Helicopters accelerate Mozambique aid

CHIBUTO, Mozambique — Humanitarian service missionary Elder Ray Caldwell recently witnessed the extensive flooding that has devastated much of this African nation.

In addition to washed out roads, sugar cane fields and irrigation systems, he observed hundreds of refugees huddled under plastic shelters to shield themselves from the continual rain. However, he was able to do more than just watch their suffering. Accompanying him were two large helicopters filled with food and blankets donated by the Church. With the provisions supply aid camps were established.

Weeks of heavy rains and cyclones along the coast of Mozambique devastated rural areas, killing thousands, stranding hundreds of thousands on hills and rooftops and destroying roads, stock and crops. All missionaries and Church members attending two branches in the country are reported safe.

The Church responded to the disaster before flood waters from the Limpopo River began to recede, working with US PVO AirServ to send two helicopters to aid in search and rescue efforts and pledging to send 1.3 million pounds of relief supplies to victims in Mozambique and its neighboring African nation Zimbabwe. The supplies continue to help more than a million people who have been displaced by flood waters since early February. (Please see article in March 11 Church News.)

As of March 20, the Church had sent 11 shipping containers of clothing, food and medical supplies to Mozambique and 10 to Zimbabwe. Additional shipments will be sent in coming weeks.

Elder Caldwell reported after visiting the area March 10 that even where the flood waters had receded, houses and fields are still surrounded by ponds, full ditches and an "unending sea of mud."

Through it all, however, he witnessed many government and non-government organizations offering help, such as a relief worker searching for a refugee mother whose child suffered from ear infections, or volunteers erecting 1,500-gallon swimming pools to ensure safe water. "Much has been given," he reported.

In one refugee camp, supply tents, 5 by 10 meters, were pitched by three Dutch Reformed mission volunteers from Maputo. Antoinette and Leon Vanter and Griet Gouws had come with more than a ton of supplies to look after the refugees. While helping the refugees they learned of the Church's relief efforts. "They knew little of LDS Charities but when told by the pilot that we had financed the larger helicopters that had moved them into the camp, they invoked the Lord's blessings and said they would not be there without us," Elder Caldwell said.

Although he has not seen anyone needing food or clothing, Elder Caldwell said there is still a great need for shelters — including tents. "Long rolls of plastic have kept many people dry but not too comfortable," he wrote.

Church members in South Africa are also creating birthing kits to send to the affected areas. It is estimated, said Gary Steggell of the Church's Humanitarian Service Department, that 3,000 babies will be born to refugees during coming months. The kits, which include medications, instruments, diapers and clothing, will help ensure many of these infants a healthy start, he added.

Elder Caldwell said the birthing kits and other Church humanitarian supplies will be extremely useful.

"As we moved south across this vast, soggy landscape we took comfort in the fact that we are here in Mozambique, that we had helped unfortunate people and that their suffering had been somewhat alleviated," wrote Elder Caldwell.