Helping the orphans to a life of quality and dignity

“Working not begging” is a phrase I really admire from Big Issue founder John Bird, it has an air of dignity about it, and self-help with a little bit of ‘you can help me to help myself’ added in.  That’s what we’re trying to do here at Nema - help people help themselves.   Sometimes that’s hard here as there are so few opportunities, but we are trying to generate some and this is the first step.

We have over 200 orphans in our project just in Naunde and we have yet to reach those vulnerable children and their families in the other villages in which we work, but one step at a time:  if there’s one thing you learn from working in Africa it’s patience. 

The orphans in Naunde are a really cheerful lot despite their predicament and generally congregate at Rema’s house for fun and support most days.  

The orphans and vulnerable children use Rema’s stoop for playing cards, it’s where they all hang out. 

We have been gradually trying to create opportunities for the orphans and vulnerable children to earn a living.  However, whilst items have been made for the Nema shop and the lodge this is a limited market.  Trying to reach further and wider we approached some shops in Pemba town and found an English lady who has a shop in the Pemba Beach Hotel, the most expensive hotel in town.  She suggested that there really isn’t much of a market for tourist stuff with the oil and gas industry currently dominating hotel bookings but there are lots of hotels being built to cater for the oil wealth and that we could use her contacts to sell stuff for the rooms in the hotels.

Obviously a certain level of quality is required to sell to a hotel so we set about creating a demonstration model yesterday.  Calling the older kids to make stuff, the younger kids, desperate to join in, fetched all of the material from the bush.  Most of the time the material was bigger and heavier than the kids themselves but these are hardy kids.

Whilst Amina and Rema prepared a lunch of rice and beans for the kids (we used left over food from the food we give to the staff each month keeping costs right down), Manuel started preparing the demonstration models.  First off a waste paper bin.  Second a tray (my Kimwani is poor but I know this is kikombe as I have my tea in a giant bowl that they call kikombe).

Manuel’s second childhood, making the tray with the bin by his side. 

Manuel seemed to enjoy the work and set about making the items with imagination and a smile on his face.  Demonstration models made he allocated a shape and a size to each of the kids for us to make a range of pieces to take to Pemba to show to Lesley and the hotels.  We made bins, boxes and trays.  We’re going to line them with pretty material and see what they look like with some colour and then take them to town to see how it goes.  

These kids have some serious knife skills. 

We can pay enough money to the children who made the items to make a difference to their lives this week.  If we market the items right we can create a longer term income generating project for the children here.  With the right labelling and a bit of marketing we can enable a sustainable long term income that’s just enough to make a difference to the lives of the most deprived of our communities, maybe even enough to allow some of them to go to school:  we live in hope.

Working not begging.

Practice what you preach…

Our very own Dona Rema looks after the orphans and vulnerable children project in Naunde where she lives. Recently her own niece was orphaned and Dona Rema took in Pequena Rema. Pequena (little) Rema is a feisty soul and enjoys life to the full. She’s a handful for Rema whose own children are all grown up and live away from home these days. But Dona Rema takes it all in her stride, she must be used to it with the number of kids outside her house every day. Sometimes Pequena Rema comes to Nema Monday meetings, she always makes noise about something, we’re grooming her for a job with us in a few years’ time.

A NGO partner from town came to a meeting with us and kindly left us 6,000 condoms for distribution to our staff. Not wanting to miss an opportunity to educate we took the opportunity to entice the staff of both Guludo Lodge and Nema into some HIV training with the promise of free condoms at the end of the session. Never ones to miss the something for nothing opportunity and even better, an hour off work, the staff all turned up. Nema’s own Amina and Abudu carried out the training with their captive audience. It’s always good to reinforce messages and even those who think they know it all can learn something. It’s difficult to know whether to laugh or cry when the first question is “if my wife has HIV should I just go get another?” but the safe sex message was reiterated and the information that tests and drugs have recently been made available to all in the local clinic is invaluable so if that’s all everyone learned we have passed on a good message. We definitely knew to smile when 7 months pregnant Sephalina pocketed her condoms saying she would guard them till she needed hers!

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.

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.

This new mother and her baby girl have come a long way in the past couple of months. At the beginning of June Amina was rushed to hospital in Pemba - a 6 hour ambulance journey - to give birth as she needed a blood transfusion. The day after her problematic labour she was discharged from hospital with a tin of milk formula as she wasn’t producing any breast milk. Things were not looking good for Amina and baby Zoura; Amina was very sick and shaken up following her traumatic experience, and even if there was somewhere nearby to buy milk formula there is no way the family could afford it. Amina, who is around 14 years old, is an orphan and lives with her grandmother. The father of the baby is out of the picture. Luckily, Rema (who looks after the orphaned and vulnerable children and the pregnant women in Naunde village) was looking out for them and it wasn’t long before we managed to find a donor to fund the milk formula for the baby. Lina Stahl has very kindly been sponsoring Zoura through the orphaned and vulnerable children program and it has made all the difference for this little family. The transformation in both mother and baby has been absolutely incredible - a BIG nishikuru (thank you) all the way from Naunde! And a little reminder that you can all donate here:

Here are some of the orphaned and vulnerable children of Naunde proudly showing off their masterpieces - cars and lorries made from bamboo from the bush, fizzy drinks cans and cut up flip-flops for the wheels!


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!


A Good Village

This week I’ve been trying to get to the villages I’ve not yet seen to complete my initiation. With Nema worker Manual and new volunteer Gemma I cycled to Nambo. Thursday had been a lovely cool day and it had rained Thursday night, Friday – the day we were to cycle – was already hot when we set off at 8. By the time Gemma and I met Manuel, it was hot, damned hot! By the time we got to Nambo we were sweltering, by the time we returned to Mucojo we had called the car to come pick us and our bikes up and take us to our lunch! What did we do before mobile phones?


Manuel has been working full time for Nema since 2010, before that he was a community volunteer.  His main projects are in hygiene and sanitation and he looks after the agricultural scholars at Bilibeza school. 

Nambo is another beautiful village by the sea where most people make their living from fishing.  It’s a typical village that Nema supports, except it’s not.  It’s got a great help-ourselves attitude and a really positive vibe. 

The school was actually built by the government, is in good condition and has chairs, tables, books and, most importantly, teachers and students beavering away for the day.  The director took time out for our visit as, as always, the children clamoured out of the window yelling Mzungu Bom Dia. The director was really positive about the school, and extremely proactive.  His biggest concern was not with what we could give him (the most common concern) but with poor attendance records.  He maintained a list of children who had missed school for one week or more and visited the parents of each.  Children don’t go to school for a variety of reasons here:  illness, being needed in the household to do chores, and of course, general laziness as we see in our own countries. But, a proactive response to getting kids to school and a positive attitude to the school from the director.  We also met the battleaxe female teacher whose strident voice we had heard on our approach.  I DO LIKE GOOD DISCIPLINE…….

We also spoke to the Chefe de Aldeia who was at the beach (a small trek compared to our ride but still, a trek).  We were guided on the trek by a half blind old man who did keep asking the Mzungu for help:  more on cataracts next time. 

The Chefe was also very cool.  Manuel was there to talk to him about the Nema latrine slab project.  During the Nema hygiene and sanitation training in 2012/13 it was discovered that people did not like to have latrines as they were open topped and that was considered to be unclean and attracted flies etc.  Nema devised a concrete slab project where the communities could buy a concrete latrine slab to cover the latrine:  Manuel made and sold 66 slabs last year and this is the second time around for the 16 villages we support. It was hoped that the people would be enthused by others who had the slabs and then would want one for themselves.


A latrine slab

Nambo is a different case.  The ground is soft and it is impossible to dig a hole deep enough for a latrine that can take the weight of a slab without collapsing.  But, I cry, the school has latrines so it’s possible.  The response is yes, the school has latrines but they are lined with bricks.  Hmmm, that does make them a bit expensive! So, another plan?  We have worked before with another NGO in Pemba who did some hygiene and sanitation training, we think that they have a way of building latrines and reinforcing them with local material, great, put them on my list of people to call in on in Pemba.

Despite the difficulties the Chefe declared that if we could help with a design, maybe make a demonstration one in the village, that he would be the first person to build a latrine and buy a slab.  I LOVE LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE……………………….


Chefe de Aldeia do Nambo

Our last stop:  the Nema sponsored agricultural association:  I’m poised for doom and gloom as of the 5 that I’ve visited so far only one has managed to grow anything this year.  We meet a young man, Amisse, whose smiley face is good to see, I explain that I bring nothing with me but am collecting information and then will be making plans.  I’m told the same story as before, drought followed by crazy rains mean that things are difficult.  And then the story changes, Amisse had bought seeds from his own money on condition that if things grew he got paid back first (fair enough), he had planted the seeds he bought and things were growing.  I nearly hugged him.   I DO LIKE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR THE TEAM…………………………….

 So, with Nambo as my new favourite place I called for the car, I really wasn’t going to tackle that sandy road again! I couldn’t decide whether to blame my weakness on my recent bout of malaria or on Gemma’s need to acclimatise, at the top of the hill to Mucojo I didn’t care it was just weakness.  


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. 


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