Nema August 2017 Update: Tom’s story Part 1

So, here this goes, my first ever blog…

I’m Tom, a Management Accountant for JoJo Maman Bebe, I’ve just turned 30 and like most other people my age I have a list, notoriously known today as a bucket list I suppose.

Shortly after I started working for JoJo, almost 6 years ago, I became involved with the company’s in-house charity, The Nema Foundation.  I volunteered as Nema’s accountant and quickly bought into the whole concept of why it was set up (Amy’s blog will explain). More recently, after the last Trustees meeting in October 2016, I was asked to join the board of Trustees as well, and of course, I agreed.

So, when Laura (JoJo Maman Bebe MD) asked me last year if I wanted to go to Mozambique to visit the Nema projects, I jumped at the chance to go and also to cross it off my bucket list.  How could I possibly say no?  I immediately said I was keen and Laura suggested that I take somebody along to share the experience.  My first thought was to take Emily, my girlfriend of 10 years, but for someone who’s scared of spiders, snakes and anything substandard to a 5 star hotel, I was sure that I already knew what the answer would be…

Maybe I didn’t know Em as well as I thought. Surprisingly she agreed to come.  I gave her a sneak preview of the lodge where we’d be staying (Guludo Beach Lodge) but when she asked how she’d charge her phone and dry her hair I knew we were about to embark on an eye opening journey!

In the few pictures I googled, we’d be staying in our own private hut (a banda), just footsteps away from a 12km white sand beach and clear blue sea.  It sounds incredible, (and I can guarantee it is) but the reality that surrounds luxury is almost incomprehensible.

I’m a last minute type of person.  Luckily, Em lives by the old Scouts motto, ‘be prepared’.  A visit to Mozambique should never be last minute .  First of all, there’s the injections, all 7 of them!  That’s Typhoid, Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Cholera, Polio and Tetanus.  We also needed a course of Malaria tablets for before, during and after the trip – I don’t think I really realised how lucky I was to be able to pop to my local doctors' for these until I got to see the healthcare in Mozambique.

When I started to look for flights I found that the ideal route would be Heathrow to Johannesburg then Johannesburg to Pemba (Northern Mozambique).  After a quick Google search and playing around with some dates, the best I could find was £1,100 per ticket with only a 2 hour layover in Johannesburg.  This would mean that from the time we left our house in Penallta, Ystrad Mynach to get to Pemba, it would take us just over 20 hours.  We booked our flights for mid-April and started to get prepared for the trip.

A week before we set off, Em and I had a phone call with Laura who talked us through what it would be like and what to expect.  You can Google all you like but I can guarantee you that the best advice is from people who have personally been there and experienced it.  We wrote down Laura’s advice meticulously, in hindsight it was spot on and importantly, she put our mind at ease.  From what to wear and what to take to what we do if we miss a connecting flight – we were so grateful for Laura’s travel tips.

Laura explained how the kids love football so it would be good to take some footballs and pumps for the schools and villages.  With this in mind, I posted a Facebook update to ask for anyone for any spare kits – the response was phenomenal and reminded me that friends (and strangers) really do want to help!

I also had four old laptops to take out with me, which were kindly donated by Amy’s mother.  Our IT team at JoJo cleaned them up so they were as good as new.  Laura advised that we split these up between bags just in case there were any problems at customs.

We also packed a load of new and second hand bras (and some knickers) donated by some of the JoJo teams.  I left Emily in charge of this (actually, I left Emily in charge of all of the packing).

On April 19th, after 20 hours of travelling, we landed in Pemba airport.  Pemba is a very small airport.  As we came through the arrivals and out of the main doors, we were instantly met with a contrasting first impression to our usual holidays.  Here’s a pic of the airport – pretty low key (and very hot and stuffy).

Gustavo (Nema Manager) was meeting us here at the scheduled 2pm landing time.  We were greeted by a man who took our bags and introduced himself as ‘Gustav’ – he was just a chancer trying to get a fare.  We were lucky not to go along in his taxi since we had a five hour journey ahead of us to make.

I called Gustavo.  He was told that our flight was delayed until the evening so we had another short wait.  In the meantime, we met a lovely lady called Karen who was also staying at Guludo.  Karen is the CEO for Operation Smile (a UK charity based in London) and we’d go on to have long chats about Nema and future work.

10 minutes later, Marta (Guludo Lodge Manager) and Gustavo arrived.  This time I recognised Gustavo from one of the photos from his weekly reports and there was a Nema sticker on the car (that sticker was a lifeline – more about that later).  It was definitely the real Gustavo this time!  We needed to get going to try and make it back to Guludo before sunset.  We didn’t quite know it just yet, but our off-road African adventure was just about to start….


To find out more or to make a donation to the Nema Foundation, please visit our Nema charity page.