Noemi's story - working in Mozambique and perspectives on development

Noemi Gaia teacher at CICD Noemi is teacher for the Gaia team, she arrived to CICD in October 2015

Aitana asked Noemi to tell a little about her life and her experiences from Mozambique.

I’m Noemi, I come from Romania, from the part of Transylvania and I studied social work.
I always had a special attraction to Africa, I knew that one day I will go and work there. When I was 3 years old I wanted to become a pediatrician so I could go and help the kids in Africa.
To become a pediatrician you need biology and chemistry but I didn't have teachers who could give me the desire to learn and understand these disciplines, so I had to realise I will never become a doctor or pediatrician.
So instead I studied social work and I really loved the studies and everything about my whole University time. I had the best teachers who showed me what it means to love what you do, with a passion to make a difference in peoples lives. That inspired me a lot.
After my studies, when I finished as a social worker, I didnt get my dream job so i decided to look for volunteering opportunities in Africa. As a social worker of course I was looking for big name organisations like UNICEF, Save the Children or Red Cross, their volunteering programmes were like 3-5 months and you paid thousands of pounds. For me who just finished university that would be too much and I could not afford it.

A small online ad....

Then one day I was looking on Internet and an advert about volunteering in Africa came up. I sent an email and after less then an hour I got an answer that I'm more then welcome to do a volunteering program for 14 months for Africa. I knew that this was an opportunity that I could not miss - so happen what will, I will do it.
Meanwhile I had started my Master degree in Mental Health and I wanted to finish it, thinking probably with that degree I will have more knowlege to use as a volunteer in Africa.
During my studies I had an opportunity to study abroad in Germany and that period challenged me a lot. I was lucky enough to meet people from different cultures and suddenly I was surrounded by Cameronian and Ugandan people. Once when I mentioned my future plan of going to Africa, their answer shocked me: as they were asking if I wanted to go there to take pictures with the kids or I really wanted to work with development and something useful....because if it was just for pictures, they can ask their cousins and I can take the pictures here, without having to pay for the flight ticket and go there. From then on I really wanted to show that my desire to go to Africa is not for pictures on social media but much more. I wanted to go and learn from the people there and give them a helping hand where I can.
Also back then we had to pay an enrollment fee, that for my pocket was really high and as my family wasn’t really happy with my decision my friends helped me with 20-30 euro each to pay the enrollment for the programme.
Finally, on 3rd of September 2007 I started my journey to the school in Norway. It was the first trip and the first adventure that I made alone and just for myself.

What was the first thing that led you to this experience?
I wanted to have some experiences, so that later on I could be a good social worker. I knew the theory and had some practice, but I wanted something more.
In DRH Norway we only had one programme then, a 14 months programme, which was built like this: 6 months preparation in Norway, 6 months at a project in Africa or India and then 2 months “Bringing it to the Public’’.
Of course I also did the Saving Up programme (a kind of Gaia programme), which was a bit different from now. I was alone doing the saving up at the school, I was doing promotion. I didn't have this opportunity to have this team spirit from the beginning, because all my teammates were in CICD doing door to door clothes collection.
It wasn't easy and several times I wanted to give up, but the other volunteers and the desire for Africa always kept me going to continue this journey.
Finally after the 6 month period in Saving Up, I started the programme in February 2008. It was a very good and challenging experience, we had to do things that were out of our comfort zone and a lot of things I didnt understand why and how it would help me - until I arrived to Mozambique. There I realised that all the activities and challenges had been in our 6 month preparation for a reason, to make us ready for our project period in Mozambique.

My years in Mozambique

Those first 6 months as a volunteer in Mozambique was an unforgettable experience. I was in a project in Nacala which is like a paradise near the beach, but that's not what made it unforgettable. It was the people who I had the opportunity to work with, starting from my Project Leader, my Co-project Leader, the people from the school, the people of the community. They become more than family, really close to me, they are really important in my life. After 4 months I knew that I didn't want to go home. I fell in love with the country, I loved the work that I was doing.
After 12 years I am still in contact with the community, I still follow and care about what is happening, and I know that I learned much more than I could give to them. To see the simplicity in the life, the togetherness, and things that we lost here in Europe, because we're running all the time, we don’t care about the others, we’re self absorbed, and we constantly complain about everything. The people there have a totally different mentality, even though they didn’t always know what they were going to eat in the evening they could still wake up with a smile.
When I had finished my programme, I knew I needed to go back and continue my work. I got an opportunity from Humana People to People to go back to Mozambique and become a co-Project Leader in a Teacher Training College in Gaza province of Mozambique.
I was imagining that even though it's a different kind of project, I will have the opportunity to work with the local people and the community. But it wasn't like this - now I had much more responsibility, to make sure that the things happened in the correct way. I was 25 and it was difficult to be the white young woman, being the responsible, doing things like explaining for a 50 years old man why I think he should start the lessons on time.
Actually I realised that togetherness and comradeship are the most important things to create development. I learned a lot from this experience and I truly become a stronger person.
I can see it so clearly, that moment that I arrived first time to Mozambique.... it was love at first sight. We flew from London to South Africa, and then from there we took the bus to Maputo. We came out of the bus because of the border control to check the passports, we were in the que waiting for the visas and I was standing there, it was very dirty, but I felt like a kind of peace in me, for me it was really beautiful, my teammates they wondered how I could find that place nice if it was very dirty, I just found it beautiful to finally see that I am where I wanted to be.

What really surprised you?
One thing was the togetherness. I had the opportunity to work in a really rural area, where there were families with the minimum minimum. But still, if they knew that the neighbour had less than they did would make food for them and share it, they took care of each other.

There were moments where I didn't know how to react – or rather, I knew how to react but I couldn't react like this, because first I had to understand the culture and the situation. There was this situation with a lady who was cooking with all the kids around here, and the men were just sitting. And then I was like: Why can't the men go and help? But the men were like a king and it was difficult for me to not act.
I had some presentations or courses with the primary school teachers in the area about health and nutrition. There were discussions about how to protect yourself and protect others.

....and back again in Europe

What do you miss most about  Mozambique?
Everything! It’s been 6 years since we came home and there is not a day that I do not think of Africa, specifically Mozambique. I am still in contact with some students, teachers, and some communities. I still miss everything and I'm sure that one day i will be back.

Did it cost you to adapt again to the type of life we live in Europe?
I am still working on it.

When I came here to CICD I wanted to work in the clothes collection, I wanted to do practical things. But at that time we didn’t have anybody to take care of the Gaia team. It was obvious that it was needed to have somebody to guide them, so I was asked to become a Gaia teacher and I said ok, let’s try it, I accepted the challenge.

Why is this a rewarding job – and what are the challenges?
The most rewarding is when you can see the change in the people. From the moment that the students arrive here in the Gaia team, having the ups and downs and seeing that they have difficulties but they’re still doing it. the person who have becoming after the experience, It’s really nice to see how the students learn and change, opening their horizons and leaving their comfort zone and becoming almost like another person .
It's also challenging. There can be someone who think they know everything, and it’s a challenge to get them to think and see and understand that they don't.
The Gaia programme is much more than raising a scholarship...it's also an opportunity for the students to learn a lot of useful things. 
It's not so easy to give examples because I believe this is individual because each person learns something different. Some people learn a lot about climate change, some people learn about poverty in the UK, India or countries in Africa. And maybe some don’t learn anything because they don’t want to. Some people learn about teamwork - it’s individual. Each student comes with different background and knowledge and experience, and that is why it’s not just the students who learn something, but also me - I have the opportunity to learn new things from them.

What are the most important things the students should learn during the Gaia course?

The most important thing is to listen to others. It doesn't matter if somebody is younger or older, you have to listen and understand the other person. Another thing is that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” and recognize that I don’t know something, instead of being stubborn to accept it. To cross the boundaries, to step out of the comfort zone and do things which you don’t want to do. It's the only way you can learn new things, and this is sometimes really challenging! Be humble.... it’s really important to learn how to be human.

Basically I enjoy all the activities that we do in the Gaia team. I really like the Survival Weekends, and when I can challenge them and make them speak with other people. The kind of activities that are challenging and builds the team, so the students can see that it doesn’t matter if you like somebody or you don’t like somebody, the important thing is to work together – that's the only way to reach your goal.

Let's dream......how do you imagine CICD 5 or 10 years from now?

I want to see CICD with a lot of students, and many different and interesting programmes. I would like to see us more involved with the communities around us. CICD is a place where all of us are because we have chosen to be here and we want to do something good ... and I hope that in the future, more people from the communities around will be coming here to meet us, for support and to learn from us and build a co-operation about things like garden farming, and with the local schools involved so children could learn about nature here in our park.... I hope that CICD will become a real Environmental Centre.

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Saturday, 09 December 2023