'Handouts can be essential, but enabling people to empower themselves is inspiring'

Dreams of building a responsible tourism business took Amy Carter-James on a tough but rewarding journey to Mozambique

My dream of using tourism to aid poverty relief and conservation began to take shape before I started university, when I worked on a tourism-funded research boat in Western Australia, and then taught in a rural primary school in Kenya. When at university I met the man who would become my husband, I told him about this dream, and when I graduated (in marine zoology) he said, “Why don’t we just do it?”

So, in our early twenties we started looking for the right location; northern Mozambique seemed perfect. We moved out there in 2003 to develop Guludo Beach Lodge and then set up Nema (meaning “the happiness felt when suffering ends”) as a charity to work with local communities to relieve poverty and protect the local environment.

After many, many dramas and adventures, we opened in 2006 and began to gain international recognition for our approach to responsible tourism by 2009. Guludo provides jobs, opportunities and an economic stimulus while Nema works with more than 24,000 people on grassroots projects in water, education and health.

Thanks to our loyal supporters (mainly past guests at Guludo and JoJo Maman Bebe) Nema now provides school meals to 1,000 children a day, we have given out over 250 scholarships, built four primary schools and provided two ambulances and safe drinking water for more than 21,000 people. Handouts can be essential, but finding ways to give people an opportunity to empower themselves is incredibly inspiring.

There is no such thing as a typical day: it depends which hat I’m wearing and where in the world I am. On the beach in Mozambique, I could be doing department reviews, training with the Guludo team, or visiting and reviewing some of our many community projects. Or I could be somewhere else in the world giving a keynote speech or advising organisations about community development through tourism.

I probably spend the most time in my home office in Italy Skyping the team and juggling all the work involved in running a business and charity in rural Mozambique.

Since our daughter arrived, two years ago, I’ve certainly managed to get a far healthier work-life balance and very much enjoy the dolce vita with her here in Italy!

There are a lot of positive aspects to this job. I absolutely love working with the local Mozambican team in Guludo: seeing them develop and thrive is such an honour and insanely rewarding. I enjoy looking for ways to develop and improve existing projects, for example, adding in community service to our scholarship programme or developing new projects, such as motorbike-sidecar ambulances.

I also have the opportunity to meet, learn from, inspire and be inspired by other social entrepreneurs and people on the ground who share our passion for using tourism to do good.

Having said all this, it can be tough dealing with the Mozambican bureaucracy and local challenges such as severe rains and fires. I certainly don’t enjoy coping with the fickle nature of the tourism industry, and administration is definitely not my forte!

Building and developing a hotel and helping communities on a breathtakingly beautiful deserted beach might sound like the stuff that dreams are made of. However, few could imagine the challenges and knock-backs involved in the journey to commercial and developmental sustainability.

Success relies entirely on being able to commit your entire life to the project for many years and not expect anything in return. However, rewards are phenomenal and I would implore more people to join the responsible tourism movement, but to be aware that a lot of patience, tenacity and sacrifices are necessary along the way.

Amy Carter-James

The GuardianTramp

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