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Sat Dec 20 15:36:59 CAT 2014

Woman carries five orphans to safety

GRAEME HOSKEN | 05 February, 2013 00:09
TTP2FLOODS05-04-02-2013-17-02-03-767-.jpg
Displaced Mozambicans in an abandoned building near Chokwe, in Gaza province, yesterday. Tens of thousands have been displaced and at least 80 drowned in the flooding Picture: KEVIN SUTHERLAND

For five days, Maria Cosa trekked. With her were her emaciated and gravely ill two-year-old daughter, Maria Matabela, and five orphans.

The children, two from her village in a district of Mozambique's Xai Xai province, lost their parents when floods struck two weeks ago, killing 80 people and displacing nearly 200000. With their village destroyed, Cosa fled with her daughter - who has hydrocephalus (water on the brain) - and her neighbours' children.

Without water and only a few bags of maize , they unsuccessfully attempted to cross the swollen Limpopo River and had to climb a tree as the waters began to rise.

Cosa, with her daughter tied to her back, clung for hours with the other children to the branches.

Hearing the pitiful cries of children nearby, she left her daughter with the others, and climbed down. Wading through shoulder-deep water, Cosa found three little brothers standing on the branches of a tree, water spilling over them.

With them clinging to her, she eventually returned to the tree where the others were and the seven sought safety in its uppermost branches.

Unable to cook, the seven were forced to cross the raging waters.

By strapping the smallest children to the backs of the bigger ones, and linking arms, the group formed a human chain, wading through water often over a metre deep. Days later, they found a place of safety - a school housing nearly 2000 children whose parents had been lost in the mayhem of the flood.

While lying on a dusty mattress in a classroom, Cosa frantically fans Maria as a South African military nurse examines her.

"She is very sick ... we have to act now ... if we don't she is going to die," says Captain Matladi Raphiri.

Waiting behind Raphiri are hundreds of orphans, many of whom were found wandering and alone after fleeing the floods and being grabbed by passing adults.

With Raphiri and her 14 military colleagues overwhelmed by the many in need, humanitarian workers, under the banner of Gift of the Givers, are frantically making calls for additional food, nappies and clothes to be sent from South Africa.

"We did not think it would be this bad. It is heart-breaking, especially the young children who walk in here hourly with their little brothers and sisters tied to their backs," Raphiri said.

"Just look at this group - here are 10 who have walked nearly 30km on their own, the oldest is nine.

"It is a tragedy that no one seems to know about. The only ones here are us and Gift of the Givers," she said.

As Gift of the Givers founder Imtiaz Sooliman places orders for additional supplies, the organisation's workers dish out bags of rice, maize and beans.

Raphiri holds Maria's enlarged head, gently showing her mother how to feed her a special baby food.

"We are here now. She is ill, but we will make sure your daughter lives."

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