hygiene facilities. 

 A Ministry of Education Official lamented: 

 “These teachers and their school children alike have gone through such a traumatic event that teachers need to be in a good mental state, if they are to resume teaching.” 

 He, therefore, expressed fear that the pass rate would be lower than they had initially projected. 

 “But we are hopeful because we are working with the affected students by counselling them and encouraging them because it is only by assuring them that they can regain their confidence,” he said. 

 Children may also experience academic and social difficulties. These problems may be related to emotional difficulties, but can also result from disruptions in schooling and daily activities due to the disaster (Taylor, 2017). The camp currently houses 125 people from the neighbouring communities whose houses were washed away in the floods. Among the students are a 15-year-old learner and a 14-year-old learner, who are both being housed at the camp. 

 The 15-year-old learner, from Makhaula Village, is one of the brightest students in her class and she witnessed the floods as they swept neighbours and relatives away on March 14, 2023. She explains that she is finding it difficult to keep pace with her education, as the environment in the camp is not conducive to teaching and learning. 

 “I study during the night but sometimes people in the camp still disturb me so it’s difficult,” she says. 

With all her books and possessions washed away, the 15-year-old learner has to start collecting notes from scratch. 

 She added further: 

 “Studying will be a little difficult without the notes that I had collected through the year,” says the 15-year-old learner, who dreams of being a nurse. 

 On his part, the 14-year-old learner, who aspires of becoming a teacher, says he has no choice under the circumstances but to work a little harder. 

 “It’s difficult to concentrate here in the camp when one wants to read. But we have little time left before the final exams, so we have to just put more effort. We will continue studying under the circumstances. It’s not like we have a choice,” he says. 

 According to UNICEF data of March, (2023), the 4,510 children who used to learn in three shifts are now stuck at home or in camps, including Standard Eight learners who were supposed to start sitting for their mock examinations from 29 to 31 March when all classes were supposed to close for Easter holidays.  

 “Clearly, their preparations for national exams will be negatively affected,” laments one Primary School Principal 

Another 12-year-old Standard 8 pupil at One Primary School in Mulanje, was preparing to take his district mock exams in preparation for the final primary school national exams when disaster struck. He left his home to study at school, but heavy rains caused flooding that made the road impassable 

 Despite his efforts, a learner from One Primary School in Mulanje was unable to return home that day. For three days, the 12-year-old was hosted by one of his teachers as the road remained submerged. He was worried about his family and the damage caused by the floods to their community. 

 At One Demonstration School in Blantyre, one learner is worried about her education. 

 “It’s worrying because our friends in the other schools are learning but we are here, not making progress. It will disturb my education because this is an unexpected break. But I will work hard to catch up with everyone,” said the aspiring doctor. 

 On her part, another learner appealed for assistance to enable her and her friends to be able to get back to school. 

 “For instance, I and my siblings lost everything in the disaster, including all our books and uniforms that means we have to start from scratch. And if we do not get any help, our future looks bleak because I don’t think we can get through this term in ourcurrent state,” said the aspiring banker. 

 During disasters, saving life is more paramount than the possessions of the affected communities. The international communities and organisations, such as Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children, WFP and the Department of Disasters here in Malawi came to the rescue of the affected families and communities and went on after the opening of schools to support the learners with the required materials. Despite these efforts, it still exists that learners have not yet gone back to school and are still housed in the camps 

 For instance, another learner, who is always top of her class, says she misses school and wishes to get back to class as soon as possible. 

 “I miss my classmates and I really want to get back to school. Even here in the camp, I want to study but there are no books, so we spend the day playing with our friends,” she explained. 


How being part of the global community of educators via Teach2030 has helped at this time. 

 Classrooms are fluid, even in the context of non-emergencies and even when disasters happen – that’s where the concept of differentiation comes in, as you have to ensure that your lesson, resources, strategies and methods are developed and delivered in such a manner that each and every learners needs are met. It is a situation of distress and loss of hope with so many school going children left in despair. The Growth Mindset courses turns also to be applicable to this situation, as these students require psychological support and ways to encourage them to concentrate on their studies.  


It is clear that the Cyclone Freddy rendered so many homeless and left a number of school going children orphaned. It is there required of international and national organisations here in Malawi and across to donate to Red Cross, DoDMA or share the blog to raise awareness on the aftermath of the disasters. Children need urgent support in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy in Malawi, providing educational supplies, psychosocial support to teachers and providing various items that will address issues of shelter, health WASH, facilities – mobile toilets, water treatment chemicals, soap, buckets and food security for the affected members. 



 A total of 624 schools, in 22 education districts, were affected, disrupting access to education for 724, 811 learners. Social, physical, psychological, or cultural components in a learning environment affect the learners’ capability to take information. If the learning environment doesn’t have a delicate, healthy balance of these components, it is harder for learners to remain interested and, in turn, gain new knowledge or skills. 


Our thanks to Fanny for explaining how the Commonwealth Education Trust has been supporting her through this challenging time. To help a teacher like Fanny, click here to donate.


Educational International 2023 Educational international brings support to help cushion the impact of Cyclone Freddy “ Together We Build Union Power”
 Tayloy Y 2017 How Teachers and Caregivers Can Help Children After a Natural Disaster
 Brocque R.Le   Young D C A    Montague G   Pocock S  (2016) Schools and Natural Disaster Recovery: The Unique and Vital Role That Teachers and Education Professionals Play in Ensuring the Mental Health of Students Following Natural Disasters  1(1); 1-23 DOI:10.1017/jgc.2016.17
 Article: Cyclone Freddy disrupts education 12 year old survivor narrates how he was trapped whilst studying
Rogers Bekisa Siula
 Cyclone Freddy in Malawi: Searching for my daughter-in-law in the mud. By Rhoda Odhiambo & Nobuhle Simelane – BBC News, Blantyre 17 March 2023
 Cyclone Freddy response: Education Ministry on learners safety steps. By Maravi Post Reporter. April 18, 2023
 Cyclone Freddy’s trail of destruction in CAMFED partner communities. News March, 21 – 2023
 Cyclone-Stricken Children Just Being Children Cyclone Freddy leaves deep scars on children. By James Chavura
 Hamed Seddighi, Homeira Sajjadi, Sepideh Yousefzadeh, Mónica López López, Meroe Vameghi, Hassan Rafiey, Hamid Reza Khankeh, Magdalena Garzon Fonseca 2020. Students’ preparedness for disasters in schools: asystematic review protocol.
 Al Jazeera By Rabson Kondowe 17 Mar 2023 ‘Feels like a nightmare’: Cyclone Freddy survivors weep in Malawi
 By Jack McBrams “We lost all our books; the future looks bleak” Lost hope on children due to devastating Cyclone Freddy
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