When Richard Monkhouse made his first visit to Africa friends advised him to go with an open mind and have no expectations.
He did. But the reality of Mozambique did little to help his resolve.
“You think you know things because you have seen it in the media, but being there and experiencing it is completely different,” said the 39-year-old from Stretton.
“People were really poor. They have to walk miles to get the water. When you see it on TV you think you are being shown the worst case scenario. It’s not.
“But the way they deal with it is incredible. They seem so content, and always had a smile on their faces.”
The audit manager for Peterborough accountants Rawlinson’s went to Mozambique for The Leprosy Mission (TLM) England and Wales.
The Peterborough-based charity had asked Richard to help their counterparts in the southern African country with their accounts on a new project funded by the Department for International Development UK Aid Match.
Richard said: “It was a case of checking the systems in place and recommending improvements. The accounting side of things were exactly the same as they would be in the UK.”
He spent five days in the coastal town of Pemba at TLM Mozambique’s offices then travelled to the remote northern province of Cabo Delgado, which has the highest number of leprosy cases in the country.
His first stop was the UK Aid match funded project where farmers are trained in new, sustainable agricultural methods to help them improve yields and grow crops that generate income as well as food for their families. It was particularly interesting for Richard, who worked as a dairy farmer until he was 23.
The project also includes providing footwear for people with leprosy to protect their feet – the disease affects the nerves meaning there is no feeling in hands and feet – and teaching them self-care in order to heal their ulcers.
Richard said: “It was obvious that they really appreciated the help they were getting.
“They are really shy people and it was difficult to get them to say anything, but when you asked them about the project they really opened up.”
Katapua village was his second stop where The Leprosy Mission run the Iphiro Yohoolo project. It provides free education for children and encourages parents not to get their daughters married too young.
Richard said: “The welcome we received was wonderful. The children sang songs for us. Then we shook hands with the entire village.
“We asked the kids some questions and anyone who answered got a biscuit. The first biscuit we handed out to a child he broke into pieces and shared it with those around him. It was very touching.”
The torn clothes and lack of footwear among children and adults were a sobering sight for Richard, who said: “The extent of the poverty is almost impossible to explain to anyone here. Despite it all they were decent, lovely people.
“Mozambique is a beautiful country. But the way the people conduct themselves, their friendliness and how content they are despite having so little, is what will stay with me. It has been a very humbling experience.”