My name is Rhianna, I’m a 22-year old student studying International Development at the University of Portsmouth. In December 2019, I had an incredible opportunity to see 10 of the villages WellFound supports across Guinea Bissau. This small Portuguese speaking country passes unnoticed in the UK despite being one of the poorest places on earth. A week before Christmas I travelled overland from Senegal to the Gambia in a shared taxi known locally as a sept place (seven-seater). It took a whole day ending in a ferry crossing over the Gambia river. In Banjul, we were met by Joao who works as the programme coordinator in Guinea Bissau. All the next day we travelled by road through Gambia, back through southern Senegal and on to Bissau the capital of Guinea Bissau.
We were also shown around the market gardens by the women who were in the village committees which help to organise the projects. It was clear that these women, who had worked incredibly hard to maintain the gardens, took great pride in showing us all the various vegetables that were growing. They spoke of how the market gardens had transformed their villages by providing nutrition as well as extra income as the excess vegetables were taken to the markets to be sold. For me as a critical student this was community development in action.
As a third-year student, I have been taught to think critically about development. I had read numerous case studies of development going wrong. This had made me start to question the development industry, was it creating more problems than it was solving? Was it approaching development from the wrong angle? These questions would often circulate in my head, making me passionate about sustainable development, an approach in which local people were really listened to and given the tools and skills needed to empower themselves.
It was great to see how empowered these communities had become. Using WellFound’s community investment model they were able to take charge of their futures collectively. Many of the village committees were using the profit made from the market gardens to save up for new batteries and other forms of well maintenance. Many were interested in buying solar panels. Furthermore, two young people in each village were trained in well maintenance. It was clear that these communities, with the support of WellFound have the energy and willingness to take charge of their situation.
Joao the programme manager in Guinea Bissau is really an inspiration and a great cultural ambassador for Guinea Bissau. He works tirelessly and is extremely passionate in what he does. It was evident that he really listens to the communities and supports their desire to self-improve. I have found that the work WellFound is doing manages to also be very culturally sensitive with a lot of respect paid to the communities and their beliefs. The work that WellFound has done in Guinea Bissau has been immensely inspiring and has restored my faith in development work.
Back in Dakar I am continuing with my year abroad. I work at a rehabilitation charity that primarily focuses on the lives of street children. Many of the children I work with are ex- talibes (children who study the Koran) who have found themselves living on the streets. Many have been trafficked all the way from Guinea Bissau, so it was very interesting to have seen conditions in their home country. I feel very privileged to have been able to visit Guinea Bissau and be welcomed by the people in the villages. There is still a lot of progress to be made in making sure everyone in the world has access to their basic services such as water. However, from seeing WellFound’s work in action, I feel more hopeful that with sustainable development, extreme poverty can be eliminated around the world.