Cyclone Freddy: Malawi's Towera Vinkhumbo on separation from her daughter

·3 min read
Towera Vinkhumbo
Towera Vinkhumbo plays her club netball in Scotland with the Strathclyde Sirens

When Cyclone Freddy hit Malawi in March, Scotland-based netballer Towera Vinkhumbo faced an anxious wait to see if family members - including her five-year-old daughter - were safe.

The Malawi international, who plays for Strathclyde Sirens in the Netball Super League, says accurate updates were not easy to come by in the immediate aftermath.

"It was difficult. Before the cylone hit, we were hearing on the news that maybe in two or three days there would be heavy winds, but we were unsure at the time," Vinkhumbo told Sportshour on BBC World Service.

"When the storm hit, I started asking my relatives 'are you OK?', and they all sounded OK.

"But one day the storm was hitting this area, then the next two days another area. I was afraid that maybe my brothers or maybe other friends might be affected.

"It was really hard because, even after the storm hit, houses were falling down. I was just afraid."

The impact of Cylone Freddy has been devastating across Malawi, Madagascar and Mozambique, killing more than 400 people and leaving thousands of homes destroyed.

In Malawi alone, more than 350,000 people have been displaced.

A man collects some wood on a flooded street
The destruction of roads and bridges by Cyclone Freddy hampered relief efforts in Malawi

Vinkhumbo's thoughts were particularly with her mother who cares for her daughter - especially after watching video footage of the devastation that showed many children affected.

"I saw this video where there was a little kid screaming for her mum. And the mum was saying 'What can I do to get my child help?' Seeing those videos, it was really hard.

"It affected me, like - what if it's my daughter? Even though it was not, I knew she was someone's daughter. As a mother, I could feel how her mother must have felt."

Vinkhumbo, who will be part of the Malawi team when the Netball World Cup begins in South Africa in July, recalls the first time she was able to speak to her mother after the cyclone.

"My mum is someone who, even if my daughter is sick, won't tell me directly. She doesn't want to give me bad news.

"She's always telling me news which puts a smile on my face. So when I called her, she was like 'Yeah, we are all fine here.' She just wants me to be happy."

Towera Vinkhumbo
Towera Vinkhumbo will be part of Malawi's squad for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa

Before the storm, Malawi was already experiencing a cholera outbreak which has killed hundreds of people. Vinkhumbo says the cyclone has added pressure to relief efforts.

"The government was already dealing with that outbreak. When the storm hit it left a lot of people homeless. It destroyed the crops and in Malawi we rely on agriculture."

She is now trying to use her position as a professional sportswoman to give a voice to those in Malawi who need help.

"Many people lost their properties, clothes and were left homeless. There is a lack of a lot of things; toilets, bathrooms - they just share one room.

"There are pregnant women and children who need things like diapers - even food. It just takes good people to give them food and warm clothes. And maybe cold water because, when the storm hit, it destroyed the water pipes."

For Vinkhumbo, being away from Malawi is difficult at this time but she says there are things that can help her country.

"I just wish I can maybe source money to help with basic food or clothes, diapers, even girls' sanitary products. I'm one of the ambassadors for the EMMS international charity in Edinburgh.

"They help or source medical stuff to people in need. I'm promoting their work or encouraging people to donate with the aim of knowing that someone will be helped out."