I’ve been on a giant wooden canoe packed with chickens, pigs and baskets of food over the mirror-like sea to some of the islands. I’ve wandered round the capital for half a day with a group of travelling musicians playing instruments made out of local gourds, stopping to busk or play at family events. I’ve sat on buses at the edge of town at 5am waiting for them to fill up so they can leave and drive past the rice fields and cashew trees to visit schools in far flung villages.
It’s been such a privilege to see so much of Guinea Bissau, and I’m so grateful to the English teachers who have shown me round and invited me to their houses. There is very little tourism, or organised infrastructure, so it would have been very difficult to get around without help.
You might think that people with no electricity or running water, earning £100/month as teachers would be focussed more on day to day survival. But so many of them are part of groups or cooperatives that meet in the shade of the mango trees to discuss how to improve their country. They organise awareness-raising campaigns on COVID-19, HIV and child marriage; and formulate plans for reducing rubbish and pollution to present to the government. It’s this great interest in social and global issues, and how English teachers can create change by bringing these topics into class that was one of the main reasons why I started working with secondary school teachers there.
After getting to know the teachers and their teaching via WhatsApp discussion group, I ran a series of face to face training events in October 2018, then built on these in subsequent visits in April and July 2019. I’ve also worked with teachers at the main state university, helping to write a curriculum and materials; and have supported the teachers in applying for funding for projects. We’ve written materials for English classes together, introduced new lesson formats to make both teaching and learning easier, and helped them organise a teaching conference for 200 teachers. Each time I go, I take cases full of useful presents: donated second-hand laptops, solar panels and small solar lights, dictionaries and teaching books, Lego and other toys for a pre-school, and T-shirts.
When I met Matt after having been to Guinea Bissau three times, I jumped at the idea to start a charity together, to be able to help more and in a more structured way. It’s even got me into running to raise funds.
It’s great to be working in a charity where we know exactly where all the money goes. By working with Ali and Bacar, who send us very regular updates, we can see where the money is most needed and exactly who it’s helping. I’m planning to visit next in April 2020, to check on all AGB has done, deliver more training, take more laptops and travel to some new islands. Why not think about visiting Guinea Bissau one day too? We can arrange some great travel guides!