I have dedicated a significant part of my life to photojournalism and documentary photography. You can see some of my work published on CNN and other photoblogs. This fact made me...
In Uno (Bijagós) I realised people had a deep religious feeling. Bijagós is sacred land, as well as the sacred tree they worship, the kapok tree. In any place of Guinea-Bissau one has to live with faith and hope things will be better one day. Amazingly they all have a quick smile and are very friendly.
ONG "Mundo a Sorrir" works to make their life a little bit easier and make them smile, especially their children.Thanks to the Portuguese ONG "Mundo a Sorrir", I went to Guiné-Bissau with the purpose of photographing some of their projects and related events that they are developping there these last ten years. "Mundo a Sorrir" is an organization that provides oral health, in some countries of Africa, as well as in Portugal. I was there in May this year and had the opportunity to visit Uno (Bijagós). This visit is something I will never forget. I was schocked to see people living in such poor conditions. It was as if I had travelled some centuries back in the past, or having the impression that I was watching a movie telling how African people lived in their primeval times.
The trip from Bissau to the Island of Uno (Bijagós) took almost five hours in a small boat. Considering that the flight from Lisbon to Bissau takes four hours, we can say that it is not easy to go to the most remote islands of Bijagós. Though it was a long trip in such a small vessel, I enjoyed it because of the beauty of the sea and of the islands we were discovering along our trip. When we were getting closer to our destination, the island of Uno, I was taken by surprise with this reception: people were chanting local songs to welcome the team from "Mundo a Sorrir".
People in Uno live organized in tabancas (like a small village) where every family has its own hut. These huts are very basic, built by themselves. Generally they help each other building these huts. It's men's work. Some huts are made of brick with thatched rooves. It's the job's women to gather the straw to cover the roof. This is not a safe roof, and sometimes the rains and the winds are so strong that blow away the roofs and families have to look for another shelter till they are able to repair the damages. Going to the church is perhaps one of their best moments of their routines, because there they can sing and play music together, besides finding some moral comfort in the house of God. In Uno there are a lot of motherless' children. Mothers die giving birth frequently. The old hospital is no longer working. Red Cross has a space there, but in case of serious illnesses people are sent to the hospital in Bissau. I believe a great number of people die during the trip to Bissau. It takes more time to go by boat from Uno to Bissau then fly from Bissau to Lisbon. That is why there are so many orphans in Uno, children that have no family and depend completely on the church for food and education. Some of them are adopted by the Pastores (the priests of the Evangelical Church).
Schools, besides the role of educating, also provide these children with a regular meal, sometimes the only cooked meal they eat in a day. But there is always a problem in Uno. With no means of transport some children have to walk a lot of kilometres to go to school. I made a portrait of two youngsters that were walking to school carrying their books and wooden sticks to build a fence around the school. Their teacher asked the students to bring sticks to build a fence to prevent wild animals to enter the school and do damages. I met them making a break of this long walk to their school, I happened to visit one day later.
Children spend the day and play outside their huts. They have plenty of fruit trees in the surroundings that give them the extra food they need. Children always carry mango fruit in their hands and eat them while they play with other children or walk from one place to another. They have other fruit trees that are very important to their economy like, for instance, the cashew nut and others. Chabéu is the name of the fruit of a special palm tree that grows everywhere in Uno. With this fruit they cook the typical "Caldo de Chabéu", a kind of soup with fish, meat or chicken. The day this meal was prepared and we all shared it, it was almost a party. It is so delicious!
"Mundo a Sorrir" has a team of volunteers that visit and sometimes stay in Uno for a couple of months. These volunteers provide dental care services and visit schools where they teach children how to care for their teeth in order to prevent diseases in the future. It is work done with love and dedication... They also help with resources to build new schools. Following this ONG's work it is easy to see why they are so welcome by Uno's people. When the boat was getting closer to the island and I started to hear the children's voices chanting I could enjoy moments of pure emotion and magic... The same happened when we were leaving.