By: Sara Navarro, Compassion Brazil Photojournalist   |   Posted: July 21, 2022

“Mommy, I’m going to die! Don’t let me die, Mommy,” cried 4-year-old Mycaella to her mother, Zildete, when the waters of the Itapecuru River began to flood their house. Tears filled Zildete’s eyes as she scrambled to get her three children out of the house while the muddy water rushed in, sweeping away and destroying the few pieces of furniture in her home.

Compassion Volunteers, Pastor First on Scene During Devastating Flood

“Mommy, I’m going to die! Don’t let me die, Mommy,” cried 4-year-old Mycaella to her mother, Zildete, when the waters of the Itapecuru River began to flood their house. Tears filled Zildete’s eyes as she scrambled to get her three children out of the house while the muddy water rushed in, sweeping away and destroying the few pieces of furniture in her home.

Written by Sara Navarro, Compassion Brazil Photojournalist
Mycaella and her family sit in front of their home

The Itapecuru River in northeastern Brazil is a blessing for families in the Trizidela community who live along its banks. The river is a respite from the heat and a place for children like Mycaella and her friend Alicia (both 4 years old) to play. It’s also the main source of water in a neighbourhood deprived of basic health services.

“We only have water supply twice a week, and we never know which days the water will come,” says Valéria, Alicia’s mother. "When the water comes out of the tap, we notify each other in the community and store water in gallons. But it’s in the river where we wash dishes, clothes and bathe. The community has no sanitation, and my house has no bathroom. When I need to use a bathroom, I go to my mother’s house, which is also here in the community.”

Children young and old gather on the river’s banks or in the water to play. Every rainy season, they are the first ones who notice the water level rising. But the community is used to seeing the water cycle, and they never worry about it.

“We’ve always gotten used to seeing water cover our backyard in the rainy seasons; after all, we live on the banks of the river,” says Zildete. “But that never caused us much concern; after a few weeks the water level always dropped, every year. That’s why we didn’t worry when we saw the water level rise. But this year was different.”

On a Wednesday morning, the waters of the river rose as never before, invading homes. In just a few minutes, the floodwaters rushed over people’s ankles. Caught off guard, the community found themselves terrified and rushing to get small children and valuable furniture out of their houses, but they didn’t know exactly where to evacuate to.

“I started crying when I saw the water suddenly rushing into the house. My children were crying, and Mycaella was screaming in fear of dying or being dragged away by the waters. Every time I remember that moment, my heart breaks all over again,” says Zildete. “To see my house, which we took care of with so much effort, being destroyed by the water was desperate. I didn’t know what to do or where to go.”

Alicia holds up soapy hands
Kleber smiles at the camera

Help Arrives as the Waters Rise

Disoriented and traumatized, families carried what they could in their arms, trying to save their belongings. Volunteers from the local Compassion center were the first to arrive on scene and provide relief to families, even before the local authorities.

“We volunteers and the church pastor arrived at the community with a car to help families save their belongings," says Marilia, the center’s director. "The families were desperate. We got into the water, which was rising quickly, and helped carry everything we could. At the water level, it was possible to see snakes and other animals passing by. But the families helped each other, and we were able to support both the center families and other families in the community. When we left the community, the water was up to our waists.”

When local government support arrived, the center staff worked with them to provide shelter and basic supplies to the families. Many families went to relatives’ houses or to public shelters. With limited resources, local authorities focused on helping other families who lacked any support, and the Compassion center assisted center families who were helpless.

“About 20 families from the center were left homeless. Some we hosted here in the building; others went to relatives’ houses; for others, we rented a house until they could return home,” says Marilia.

This local church is a hub of support for families — especially in times of great need. Since the center volunteers from the church knew the families well and had strong community connections, they helped distribute resources made available by the city hall. Items such as diapers and milk for children weren’t provided by the government, so they were purchased with Compassion funds.

Places of Refuge and Health

Mycaella’s and Alicia’s families had nowhere to stay, so they were among those who received full support from the center.

Mycaella’s family was sheltered in a government school where they stayed for a few weeks. But when classes resumed, school officials said that families would have to leave the site. The city hall provided a house for them, but it didn’t have a bathroom, and its water supply was hazardous. Fortunately, center staff stepped in to provide a more suitable home for the family.

“When they [school officials] told me that we would have to leave school, I was desperate. We had nowhere to go! We didn’t have money to pay rent. If the center staff hadn’t helped us, I don’t know what we would have done. They were always attentive with us. More than material resources, their visits always helped me not to lose faith. I felt loved and cared for,” says Zildete.

Mycaella walks near the flood waters

As the days dragged on, access to clean drinking water became a significant problem. Despite the government providing a water truck for the families, the water offered was not safe for drinking. Seeing this issue, the center bought gallons of mineral water weekly so that health problems would not further impact children and their families.

Alicia and Valéria stayed for weeks at the center’s facilities.

“I don’t know where I would go if I didn’t have the center. The volunteers helped us a lot from the moment they arrived with the cars to help the community get our things out of the house. I don’t know what I would do if they didn’t shelter us. Maybe I’d be under the bridge or sleeping on the street. Even amid the sadness of not being at home, the volunteers welcomed us so kindly that they made us feel at home,” says Valéria.

In addition to shelter, the center also helped Valéria and other families with food, water, medicine for mycoses caused by the standing floodwater, and the purchase of personal hygiene items and towels.

“It was great to stay there at the center. I didn’t even want to leave there!” says Alicia. “The volunteers were very nice, and there was a good shower to bathe. The food they made for us was also very good.”

Coming Home After the Flood

Weeks later, Valeria and Alicia were finally able to return to their home and get back to their routine. Zildete and her family, however, are still waiting for authorization to return to the neighborhood. Meanwhile, they remain in the house provided by the Compassion center.

Away from her neighborhood and friends, Zildete sometimes visits her community to talk to her neighbors who have already made their way home. When she passes her house, she opens the windows and doors to cool the place. The watermarks still imprinted on the walls are a vivid reminder of those desperate hours.

But the sad memories are slowly being replaced by the prayers and care of the center volunteers. The waters once brought her pain and despair, but the local church also flooded her heart with love and hope for the future.

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