Lacking access to social services and facilities endangers lives

Young girl at the children’s village (photo: C. Ladavicius)
The city of Canchungo is located in the Cacheu region in northern Guinea-Bissau and has a population of roughly 45,000. Rice cultivation, subsistence agriculture and fishing are the main local economic activities. The population continues to face incredibly difficult day to day living conditions: the UN Development Index, for example, which assesses a country’s progress in terms of health, education and income, ranks Guinea-Bissau 176th out of 187 countries. This means that living conditions here are well below even Sub-Saharan African standards. Conditions in the north, where most people are small-scale subsistence farmers, are particularly bad. Infrastructure, such as health services and schools, are not sufficiently available, and the healthy development of thousands of children is severely endangered.

When it comes to reproductive health, too, there is a severe lack of services and information campaigns. The high costs of transportation to health facilities and of medicines continue to be a problem for the local population. In addition, facilities are often understaffed, or staff are not sufficiently trained in areas such as emergency obstetrics. These factors all contribute to the high rates of both infant and maternal mortality in the region. Severe malnutrition, especially in children, and diseases like malaria, diarrhoea and respiratory diseases, as well as the HIV/AIDS pandemic have aggravated the health situation.

Education is crucial for social inclusion

The overall conditions of poverty make the population very vulnerable, especially single or widowed women, unmarried young people, migrants, internally displaced people, and of course children. The distribution of wealth in the country is highly unequal, and people with a lower social status have limited access to productive resources such as land, skills, or capital. This makes them highly dependent on others – usually the husband or senior male of the family.

Literacy is also very low, at an average of 42.4 per cent. But while 58.1 per cent of men can read and write, only 27.4 per cent of women can. Part of the reason for this discrepancy is the fact that girls are expected to take on traditional roles within the family, marrying young and going on to have large families. However, without being able to read or write, access to information is restricted, and exclusion from social and economic processes is the result. This makes it incredibly hard for girls to become independent, self-determining adults.

What we do in Canchungo

At the SOS primary school in Canchungo (photo: C. Ladavicius)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Canchungo in 2007. The SOS Family Strengthening Programme, which we offer at our social centres, ensures that families in need have access to essential services, including clean drinking water, sufficient food, regular health care and counselling, and comprehensive knowledge of HIV/AIDS. We also help parents send their children to school by providing scholarships, as well as getting birth certificates for those children who do not have one. To help parents improve their own situation, we grant micro credits, provide materials for improving their homes, as well as guidance and information on health, nutrition, and hygiene topics. The SOS Social Centre supports 670 beneficiaries at the moment. All our efforts have the goal of maintaining family stability and alleviating hardship so that children can grow up in a secure home.

For children from the region who can no longer live with their parents, twelve SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 120 children. In each family, the children live with their brothers and sisters, affectionately cared for by their SOS mother.

The children attend the SOS Kindergarten together with children from the neighbourhood. This ensures that they make friends and are integrated into the local community from a young age. The kindergarten is very important to the local population as it allows single mothers and working parents to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living. The children then continue their education at the SOS Hermann Gmeiner primary school, which is attended by up to 420 pupils. Due to the scarcity of schools in the region, the presence of the SOS school is very important here.