Sometimes when I travel to countries where Concern Universal works it seems as if the development challenges are insurmountable. The basic things that we take for granted in the West – affordable and accessible health care, decent education, and safe public transport and roads – are out of reach for the majority of people. Guinea (on the west coast of Africa) is one of those countries. And sometimes, because of the incredible welcome and smiles constantly received, the very strong sense of community and family that is visible, and the joy of seeing life take place outdoors, it’s even possible to question our perceived definitions of poverty and want. What does it mean to be ‘poor’? However, this last visit to Guinea brought home to me the very real impacts of poverty; what it really means to live and work in a country where over half the population are ‘living in poverty’.
In the face of all these problems it is really hard to know how to make a difference to people’s lives, especially when there appears to be so little support and investment from the government to create an environment conducive to development. Development issues are complex, and often inter-related, and so trying to ‘fix’ one problem may be limited by the lack of a solution to another problem. For example, a project may work with farmers to improve agricultural productivity but if markets are inaccessible because of poor infrastructure (roads/ electricity) it will be hard to really have an impact on the income of these farmers.
To deal with these huge challenges Concern Universal are working with community groups, and established Guinean charities, to develop local, low cost, solutions to help improve lives. One issue we have tried to tackle over the last couple of years is cholera, a horrible disease that is still a regular killer in Guinea. The cholerabacterium is spread through contaminated food and water so one of the best ways to reduce the potential of widespread transmission is improving sanitation.
Our local partner, Secours Rapide Rural (SRR), has been working with teachers and pupils at Said Zaher Primary School in Dabola for the last year to set up a school Health and Hygiene Committee. After providing information on basic sanitation and hygiene, including cholera transmission, the school set up a Committee of 8 students to promote health and hygiene issues within the school. The committee manages the stock of hygiene supplies (soap and chlorine), organises the school clean up (every month), makes sure that each latrine in the school has soap, and collects money from students when they need to buy more soap. As well as the education work SRR has also re-established the water connection for the school, and re-habilitated toilets for boys, girls and teachers. There’s an established link between improved sanitation and a reduction in diseases like cholera; by focusing on improving sanitation Concern Universal is able to improve health, which keeps children in school, and adults working, and will ultimately make Guinea a better place to live.
Pictured (left to right): Bakary Camara – Treasurer, Baubakar Barry – Hygiene, Alpha Oumar Kouyate – Hygiene, Saa Etienne Kamano – Secretary, Illa Doumbouya – President, Kadiatou Soix, Oumou Kouyate – Vice President, Saran Kouyate