The Development Conundrum

Alifa Mahando is blind and lives alone.  When I visited her she had not eaten for 2 days.  Her husband died and she has no children, she’s not sure how old she is and she has no family in the village to help her out.  What to do?  My guilty conscience says go buy food and give it to her as she deserves to eat, after all Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says it’s one of our basic human requirements for survival, and who am I to argue with Maslow? My sustainable development principles say me buying food for everyone I feel sorry for will be unsustainable unless I’m Bill Gates, and I’m not. She would also, I am assuming as a non-medical professional, benefit from cataract surgery to see again – with a hospital 6 hours away and no money for food it’s unlikely she’s going to prioritise a road trip right now.  Daily I come across these development conundrums:  what would you do?


Bonga Antuane, 70 (seated) has been paralysed for the last 5 years after an illness (unspecified but not an accident).  He lives with 2 boys of about 12 years old who are his dependants.  He has no machamba (field) as he cannot walk (it took him a long time to come out of the room to the right).  There is very little food and the house is not in good repair.  The boys are not well dressed and are more dirty than most, though pretty smiley! Can I help these guys too? Should I?  How should I?


Fatima Aulawe lives with Bwana, 12, her grandson. Fatima can barely walk and has many physical troubles.  She has no money for medicines as the medicine she needs is not available at the local clinic, and even if it had, to get to the clinic she would need to hire a motorbike and someone to drive her which is out of her financial reach.  Bwana still goes to the local school in the village which is good and he seemed a happy boy but he is not well dressed and he has many chores to help out, including fetching all of the water etc.  The 2 of them live alone and have a very low standard of living, as do all of the people above. Fatima did have a bit more spunk than the others in terms of force and determination: getting around extremely slowly despite her leg being at the wrong angle and clearly being in pain.  She told me “not tomorrow, we need help NOW”.



There’s a new baby in Naunde.  The mother required a blood transfusion during the birth and endured the 6 hour trip to the hospital in Pemba, the nearest facility with the appropriate capabilities whilst in labour. She was returned to her village 24 hours later.  Due to complications that I do not understand she has no breast milk.  She looks to be in complete shock.  The hospital gave her a single tin of formula.  Even if she had the money to buy more (which she doesn’t) there’s nowhere to buy the formula.  How is she to feed the baby?  Can I let a baby die on my watch for the sake of my principles or should I just buy some milk, if so, for how long and what happens the next time?

Nema’s philosophy is to help people to help themselves, not by giving away stuff, but by giving away opportunities to increase the standard of living of our beneficiaries. This is the only sustainable way to make a long term difference.  Our eventual goal is to make ourselves redundant. But there are occasions when giving stuff to someone who really needs it seems the only option, but when do we say no and when do we say yes?  Where’s our cut-off point?  Is it my right to decide who is suffering the most?  Is it my right to decide who should get help and who doesn’t.  

Sometimes you just meet the nicest people:  after his recent graduation from agricultural college Rafael Kalachinga turned up on our doorstep (figuratively anyway) last week to bring Nema a bag of tomatoes and cabbage from his own fields, and 3 orange tree saplings, again that he had grown himself just to say thanks to Nema for giving him an opportunity. Now planted in the lodge the Nema saplings are going to be a reminder of the first ever Nema sponsored students to pass agricultural college.

The happy schoolchildren of Pangane…There’s always a scramble when the camera comes out!

In 2013 Nema installed five new water pumps in five villages – Guludo,
Naunde, Nambija, Napala and Lumuamua. As part of the agreement, the
local communities are responsible for setting up a water committees who
we train to carry out any repairs and maintenance on the pump. The pumps provide hundreds, if not thousands of litres of safe water to these communities and the heavy use means they need regular tlc. Three of the pumps needed some maintenance and last week the spare parts arrived and with the help of the committees in each village, the pumps are now as good as new. Our next task is to source the spare parts and keep a supply here so that the communities are able to take full responsibility over the management and repair of their pumps.

We love checking up on the wonderful agricultural association in
Nagulue and rewarding their hard work by providing some business for
them! We bought everything that was ready – lots of tomatoes and
aubergines – to sell to the lodge and to the staff. Its great to see a
growing interest in different types of foods which add some variety
and nutrition to the staple diet of rice and beans. The staff were
very excited about the tomatoes and they were all sold within minutes!
Now the agricultural associations need to boost their supply of
vegetables as the demand is certainly present. Unfortunately in Rueia,
Ningaia and Nambo all the seeds planted by the association were washed away by the heavy rains this January, leaving the members demoralised and demotivated. Rueia’s association were extremely successful last year and were able to invest in tools and equipment for their machamba (farm). We agreed to help them out by providing some seeds (as they are very hard to come by in the local communities) in return for a few kilos of tomatoes and lots of hard work. Hopefully we’ll have a steady stream of produce from all of the revitalised associations in the coming months!

For our orphans’ project in the local village of Naunde, Eid is a double celebration: the religious celebration is complimented by a gift from Nema. Yesterday we took our truck load of gifts for the 200 orphans to the village. Another parade of screaming happy kids greeted us as we arrived at Rema’s house. We had bought 45kg of children’s clothing, 240 bars of soap and lots of notebooks and pencils as well as some adult clothes donated by some guests and 100 pairs of girls pants! Despite the rabble the kids were really well behaved and team leader Assane marshalled the process whilst the “management” took photos and played with the kids. It’s such a small gesture really but something which made the lives of the kids just a little bit better for a while and gave them a day when they are not the most disadvantaged in this very ravaged comunity, and that’s part of why we’re here. Overall a fun day and a lot of happy faces.

The secondary school students pay back the community……

Our secondary school students are back for holidays, though it’s not all brincadera (fun).  Marieke, my predecessor, started the community service programme for all of the Nema scholars.  It’s a 4 day programme, one day of training in a health related subject and 3 days of community projects involving a bit of sweat and dirt:  what more could a group of teenagers wish for with no chip shop to hang out at and no booze at the “discotecha”?

Saturday was training day. An enthusiastic trainer from town was found and he arrived full of beans, whilst the students arrived late (teenagers!).  So, after an energiser it was down to learning about malaria; despite the prevalence of malaria in Mozambique and the effects it has on families and work output, many people still know little about it. As a killer, especially of the under 5s, in Mozambique, this is an important topic.  From the cockiness of “we don’t need training” they all soon realised they do as they could not answer questions!  The test at the end was, it appeared, open book so I’m hoping when I see the results it proved they concentrated.  The training was followed by the long awaited Mueda vs Muagide and Macomia football game.


Salimo gets malaria training underway with an energiser (top) and keeps the class engaged with his enthusiasm (bottom).

Our very own Manuel changed into his refereeing kit (somewhat to my surprise) and with his “slightly” (sarcasm for those of you who don’t know me well enough to know) over judicious use of the whistle got us underway.  A 0-0 draw was reminiscent of watching Accrington Stanley with my little brother years ago, a lot of air kicks (it was hard to explain air kicks in Portuguese) and very little talent, though 10/10 for enthusiasm!

Manuel really did like that whistle.

The following 3 days were a series of community projects, with the 86 students broken into 4 groups.

In Mucojo, the local administrative centre, we cleared the scrub and rubbish from the market and clinic areas, it’s amazing how grim it was and how much better a few days of cleaning makes it:  rats and infections near maternity wards are not good, preventing that can only be a good thing. Next step is to persuade the community that keeping it clean is a good idea.

Once they got into it the boys here had fun with their medical masks:  the only complaint - no meninas (girls).

In Mipande Nema handiman Abacar had the task of marshalling his group of students through a clean-up operation at the school latrines, where the back wall had been washed away in the rains.  Our plan:  to salvage what we could from the ruins (tin roof etc), cover in the holes for safety and sanitation and clear the area and start the construction of new latrines by getting the students to dig the hole.  Abacar’s calm and gentle exterior hides his fierceness and when I arrived there on day one the guys and girls had got through a large amount of work and were working hard, having fun, of course stopping for having their photos taken and enjoying their posing.

As always, the girls do the heavy work. 

 Abacar (crazy shorts) removes some aggression with a hammer. 

In Guludo village, the health post had been damaged in the rains so Dona Amina and her team set about clearing up the mess, scrubbing up the areas used by goats and rebuilding the fences now there is a nice clean area for us to start on the next phase of this project:  getting the health centre in use!   

Nema’s Amina clears up the trash at the health post.

Plenty of meninas on this project.

The biggest project of all was in Naunde, the construction of a shaded waiting area for ladies waiting to give birth and the reconstruction of the biological waste hole that had been destroyed in the rains. Big projects both.  And the community here got really involved too, which really is the point of community service.

The hole grows…….

Although the projects are done for the students, there is still a lot of work for the Nema team and the communities to finish them off well.  It’s also our job now to ensure the local people, with encouragement from the village leadership and the committees for health carry on the good work started by the students:  I’m not sure how we stop the mind-set of it’s ok to just throw rubbish out wherever you feel like, I need to work on the Nema team on that too, but work on them I will (they know what the Lisa cough means now and look sheepish when they have to pick up their trash!)


Arty stuff.

New Manager Lisa Gets to Work…

As the new Directora I’ve been trying to get out and about, understand my AOR (Area of Responsibility, you can take the girl out of the military but not the military out of the girl) and the problems that go with it. I’ve also been trying to understand my staff, the work they do and how they do it.  To this end I spent most of last Thursday with Dona Rema, our traditional birthing assistant.  Rema’s job is 2-fold:  to look after the pregnant women in her village of Naunde, about 8km away from Guludo, and to visit the orphans in the village and give them emotional support, ensuring that they are not being mistreated.


Dona Rema

In an area of high poverty levels and large family sizes it is difficult to take on someone else’s child when you cannot afford to feed your own.  The consequences of a low life expectancy are that there are many orphans or families with only one parent who struggle even more than the norm to get by. 

Nema’s Orphan and Vulnerable Children project began in 2010 with Rema looking after the 150+ orphans in Naunde and the donations of occasional gifts at important times of the year such as Eid of buckets, soap, capulana (material to sleep under) and tshirts. 


Assane is a friendly, happy, enthusiastic 9 year old who lives with his mum and 5 siblings; despite the smile he is severely undernourished, and his clothes are in tatters.  His family desperately need some help to lift themselves from this state of rock bottom poverty.

One of the orphans that I visited with Rema was living with his gran; both his parents died young.  His gran is very old and frail and still has to fetch water from 500m away and work in the machamba (fields) to get enough food for the family.  I asked Rema what the status of the family was and she replied “sofrimento”, suffering, a phrase she used frequently during our day together.  The young boy was actually at school which is brilliant but the old lady was clearly distressed about her inability to care properly for the boy, stating that she had to take off her only capulana that she was wore all day for him to sleep under at night.  It distressed me that I couldn’t just go buy her what she needed:  but sustainable development principles, and the fact that I would have to do this for half the village just to be fair meant that this action is not the way forward.  We have better ideas…..

The situation of some of the vulnerable families is also quite distressing.  I met 2 families who were households headed by women where there were 6 children, many under the age of 5.  One in particular held my attention.  Manu Bacar, 12, is the oldest of the 6 children in his household.  Under normal circumstances he would be the one who helped his mother out and became the man of the house.  But Manu is sick.  He goes to school but this year was returned from Class 3 to Class 1 as he is not able to study well, though when I met him he signed his name better than many I have met here.  His mum said that when he gets home from school he just goes to bed as he is tired and has headaches and he spends all afternoon and the night in bed, in pain. She told me that he does not have fun like the other children.  The local clinic is only able to help sporadically with pain medication (last week they were out of malaria medication whilst it seemed an epidemic was ongoing) but no true diagnosis of his condition can be made with such poor health service provision in this rural area.  For a proper diagnosis Manu’s only option is to go to Pemba, 6 hours away.  Getting to Pemba, staying in Pemba and paying for the hospital would cost more than the annual family income, and who would look after the other 5 kids whilst mum is in Pemba?  It’s really not a viable option without outside help. 


Family of Manu Bacar

There are some small but really important positives:  this is Nelito Nelito, the newest member of the Nema team.  Nelito, 18, lives with his mum and 2 younger siblings in Naunde and was part of the orphans and vulnerable children project.  Nelito is charged with data entry of all of our surveys and his computer skills are increasing dramatically daily:  it’s been a very impressive start for this hard working and humble teenager.  Nelito finished grade 7 at the Naunde school and is hoping for a Nema scholarship to secondary school for next year.  If he continues like this he will be top of our list.  The money that Nelito makes working 3 afternoons a week for Nema is helping support his whole family, making a difference to their standard of living.  This is a prime example of Nema’s philosophy in action:  we are helping Nelito to help his family and in return he is providing an important service to Nema, and learning new skills at the same time:  result!


Nelito in the office at Guludo Beach Lodge:  he walks to get to use 3 times a week for £1 per 3 hours work.

We desperately need to expand our Orphan and Vulnerable Children project to allow a sustainable way of helping these families to help themselves. In the past the families have made some small items for the Nema shop at Guludo Beach Lodge but the items were not of the best quality and did not sell.  The Nema staff, in particular our tailor Abuchir and the fearsome Amina, are great at designing new items for the shop:  our range of bags is now pretty awesome.  They are going to design some simple items that can be made by the children.  What we would like to do is have a once a week workshop for the families where we provide a decent meal for all and the material to make some items for the shop (and beyond, who knows).  We can pay a small amount for the items made and in this way we can ensure that the kids are fed, if only once a week, a good meal of rice, beans and fish, and that the families have an opportunity to make a small bit of money to buy essentials for the households such as soap and cooking oil.  Of course we will continue to give out the gifts at Eid but this enhancement to our project will allow the families to help themselves:  this is the underlying principle of sustainable development and the way Nema strives to work.


Despite extreme poverty and low life expectancy, the orphans and vulnerable children of Naunde are always cheerful and clamouring for photos to be taken. 

Last week the Nema team visited a group of our secondary school scholars in a town called Mueda. During the Portuguese colonisation of Mozambique Mueda was the site of a massacre of local civilians by the Portuguese army. Now it’s a thriving town that does not have a source of water. Water is trucked into town, for the whole town from 2 sources many km away. Nema sponsor 44 students at Mueda secondary school in years 11 and 12. All bar one are boys and they are aged up to 22. They were a really nice bunch of kids who were working hard to create opportunities for themselves to get jobs in the future, for most that means vocational training in health, agriculture or teaching in schools even further away from home. It costs us about $200 a year to support these hardworking and determined youngsters, most of whom want to come back to their villages and work to help out their friends and family.

Today we harvested the first tomatoes and aubergines of the season from the Nagalue agricultural association that we support. The 2 head men of the association are so proud of their achievements this year. Despite last year’s drought and this year’s torrential rains which have wiped out much of the local crops, this hard working group have potatoes, onions and cabbage still to harvest in fields which look like they’re going to produce some great food for the lodge and the local people, already Nema’s team leader purchased tomatoes for his family and the lodge staff were asking to buy too. We will continue to visit these guys as we love them and their attitude and hope to see them make loads of money this year, and add some nutritious items to the diet of the local people too. 


Introducing Lisa, Nema’s new Charity Manager

Replying to an advert on Escape the City, little did I know that it would lead to a new job in one of the most stunning places I’ve seen in the world. Guludo Beach Lodge’s charity arm The Nema Foundation was advertising for a General Manager, though I much prefer my local moniker: Directora!

Interviews with founder Amy Carter-James and head of the board of trustees, Laura Tenison were not easy from the bush camp I was working in in Angola, but we made it happen, eventually, and 3 months later I arrived at Guludo. Of course no journey in this part of the world goes easy and my bags did not get on the plane in Nairobi so I spent my first few nights wrapped in some local cloth (capulana) for dinner whilst my underwear dried under the southern African night skies. Added to this the rains had wiped away a serious of bridges part way into my journey, where me and the car load of supplies had to traverse the “foot diversion” and reload onto a local car on the other side of the bridge. Not that the local car goes to the beach lodge of course, the last 2km were on the back of a motorbike on a lovely sandy road with some puddles added for fun. TIA. (Even my mum knows knows what that means!)

I’m now 6 weeks into the job (or 4 weeks of work and 2 weeks of malaria sufferage into the job) and it’s pretty awesome. The Foundation works with some of the most deprived communities in one of the poorest countries in the world and so there’s years of worthwhile stuff to do here, and the people are so welcoming, though I’m pretty sure they think the crazy mzungu on the bike is a bit mad, there’s def lots of laughs.

There are some horror stories and it’s hard not to give my paycheck to everyone everyday – the old lady with no family who is blind and had not eaten for 2 days, the newborn whose mum could not breastfeed and the hospital, 6 hours away, had sent her home with one tin of formula make me want to cry or hit someone a daily basis.

But there are some amazing stories too: the families that stick together and take in orphans despite barely having enough for their own kids, the strength of the Nema workers to do amazing work helping others and the communities that stick together. On my first week here I met a teacher from the Crimize school. He told us that the school had been washed away in the rains and that there was nowhere for the kids to go to school. Promising to visit to better understand the situation, I went with my local team leader to Crimize. It’s a 5 mile walk down the beach to Crimize and it’s hot but when we arrived we found the village leader, the head teacher, the teacher I met the week previous and some of the local men were constructing a school. The community had clubbed together, bought some material and the men were building a 3 room school for the children. Reporting this to Amy she replied that she was “welling up”, I knew the feeling. Local residents build the school at Crimize.

So, lots to do, lots to understand, lots of culturally sensitive issues to get my head around, and of course the madness of Kimwani, the local language, which does not have as many consonants following on from each other as Ngangela did in Angola (who starts a word with mbw??) but is difficult right now! But this is where I live, it’s hard to not be optimistic……

Today the Nema team made it to one of the southernmost villages that we support, Mipande.  Due to the heavy rains the road has been closed this year and this was the first time access has been available to us.  As we arrived in the village a chant of “matafome, matafome” began and the afternoon’s sitting of school children followed the truck until we got to the school where they were joined in their singing by the class 2 children.  Matafome is Nema’s school feeding programme where we provide a nutritious meal a day for the children who attend school. It was patently obvious from the joy on the children’s’ faces how much this means to them and how invaluable the school feeding programme is. The beauty of the “class inicio” (first years) sitting still in their lines (there are no desks or chairs at the school) contrasts with the excitement of those older children who know how great the matafome is for them every day.

Fatima’s started as a community volunteer and became a full time member of the Nema team 3 years ago. She specialises in malaria and HIV and today is off to Ningaia village with the volunteer drama group to do a performance all about how to avoid and treat malaria. She’s already run household workshops where nets were distributed AND recently followed up to check the nets are being used properly. It’s also her home village so she’ll, no doubt, be welcomed with open arms.

Fatima’s started as a community volunteer and became a full time member of the Nema team 3 years ago. She specialises in malaria and HIV and today is off to Ningaia village with the volunteer drama group to do a performance all about how to avoid and treat malaria. She’s already run household workshops where nets were distributed AND recently followed up to check the nets are being used properly. It’s also her home village so she’ll, no doubt, be welcomed with open arms.

Today we’re delivering the “mata fome” (the school food locally called “kill the hunger”) to the children here at Lumuama primary school. School attendance has doubled since we started this project 

Today we’re delivering the “mata fome” (the school food locally called “kill the hunger”) to the children here at Lumuama primary school. School attendance has doubled since we started this project 

Rema is a crucial member of the Nema team. She’s known locally now as “mama wayatima” - mother to the orphans - and is responsible for the well being of 151 orphaned and vulnerable children. She visits them all at least once a week and makes sure they are well cared for by their extended family, are healthy and are attending school while providing them with loving support. 

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