Madagascar: The Baby Born in a Cyclone Refuge
04 December 2017
On 7 March 2017, Jolita, 26, gave birth to a healthy baby girl named Tania.
I presented Jolita with a folded envelope and congratulated her. With her eyes cast down but a smile on her face, she slowly took it, touched by my gesture. She knew I had come all the way from Antananarivo, the capital city, to her small village in north eastern Madagascar.
It is customary in Madagascar for relatives and friends to offer a symbolic sum of money to new parents as a way of congratulating them and contributing to expenses. Since Jolita gave birth in one of Medair's cyclone refuges, I figured she was practically family!
As she gently rocked the baby, I watched mother and daughter with delight, amazed to realize that a few weeks ago, little Tania took her first breath in a cyclone refuge, surrounded by 200 other people, with a very intense cyclone raging outside.
“My water broke the day before,” Jolita told me in a hushed voice. “We knew we couldn’t stay in the house – warnings about cyclone Enawo and flooding had already been issued. I was very anxious. I wanted to be in a safe place for my very first delivery, especially if it was going to happen during a cyclone!”
A few years ago, Medair constructed 14 large cyclone refuges, which give families a safe place to shelter during storms. "We knew the refuge was designed to resist cyclones, that it would stay dry, and that clean water from the reservoir was available, something essential during a delivery," said Jolita.
Cyclone refuge on a normal day
Cyclone refuge the day after Enawo
Jolita will never forget the difficult uphill hike to the cyclone refuge: “When we left the house early in the morning, the wind was blowing violently and the rain was pouring down. Mud was everywhere so the ground was slippery, and in some places the water had already risen quite a bit! It was so difficult walking, especially when I felt contractions.”
When she got there, Jolita stood facing a room full of people. She knew her baby was coming: "Even though the refuge was crowded and I initially felt ashamed of having to give birth in the middle of so many people, everyone was really kind to me, including the midwife who had also taken refuge there."
Jolita and Tania stayed in the refuge for four days while the floodwaters were high, enough time for Jolita to rest and gather the strength to walk back to her house. On the fourth day, a Medair team arrived to distribute emergency kits: buckets, bowls, bars of soap, and water-purifying solution. "The kits proved really helpful because our house–like pretty much everyone else’s–had been flooded, and our kitchen had been particularly damaged."
I asked her why she had not named the baby ‘Enawa,’ and she burst out laughing, telling me she had settled on 'Tania' several weeks before. Jolita hugged her little bundle of joy, and I knew Tania, whose first days were spent in a refuge, will now live gentle days, sheltered by her loving mother.
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Medair’s work in Madagascar is made possible by the generous support of European Union, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Swiss Solidarity, Zurich Zoo (CH), Agence de l’eau Rhône Méditerranée Corse (FR), Canton of Aargau (CH), and generous private donors.
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.