Our Fossil Energy Economy is Breaking Down

Joanne Glauser is the founder of Shoes That Fit of Delaware, a chapter of a national nonprofit that provides new clothing and shoes for low-income kids.

A funeral for one of the people killed by the cyclone in Beira, Mozambique. Credit Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By Norimitsu Onishi, March 21, 2019

My husband and I have run a grassroots organization since 1998 that provides new shoes and clothing for at-risk children throughout Delaware. When we started this journey, things were very different…

For people with few possessions and little ability to replace them, the loss of a cooking pot, a chair or even a pair of pants was a big blow.

“Everything we have is gone,” said Armindo Fernando Lazaro, 52, a father of eight who was taking shelter at the Muda Mufo Complete School.

In Kennedy, which has never had electricity or running water, a lucky few have solar panels to recharge lights, cellphones or radios.

  • There was a larger well-paid Delaware workforce that was encouraged by committed Delaware companies to volunteer and donate to causes like children at risk. It was easy to raise money and rally people to make a significant impact on a population of students in a school.
  • The local organizations that provided grants had abundant funds and could focus on funding small, local organizations who applied for grants.
  • There were caring, committed administrators, teachers and staff who wanted to support at-risk students in any way they could. It was easy to partner with these individuals to quickly make things happen for the students.
  • The number of schools and students in need was significantly less. The free and reduced percentage was well under 30 percent, even in schools with the greatest concentration of at-risk students. 

Today, the situation seems almost insurmountable in comparison. For example:

  • Many of the committed companies are gone, leaving that well-paid workforce struggling to find jobs to support their own families, let alone help others. People have left the state in search of the good-paying jobs that are less prevalent, or have retired. The companies remaining seem less committed to helping Delaware than those 20 years ago, and are more interested in what Delaware can do to entice them to remain here.
  • With less funding available for nonprofits, the competition for grants is much greater, with larger nonprofits competing for funding with local foundations they would not have focused on 20 years ago.
  • The caring administrators, teachers, and staff have retired or left, seeking less stressful and better paying work, leaving a very few of the truly caring individuals to handle the ever mounting issues in these schools. New staff cycle through jobs quickly or are more interested in getting recognition for helping — focusing on the glory for themselves and not the welfare of the children. It is difficult to even get someone to return your call or follow through in some schools even when you are offering free new shoes and clothing.
  • The number of schools and students in need is astronomical. The free and reduced percentage is often at 70 percent across many schools.

I do remember that volunteers 20 years ago were in disbelief that there were homeless children in our state, even though they drove past schools with many homeless children every day. My hope back then was that this knowledge would ignite compassion in those who were blessed with a great job and lifestyle to help these at-risk students rise by providing the support they needed.

Our organization was allowing them to have the new clothing, shoes, and coats they needed to show up with a sense of confidence and a readiness to learn. The support we were providing, along with that provided by the school, seemed like it could make a difference for the at-risk students 20 years ago.

I am heartbroken that my hope of 20 years ago — that my organization would open the eyes of others in our state to the needs of our at-risk children — never came to fruition. Many innocent children must suffer the consequences.

But I don’t regret trying. I am hopeful that the thousands of items of new clothing, shoes, and coats our volunteers provided over the years may have positively impacted the lives of the children we supported.

Delaware’s citizens need a way to see the problem — difficult in a world where we are focused on our phones and rarely need to leave the comfort of our neighborhoods — to understand the urgency for action to turn around the situation in these schools and give at-risk students a chance to succeed. If we can’t supply the basics — food, clothing, caring educators — the outcome for these children is inevitable. 

I urge citizens in our state to request our politicians to devote the needed effort and resources for these children to give them a future. We have an amazing population of tenacious retirees throughout our state that can rally the political support and resources to transform the current situation for this at-risk generation (I have seen them in action supporting many local causes).

I urge our politicians to stop avoiding the plight of at risk children in our state before it is too late.

“Floods are receding quite quickly,” Ms. Haga said. “If things continue like this, we might no longer be in a situation where people are in danger.” She cautioned, however, that the weather could change.

With the immediate danger from the storm abated, the concern now is long-term disruption of the food supply and waterborne disease. “It’s inevitable,” Mr. Geekie said.

An estimated 1.5 million people were in the path of the storm. Many were already the poorest of the poor when the waters began rising. If it seemed impossible to have less, for some, the storm may prove that wrong.

Many villagers were working in machambas — farm fields handed down from the nation’s former colonial power, Portugal.

Standing knee-deep in water, Rebecca Janeiro, 32, and her son, Jaime Luis, 16, worked land dotted with yellowing cornstalks bent from the force of the surging water.

“It’s all rotten,” she said, holding a large pan filled with discolored corn that she hoped to mill after it dried.

Working in the machamba is the only way Ms. Janeiro knew how to make a living.

It has put food on the table for her seven children, and if there is any surplus, she sells it at the market, using the money to pay her children’s school fees.

But now, most of the crops she planted in December — four months’ work — had vanished.

“I’m worried for the rest of the year,” she said. “I’m not sure how I’ll feed my children.”

For people with few possessions and little ability to replace them, the loss of a cooking pot, a chair or even a pair of pants was a big blow.

“We were up the tree Saturday and Sunday,” Ms. Juliai said. “And then four men from the village came to rescue us.”

One of those men, Jambo Domindos, 59, said that he and his friends, all strong swimmers, saved more than a dozen people, including 3-month-old twin girls, from trees.

“When we found them, most of them were crying,” he said.

At the Muda Mufo school, mothers and young children were taking shelter in classrooms or playing in the yard’s soft mud. Most of the men were back home, busy farming. Their families would join them when the water receded more.

Mr. Lazaro said he was eager to leave the shelter.

“I’ll see what the weather is like,” he said, “and then I’ll do machamba again.”

Waiting for water in Beira. The storm cut off the water supply. Credit Tiago Petinga/EPA, via Shutterstock
Though the water was receding, there was still extensive flooding on Thursday.Credit Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
Downed trees made travel difficult. Credit Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
A family digging for their son, who was buried in the mud when Cyclone Idai struck in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. Credit Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Pres

Here’s How You Can Help People Devastated by Cyclone Idai

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