In 1995, when I was 14 years old, I was one of 15 students selected from schools in Bissau to participate in a learning exchange organized by Tiniguena in Guinea-Bissau. The study tour visited Rio Grande Buba and Lagaou de Cufada, two important breeding areas for birds in West Africa. There, we stayed with peasant families, learned about the value of sacred forests, and how people meet their own medicinal and nutritional needs through a deep understanding and careful use of the rich diversity of native plants. Spending time in a rural area was eye-opening for me. In the city, our schools were more modern. We had books and libraries. In the rural areas these were virtually non-existent.
As part of the exchange, the students we visited in the countryside came to Bissau. Together, we met the Minister of Education and demanded quality education for all. Then we organized fundraising events and campaigns that led to the establishment of a new rural school. We were proud of this. It was deeply fulfilling.
Soon after, my fellow students and I created Geração nova da Tiniguena, a youth group promoting environmental education and participation of young people in civic processes, through weekly radio programs and regular events.
Inter Pares has supported Tiniguena and these rural-urban exchange visits for over two decades. While the destination changes from year to year, the motto stays the same: “to know is to love, to love is to protect”. In 2017, students visited the region of Farim, and witnessed the impact of open pit mining, and the suffering it was causing nearby communities. On their return to Bissau, the students organized public forums calling for greater regulation of mining companies.
These exchanges are building common cause and helping the youth of Guinea-Bissau to become socially engaged. This work is made possible thanks to the long-time support of allies like Inter Pares, and their generous supporters across Canada.