Honeymoon In Guinea-Bissau

July 5, 2017

In April 2017 we were surprised and delighted when a couple travelling in West Africa found our website, and got in touch with us. As a result of that contact, they spent two weeks with the team in Guinea-Bissau, visiting the villages where we work and getting to know the people. It was great to have them with us and they contributed a lot in a short time.

Over the next few days we are going to serialise Alice’s diary on our website. Keep checking back for updates, and share the adventure….

WellFound Diary, 2017

17th April

Anderson (a process engineer and my husband-of-one-month) and I (artist) decided to spend a little time working on a project during our three month adventure honeymoon in West Africa. We came across WellFound online and after a chat with CEO Dr Anthony Kingsley hoped that we could contribute to their work in Guinea Bissau. Rather than decide in advance exactly what the nature of this work might be, we agreed it would be best to go and scope out the situation on the ground first.

Obtaining the visa for Guinea Bissau was perhaps the most hassle-free Africa experience I’ve ever had, and crossing the border from Senegal was almost equally easy. A good start to our two weeks working with WellFound. After dropping bags off at the hotel we met Joao Ie (team manager), who gave us the low down of their inspiring work and took us to their storage container to pick up the tools and spare parts we might need for a few days visiting the villages in which WellFound are focusing on.
We enjoyed a fish and rice dinner with some much-missed wine (difficult to come by in Senegal!), and sampled Bissau’s nightlife before heading to bed, ready for a busy day the next day).

18th April

We were introduced to the WellFound team in their office, and headed off with Fernando Ca (supervisor), Daniel Nanfade and Francisco Sambu (agricultural technicians), Edileseo Domingos Alvez (project nurse) and Hertumisa Ca (or ‘Saba’ – head project nurse, who was going to be staying with us for the next four days).

After hectic dash through the market to get food staples and general camping paraphernalia we were off, bumping along the potholed main road and forking off to a bumpier not-so-main-road until we reached Binhomi, one of the 15 villages that WellFound work with in Guinea Bissau. We reached the newly installed WellFound well, which was a hub of activity. A group of women were continuously pumping clear water in to large plastic containers which they carried a short distance to the market garden – a WellFound initiative standing alongside the pump installations. Despite being deep in to the dry season, the vegetables were flourishing – providing the women with nutritious food to cook for their families, and a potential source of income. Although each woman is designated her own garden plot, there seemed to be a real sense of camaraderie amongst them.

We were also shown a couple of the newly installed latrines – another WellFound project to improve sanitation and promote general hygiene. Two men from each village have been trained to make the simple design and install them using the help of others from the community. The latrines are privately bought by households at cost-price (8800XFA – about 12 euros) and there had been a good take up in Binhomi.

After buying some delicious vegetables from the market garden we drove another 45 minutes on a dirt-track road to Bissunaga, a large village whose pump had stopped working a few days ago. This had a knock on effect with the gardens, which were already struggling in the daily incessant dry heat. It also clearly dampened morale. Some women were sitting on upturned empty buckets under a large mango tree, whilst a few persevered bringing water from an open well some distance away.

As Anderson and Fernando got straight on to the well-fixing job, I sat under the tree with Saba who initiated a discussion with a gathering number of women and children about basic hygiene. This included encouraging the use of latrines and washing hands before food preparation – seemingly simple ideas, but I could see how difficult it is to communicate the importance of breaking habits of a life time, especially to people with an inadequate level of education. Having spent a lot of time with the community over the past year, she has built up a real rapport with them and it was great to see everyone engaged and responsive and how the message was really getting through.

It was great puzzle as to what was wrong with the well, which Anderson’s engineering mind set upon solving with gusto – after a few hours of disassembling, assembling and head-scratching in the unrelenting heat with a band of local men, the problem was solved, and well fixed! It was immensely satisfying to see the large group of women and children that flocked to the well literally minutes after the water started to run.

By the time we were dropped off in Tama, the village where we’ll be staying for the next three days, it was dark. Really dark. The knowledge of no electricity and running water became reality, and we were thankful for our newly acquired solar torches to help erect a tent in the local school room and eating a simple spaghetti dinner chatting with Saba. She is a fountain of knowledge, and throughout our time with her we were given insights in to the different beliefs and cultures of some of the beautifully diverse 41 ethnicities in Guinea Bissau. There is an incredible richness in many of the ceremonies and rituals (some of which we got to see for ourselves) but there are also some questionable practices which need to be addressed for health and education improvement and female empowerment – which Saba is tackling as part of her community work.

For part 2 of the diary, see here

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