‘Kunyumba’ – A story of home and recovery after Cyclone Idai

Joined by renowned photographer, Sian Davey, and filmmaker Benn Berkley, we documented Mwalija village’s journey of self-recovery in a multi-media project we called ‘Kunyumba’ (meaning ‘home’).

5 March 2020

Family standing outside a home in Malawi

Cyclone Idai struck southern Africa in spring of 2019, washing away entire villages – like Mwalija in Malawi. The Cyclone separated parents and children, ripped up homes and destroyed livelihoods. 

The UN estimated that due to Cyclone Idai, and the subsequent flooding, there were damages in infrastructure worth over $1 billion. The Cyclone destroyed or damaged more than 100,000 homes. At least 1 million acres of crops were ruined because of the Cyclone. Furthermore thousands of people were left at risk of dangerous diseases like cholera and malaria.

Our livestock were getting carried away with the water. The crocodiles were so close to us, attacking the cows. We were working hard to save our children who have not yet tested the world. This is why we put them in the trees. When we saw there was more water coming, we would take them to a higher tree. We stayed for 24 hours in the water” – Stephano

Stephano and Mary were determined to rebuild their livelihoods, despite having lost everything after the Cyclone. Their story is one of recovery.

Man and woman standing outside a shelter in Malawi after their home was destroyed by Cyclone Idai

As for now, the sun rises. One goes to the farm, one stays at the house and the children go to school. Life is getting restored. Now we are living on higher land, we are living without worries. I feel at home, without any hesitation.” – Stephano

‘I feel at home’

ShelterBox worked with our partners Habitat for Humanity in the months that followed Cyclone Idai. Together we were able to provide emergency shelter for families in Malawi who had been affected the most. Nearly 2,000 families received shelter kitswater filters and carriersmosquito netssolar lights, and blankets.

That’s almost 10,000 people with a place to call home as a result of your support.

We returned to Malawi later that year to visit some of the communities we had supported. We wanted to understand what the recovery process had been like.

Children playing next to a shelter in Mwalija village in Malawi
Children sitting on a termite mound in Mwalija, Malawi

Photographs ShelterBox / Sian Davey


Joined by renowned photographer, Sian Davey, and filmmaker Benn Berkley, we documented Mwalija village’s journey of self-recovery in a multi-media project we called ‘Kunyumba’ (meaning ‘home’). We wanted to document the impact of our response, as told through the words of the families we met. We set out to capture everyday activities that had been re-established, including baptisms, going to school, community meetings, the local shop, and of course, play and relaxing together.

You can learn more about how we approached the project and some of the creative decisions behind our ‘Kunyumba’ film here.

Family standing outside a home in Mwalija village, Malawi


Community screening

We are a member of the BOND ‘People in the pictures‘ group and abide by the Core Humanitarian Standards and so it was important for us to share the film with the community of Mwalija. We wanted to understand how they felt their story had been represented.

Habitat for Humanity helped us to arrange a screening of the film in November 2019. We showed the film in Mwalija and more than 300 people attended. Everyone we spoke to felt the film was a true representation of what happened to them and there was a real desire to share more stories from the community.

‘It was a true reflection, it reminded me of how we lost everything and how we managed to escape to uplands.’ – Mary

At the time of writing, our ‘Kunyumba’ film was shortlisted as a finalist for the 2019 Charity Film Awards, best long-form film.

Watch ‘Kunyumba’ here.