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.
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.
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……