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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 t-shirts.
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.
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!
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.