Despite the difficulties, there are many Guineans – both residents and emigrants, in which Portugal plays an important part – who are looking for ways to improve the country, trying to reverse the trend towards political, military and economic fragility.
To this end, a group of Guinean women resident in Portugal decided to join forces drawing on the experience of Filomena Djassi. She is a woman with well-founded ideas, and, despite her youth, she is already taking on a leadership role. After a training course with a group of women in Lisbon, she spoke to ECO123.
ECO123: Who is Filomena Djassi?
Filomena Djassi: I’m from Guinea, originally from the region of Gabú (eastern Guinea). I belong to an ethnic group with Muslim traditions, and I’m 28 years old. I’ve been in Portugal since I was 4, and I spent a number of years in Spain. I graduated in Social Service, and work in community intervention in the municipality of Sintra.
ECO123: How did the idea come about to form an agricultural school in Guinea-Bissau?
Filomena Djassi: It came about at the time of my first trip back to Guinea in 2008. I went back to my home area – “tabanca” (village) of Sancava, Gabú – where I noticed the poverty and a way of life linked to subsistence agriculture. There has never been a school there so that many people are illiterate. My first idea was to help to create a school but I thought it was important to get involved more widely, contributing to improving local agriculture.
I also realised that there were few Guineans with access to land, because it belongs mainly to Spanish people and to international cooperation organisations. When I learned that it was possible to acquire land, I decided to purchase 40 hectares, which cost me about 400 euros plus 2,000 euros to deal with legalisation.
ECO123: How is the project being implemented?
Filomena Djassi: Some residents and I started by creating the infrastructure for the school, by building a cement structure. Then a rural extension worker was contracted, a person with knowledge of agriculture and who had received training as a teacher. As this person lives in the city, they go to the school whenever I can manage to send money to pay them for their work and travel.
ECO123: How did the Musqueba women’s group come into being?
Filomena Djassi: As a consequence of the difficulties that arose during this project, I started to think about a more sustainable structure which would enable the situation to be changed on the ground in a more global manner. I thought that what was needed was a collective movement and concluded that it would be easier to set it up in the diaspora here in Portugal. I decided to mobilise a group of women around a cause. The idea is to rethink our traditions, question our values. What we are doing at the moment is thinking as a group and creating a number of places for getting involved culturally and socially. Our group has a firmer basis formed by seven of the more dedicated women, from different ethnic groups, different regions and different religions in Guinea.
ECO123: What is your view of the current situation in Guinea-Bissau?
Filomena Djassi: The institutions don’t work and international cooperation has failed in the sense that it cannot reverse the existing negative situation. However, there is a strong, young civil society. I also think that women have an important role to play. Guinea is a small country where everything is nearby and for this reason it is easier to change the country than in other parts of Africa.
“My first idea was to create a school”<
“The idea is to rethink our traditions, question our values”