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Ali's Story

I was born in Farim, in a village called K3. The Portuguese gave the village this name as it is 3km from Farim. My father was born in 1904, and he was the head of the village, at the age of around 60, in the war for independence. He didn’t go to the forest to fight as he wanted to negotiate with the Portuguese instead.

It was very difficult for me to go to school, as I was the youngest brother in my family, and was made to look after the cows from June to December every year from when I was around 10. I used to walk 5km every day, barefoot, following the cows around in the bush, and I missed out on two whole years of school because of this. It was only when I was 15 that my father agreed to pay someone else to look after the cows, and I decided that I would study very hard. I finished 9th grade school in Farim, and, as there was no 10th grade there, I had to move to Bissau. I arrived there with a small bag with a broken zip with 4 pairs of trousers and 5 t-shirts. My family had found someone in Bissau I could live with – a soldier who my parents had helped during the war. He didn’t earn enough to feed all his family and me, so I often went hungry if they had already eaten when I arrived home from school.

I went back to my village and started working in many areas: a women’s cooperative for producing salt, the electoral commission, running projects to distribute rice to salt workers, raise awareness about HIV, re-building wells and growing vegetables. I ran a centre for literacy in creole, and helped build a health unit (Farim was too far away for pregnant women to travel safely, on the other side of the river, which could only be crossed by canoe, so we needed this). I worked with the Slow Food Foundation, and improving the sustainability of local bee-keeping and fishing. Local people were using fishing nets with holes so small that they caught, and threw away, all the smaller fish too. I taught them to use nets with bigger holes. To get honey, the local people went to the forest and killed the bees. I taught them how to create a colony of bees and smoke them out, not kill them and stop burning bush and cutting trees in the bush to make charcoal. I also started a microcredit project, financed through the World Bank, to help women buy and sell various products, for example clothes.

I finally managed to train as and start working as an English teacher. There are many challenges and problems. The first is lack of teaching material. No coursebooks, no handouts – the teachers have to write everything on the blackboards. Sometimes teachers pay to make copies for the students out of their own money. Sometimes they make one copy and the students make their own copies. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to access materials from the internet, as there is either no internet connection, outside the capital, or the connection is so slow, files can’t be downloaded.

Class size is a problem too. Classes have between forty-five and fifty students in them, often sitting two or three to a desk. Professional development is difficult as we have little access to new developments and no electricity in classrooms. Pay is very low, which results in low motivation. Many teachers, for teaching 25 hours a week, only earn 39,000/month (around £53), or 102,540 (around £148) if they have a degree. Some teachers try to make extra money by selling materials/marks to the students and there is little control over this. The lack of control means teachers often accept bribes for good grades, or, worse, create really difficult tests for girl students they fall in love with so the girls will go with them.

Teaching doesn’t pay enough money to support a family, so I am about to finish my second degree, which I studied for in the evenings, in Environmental Management. Hopefully I will get a part-time job soon in this area.

In 2014, I and others started the ELTA-GB teaching association as I decided that education is one of the most important ways to change many things in the country. I also belong to several voluntary groups, for example ECOWAS Youth platform, and I have organised training sessions on gender, conflict management, children’s rights, minority protection, how to avoid abuse and exploitation by politicians, and preparing future leaders.

I am very happy to be working with Action Guinea Bissau to be able to help many people in my country.


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