In this past summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to work on an ongoing Nova SBE NOVAFRICA Knowledge Center field research project with the Nova SBE NOVAFRICA Knowledge Center Summer Research Internships. As a Master's student with a particular interest in Development Economics, a topic I intend to focus on as a future researcher, I can only say this was the ideal internship experience. Not only was I able to apply what I've learned throughout the last year of classes, which I was very excited about putting into practice, but I also learned a lot more working in the field, discovering a lot of challenges in the day-to-day work of a field researcher and a lot of joy doing so.
My experience took place in Guinea-Bissau, Suzana, a remote village quite far from the capital city of Bissau. Or if I can, not so far distance-wise but far away time-wise. After landing in Bissau and staying for a couple of days to buy food and water for one month (there are no supermarkets in Suzana, of any kind) and some other essentials, mostly office materials, I finally jumped into a long/short way to the village of Suzana, meaning 150 km, or 6 hours of journey in a big jeep and jumping all the way there. Suzana is a magical place. The heat from the tropics and getting lost in the chaotic but very welcoming capital city was left behind. I could now feel the fresh air and nature in this very different scenario. Just as I arrived, I felt like I was on a different dimension, the 'deep in the jungle' dimension. Nature surrounding and involving the village: the very traditional and beautiful landscapes of the Guinea-Bissau country side, characterized by a very vivid green and flooded rice fields (the 'bolanha'), the houses with traditional thatched roofs, and the domestic animals freely walking through the muddy roads of Suzana (as we were in the floods season) , the snakes that showed up twice at my door; nature was everywhere, in a very unique and authentic form.
I was going to stay in Suzana for two months. The time was short for all the work we had to do. It is essential to consider that everything that can be done so easily in your usual work environment turns into a chaotic workplace scenario when you are in such a remote place, with very reduced antenna signal and a very slow internet connection, with storms that would make the ground shake, happening every week (it was, sometimes, a bit scary). Fortunately, we were always able to overcome the limitations and managed to conclude all the tasks we had to do in the field by the end of these two months.
I was allocated to the project "Belief Systems and Health Behaviors in Guinea Bissau", more specifically the "mutualidades de Suzana" section of the project, a health project in partnership with the NGO VIDA. Suzana's mutuality works similarly to health insurance, but it takes advantage of the community involvement in the project. The locals, who decide to join the program, pay a reduced monthly or annual quota and get free access to the local health center, benefiting from free health medical care, such as free appointments and medicines, and transportation to "Hospital de São Domingos" (the nearest hospital). I was in charge of promoting the project and delivering an "intervention package" to increase the take-up rates of the mutuality program. Also, to access the impact of the intervention, the collection of data was needed. Therefore, during my stay, I had to collect data, prepare questionnaires and test them on the tablets, train and coordinate the inquiry team which went everyday knocking on doors in the village of Suzana, prepare the intervention - a training session with the community' women leaders which were acting as promoters -, and collect the information needed to access the impact of the intervention if the work of the promoters had any impact on the take up rates of the mutuality project. Also, an important part of the work I did there consisted of data management and cleaning.
Of course, a lot of the experience is about working, doing things you never did before, learning and overcoming obstacles day by day. Still, what I take the most from the two months I spent there are, without any doubt, was the people I have met along the journey, the friends I have made, and the smiles and laughs I have shared with the people from Suzana. Guineans are very welcoming people, always prompted to chat and share things with you, to build a friendship. As I started to learn creole, I became closer to everyone, getting to know better the so rich and diverse culture of Guinea-Bissau with so many different ethnicities, traditions, and so much to discover. I've made terrific friends. Friends who made me feel at home, who shared stories with me and with whom I shared stories with, who invited me to their houses to meet their families and to sit and eat with them. I even got the chance to play football in the great stadium of Suzana with the locals; it was a tough match!
Student of the Master's in Economics at Nova SBE and member of the Nova SBE NOVAFRICA Knowledge Center Student GroupWebsite
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