Foti and I are a couple from the Netherlands and left our home in Amsterdam to travel around the world. About a year ago we started travelling overseas and overland, working along the way in volunteering projects and keeping a westwards direction aiming one day to make a full turn of the earth (big idea but at least this is our compass).
When we came across WellFound on the internet we were directly very excited to contribute to this project. After sending an email to the CEO Antony Kingsley we received an enthusiastic response back from him one day later. We had a few calls that week with Joao (Team manager) and him and decided to work together for around 10 days, but ended up staying for more than six weeks because we loved it so much. During our stay, we visited several villages on the mainland as well as the Bijagos islands. Below we’ll get into some of our adventures during these visits.
VILLAGE 1 Cali
On our first day, we arrived at the Wellfound office in the morning where we met Hertumisa (Health and Equality Manager) and Jonas (General Manager) who were going to be staying with us for the next 10 days. After placing all our stuff and tent in the car we drove to the first village Cali. The road to Cali is a non-asphalt, very bumpy one. Jonas told us that this would be fixed soon - sarcastically - which made us all laugh. Cali was our first experience with a small, local village in Guinea-Bissau.
Although we only stayed here for one and a half days, it made a big impact on both of us. After our arrival, we were greeted by the entire town together with Francisco (Agriculture Wellfound), which made us feel very welcome. We kicked off the morning with a meeting where they explained to us some of the problems they faced, and together we came up with a plan on how to solve these issues.
They showed us around the village and took us to the rice fields which for us was the first time seeing how rice is actually planted. When they showed us, they made it look so easy. But when we tried ourselves we realized it actually was quite hard and it is really a craft. It seems like they also had a lot of fun seeing us struggling with the Arado (a tool they use to move the mud). Later that day they showed us the old well, where they got their water from before they got a WellFound well. People had to rely on an open spring for drinking water, and this spring was shared with animals.
The children were carrying this water for a long distance and had no time to go to school. We couldn’t imagine drinking water from the old well, and were very happy to hear that since the Wellfound well the amount of water-related diseases and malnourishment due to bad drinking water has decreased.
On our second day in Cali we helped the community with some construction for the future school. In the small school, they can teach children basic health and hygiene and also basic literacy and numeracy. Although the function of a carpenter isn’t exactly on our resume, we were able to put in a concrete floor. We ended the afternoon with a very delicious lunch with everyone who helped.
VILLAGE 2 Paile
From Cali we traveled to Paile in the late afternoon. The first thing we noticed were the children - energetic and smiley. They were playing with self made toys, which were all made from items out of nature. After arriving the people showed us our place to stay, which was the school - that wasn’t used because of the school holiday. We put up our tents inside of the school and started pretty fast after with a meeting (like in Cali) asking them how we can help them. Before traveling to Africa all our work meetings took place in an office with a laptop screen, but here it was outside with the most beautiful sunset in front of us. We had a good night's sleep after.
The next morning we ate a delicious breakfast made by Hertumisa, who took really good care of us during this whole trip. We got together after breakfast with some of the people to fix the post of the school. It wasn't only the adults who worked hard that day, the kids also helped us by bringing water and sand to make the concrete needed for the posts. Life of a kid here is very different to what we have in our minds in the western world. Kids behave like adults from a very young age and they have tasks and responsibilities. To thank all the kids we gathered fresh lemons from the fields and made lemonade which we all drank together.
VILLAGE 3,4 Biamfoie + Biambi Abrigo
After the lemonade and a well-prepared lunch from one of the families in Paile we travelled in the afternoon to Biambi Abrigo where we would stay for the next week or so. Arriving in Biambi we were amazed by the wonderful trees that were planted 100 years before by the community when Guinea-Bissau was still dominated by Portugal. In Biambi Abrigo we were asked by the Pastor to give English lessons to the community in the local school. The initiative was set up recently by the Pastor, to make sure the people would be able to communicate in English which later in life can of course help them out in career perspectives. We had the honour to give them their first English lesson. When we got to the school on the first day, we noticed that the classroom wasn’t filled with only small children but also adults who wanted to learn more about the language.
So the classes consisted of kids around the age of five as well as adults who were up to fifty. Foti and I both got our own classes and classroom. Every day had its own themes - such as greeting phrases and English pronouns. We made sure the lessons were interactive, by role-playing and practising situations that can occur in real life. At first, it was difficult for our students, but by the second day we were greeted with a ‘Good morning Chaya and Foti!, How are you?’ by some kids when we saw them in the village, and we were incredibly proud of them. During our stay, we didn’t only spend time in the school but also learned more about the culture and beliefs of the Balanta people. They rely on rice crops for their food. They grow what they need, and since they have animistic beliefs are not willing to use animals for the preparation of the land.
That means they are manually ploughing huge areas of fields for their rice plantation, which we also notice during our daily walks in the fields. The Pastor also invited us to the Friday and Sunday Church service in the Church just behind the school. We sang and prayed together with the community and this was a moment of goosebumps for us to see how welcome and open the people are. On our last day in Biambi Abrigo we visited a village nearby named Biamfoie where we helped with the fencing and concrete of the solar system area, we did some house visits to check-in on for example how many people are living in every house, if they have fresh drinking water, a sanitation area etc. The people there were very happy to see Wellfound again and they made sure we had enough food and drinks all day and showed us everywhere around. After spending some time in Biamfoie we drove back to Biambi to give our last class and say goodbye to all our students, which was difficult after spending more than a week in this beautiful place.
VILLAGE 5,6,7,8 Carache (Ampintcha, Cutcham, Binte) + Caravela
After Biambi we got back to Bissau to take some days of rest, before heading off to the Bijagos islands. Together with Hertumisa, Jonas and Rosita (Agriculture Wellfound) we packed our bags, necessary tools, tents and food once more and got into the car to drive 2 hours to a harbour where we could take the boat together with a few locals. After 3 hours of sailing, we arrived on a paradisiacal small island of the Archipelago of the Bijagos named Kere. Because this was not our end destination today we took another boat to Carache - where we visited Ampintcha, a village with strong traditions. When we set foot on the white sandy beach, together with a few traditional fishing boats and some people waving at us we felt immediately calmness here.
The village is located close to the beach so after a short walk we arrived in this charming village of +/- 500 people, quite different from all the villages we visited on the mainland. The first morning we started with a meeting in the market garden together with Rosita and Hertumisa and around 20 women from the village.
Bijagos communities are driven by women to a great extent. We learned that women prepare food, take care of kids, work the land, harvest, make tapestry or clothes and in general anything that doesn’t require big-big muscles (i.e. constructions) falls under them. They have an active role in the management of communities. After this interesting meeting, we were invited to join fishing. It’s quite a different experience than fishing in the Netherlands, but it was very insightful to see how it’s done. The fish that we caught was also our lunch and dinner that day. The main task during our stay was teaching English to almost 100 people (children as well as adults).
The community lives with the light, not so much a clock. So to make sure everyone was in class at the same time, we rang the bell to mark the start of the class. Next to teaching we also assisted in the local health clinic. We were surprised to see how well equipped the clinic was, knowing how remote the island is. We also learned that since the arrival of this clinic the number of illnesses dropped significantly.
On day three on the island, we visited Cutcham and Binte to check-in and also to see if the installed well is still working correctly. During our long and beautiful walk to these villages we saw some men in palm trees. They told us that palm oil is an integral part of the diet in this area of West Africa. Most rural communities rely on actually plucking the grapes of the palm tree themselves by climbing up the tree and directly processing it to make the oil.
After a few days in Carache we took another boat to Caravela for a day where we helped to clean out a school before the new school year started. It was overgrown with weeds, so together with the community (kids and adults) we made sure it was brand new and ready.
It was a short stay but we were again very amazed by the beauty of the island and the people here. We took a very early boat - together with the most pretty sunrise - back to Bissau which made this the end of our visit to Bijagos island as well as our time with Wellfound.
Our adventure with Wellfound has been truly amazing and we are very happy with the opportunity to work for this great organization and to be welcomed by all the people in the villages. By working for the organization we have been to places we would not have seen otherwise and we feel so blessed with the insights into the culture and needs of the people.