When we think about international development cooperation, a photo of a smiling European holding an African baby often comes to mind. It’s easy to think of it as little more than the efforts of countries in the North to “help” countries in the global South. But that typical idea is incredibly outdated, and we need to remember that not only are people in developing countries capable and determined to improve their own situations, they often do – and usually with very little help.
In Guinea Bissau’s western region of Cacheu, the EU is supporting institutional strengthening in 55 primary schools where students at local partner ADPP teacher training college carry out their practicum training. The funding covers salaries for 5 project leaders, each of whom have been assigned between 10 and 12 communities to work in, as well as the construction of wells and latrines in each of the 55 schools. The objective is to increase access to education for children in each of the communities through connecting school teachers and management to training, forming parents associations, starting preschools, implementing community and school gardens, and other grassroots initiatives.
In comparison to what needs to be done, there is nowhere near enough money in the budget. However with the help of the project leaders, communities are rallying to improve their own situations in every way that they can.
In a small village called Ucunhe, Papis Gomes and Domingos Correia have started a preschool. The two friends finished high school last year and, without other work opportunities, began teaching their younger siblings the alphabet. Their younger brothers and sisters weren’t old enough to go to school yet, but the boys knew that knowing some basic Portuguese would make things easier once they did start school.
“Most children don’t know Portuguese when they start school. It was so hard for me when I was young and I wanted to leave so many times,” explains Papis. “I wanted my younger brothers and sisters to know the basics so it will be easier for them. We don’t have books to read. We mostly sing and write on the blackboard.”
To extend the classes to the rest of the community.
When local project leader Alfa Djaló found out about them, he asked the boys to extend the classes to the rest of the community. Papis and Domingos have no training, but they make up games and try to make it fun for the children. There are no extra classrooms at the local primary school, so the 24th September Preschool is held in a shady spot at the village’s church. Each family pays 150 XOF (about 0,20€) per month. It’s not much, but it provides the young teachers with a minimal income. With their first months’ pay, Papis and Domingos bought paint to make a blackboard on the wall and chairs for the children.
“These families really value education. They want their children to have better lives than they have had and they know that school is the way to get there,” says Alfa. “They have decided that if they wait for help from the government or others, their children will miss out. So they are doing what they can. It’s not ideal, but this is their situation and they are moving themselves.”