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Reaching the Hardest to Reach

By Madhav Datt and Lucy Mwase


Read about Nostos Homes in Malawi at www.nostoshomes.org/phalombe-malawi


Together with our gracious hosts from Habitat for Humanity, I had the opportunity to visit Nostos communities in Phalombe, a cyclone affected rural region in Malawi. There we met Merise Kengere.



Merise Kengere is an 82 year old woman from M’mala village in the district of Phalombe. She has no stable income and was surviving on a combination of subsistence farming and help from well-wishers. When cyclone Gombe demolished her home, she had no financial means to rebuild her home and had to continue living in the house with missing walls and half a roof. She also had to host her four grandchildren whose home was completely destroyed in the cyclone. The children invariably fell out of school, Merise couldn’t get the healthcare she needed, and the family had to skip some meals on most days to make ends meet.



When we started Nostos, we actively prioritized a model that lets us build homes in traditionally inaccessible areas where brick and mortar construction is impossible, allowing us to reach some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities around the world.


Hearing her story was heart-wrenching, but it was also validation that we were truly reaching the most vulnerable and the worst impacted people. Merise and her family had recently moved into their new Nostos home. Having a stable and secure place that they could call home allowed them to get out of survival mode living and start rebuilding their lives - it kicked off a virtuous ripple effect and the family could finally focus on finding piecework jobs and sending children back to school.

To identify beneficiaries for Nostos Homes in Phalombe, we depended heavily on our incredible partners at Habitat for Humanity and the Government of Malawi who took a rigorous data backed approach, led consultations at all levels of the Government, and finally went door-to-door to verify beneficiaries.


Aid from governments and nonprofits alike tends to find its way to people who can access it, making it incredibly easy to miss the most vulnerable and the worst impacted - people typically lacking any support systems, access to existing infrastructure, or ability to find information, connect to the internet, or seek help -  those who are the hardest to reach.

When we started Nostos, we actively prioritized a model that lets us build homes in traditionally inaccessible areas where brick and mortar construction is impossible, allowing us to reach some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach communities around the world.



Identifying Beneficiaries

To identify beneficiaries for Nostos Homes in Phalombe, we depended heavily on our incredible partners at Habitat for Humanity and the Government of Malawi who took a rigorous data backed approach, led consultations at all levels of the Government, and finally went door-to-door to verify beneficiaries.

16 villages in the region had been severely hit by both Ana and Gombe, and one village “Njobvu” had not received any aid despite being heavily affected.

Habitat for Humanity Malawi (HFHM) kicked off the process by meeting with senior leaders in the Phalombe District Council, as well as the Departments of Disaster Management Affairs, Housing, Planning, and Community Development. HFHM in conjunction with Phalombe Disaster Risk Reduction Officer then facilitated community meetings with Area Development and Civil Protection Committees.



During these interactions, the Committees shared data of the impact of Tropical storm Ana and Cyclone Gombe in the communities. 16 villages in the region had been severely hit by both Ana and Gombe, and one village “Njobvu” had not received any aid despite being heavily affected. In Njobvu, HFHM officials identified the most vulnerable beneficiaries based on a series of objective criteria:

  1. Directly impacted by the disaster 

  2. Child-led household 

  3. Elderly-led household 

  4. Chronic illness 

  5. Child receiving supplementary feeding 

  6. Woman-led household 

  7. Orphans in the household 

  8. Disabled family member 

  9. Household with pregnant and lactating mothers 

  10. Recovery capacity: Households with low self-recovery capacity, those who have not been able to rebuild a safe shelter 

  11. Displaced families living in camps, collective centers, transitional centers, or host households. 

  12. Families living in unsafe structures threatening their own safety. 

  13. Level of destruction: House damaged, destroyed



After a rigorous analytical process and validation with local government agencies, HFHM went door-to-door to verify beneficiaries so that Nostos Homes could effectively reach those who needed them the most.


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