The idea.

It all started in 2006. Mamadu Banjai, who works in Stavanger with children and young people with intellectual disabilities, had for a long time thought about doing something for this group of people in his home country, Guinea-Bissau. He contacted Espen Kolstø and Ingun Evensen, who also works in Stavanger with the same user group, in order to discuss the idea.

We quickly found out that this was something we all really wanted to be involved in. We had many meetings where we tried to find the way to go. We got in touch with various charities for tips. It turned out that there are a few of the major aid organizations involved in the country. Unicef has missions in the country, but mainly in connection with child mortality, and particularly in relation to malaria among children.

The journey to Guinea-Bissau

We decided to start a daycare center. Eventually we found out that this was the right choice. And after our visit to the country, we saw that there was huge demand for such a center. There was currently no help or aid to people with intellectual disabilities. Parents of such children often keep them hidden, and there are also murders. This is both because it is a disgrace to the family and because of superstition. There is a widespread belief that the child is bewitched. The country is very poor, and it’s done nothing to aid to this group. We could with our own eyes see what the conditions were, and decided to travel to the capital Bissau in January of 2008.

Before we went, we had made appointments for meetings with various health professionals. And we were welcomed with open arms everywhere. «It is good that someone will do something for youths with intellectual disabilities» we constantly heard, even from the country`s health director. Already the first day we were meeting the country’s only psychiatrist. He runs an outpatient clinic for the mentally ill. He liked the idea, and was interested in cooperating with us. At the meeting with the director on the same day, we got  housing for the center, at no cost. This house was in poor condition and needed some renovation work. We planned to renovate the house with help from the locals.

There are many people with intelectual disabilities in Guinea Bissau. Many children got brain damage because during pregnancy, the women are in need of iodine. Unfortunately, there are wide spread superstition in the area, so when Unicef started a project to add iodine to the salt, the superstitious believed that the iodine caused impotence, and they would no longer use the salt with iodine in it. We got to meet the woman who spearheaded the iodine program in the country, and she and her colleagues were frustrated with the futile position they were in. They did not know what to do next. They had worked so long and organized it so well, and also distribution was planned all over the country, but they were back to the start before it got fully under way. They would not give up. This is something for us to take with us now in the beginning. We would,  and will not give up when we meet adversity. The need is enourmous and our engagement is endless. We hope many of you will support us in this work.

If you have any comments, questions, or want us to contact you, please send us an e-mail: Post(at)guineabissau.no