We personally visited the village of Massarankissidou. You’ll learn more about our impressions from the trip and the actual situation there in this article.
In December 2018, we travelled to Guinea to visit Massarankissidou with a number of friends, family members, and supporters. There were multiple reasons behind our trip. First off, it was our wish to see family and friends who lived there. Secondly, we wanted to assess and document the current situation and living conditions in the village.
For most of the German members accompanying us, their goal for the trip was to closely experience life in a remote village, not through the eyes of a tourist, but as a guest in the everyday life of the locals. The main point of the trip, though, was to complete work for our development project “Water for Massarankissidou.”
The troublesome route to Massarankissidou
The biggest problem regarding a visit to Massarankissidou is actually making it to the village due to the fact that the few roads leading there are filled with potholes, cracks, and other obstructions. These make for a very unpleasant trip as soon as you leave Conakry, and start your way inland.
When we arrived at our stopping point after a two-day car trip, it meant “rien ne vas plus” for our travel bus, because from Macenta to Massarankissidou it is impossible to drive a car. The roads leading to the surrounding villages are in such catastrophic condition that they’re only accessible by motorcycle. These heavily used routes (where a moped skids more than it drives) get flooded in the rainy season, and alternate between being extremely smooth and very bumpy.
During the adventurous drive, there were luckily only minor injuries and inconveniences, like a broken motorcycle, but it became apparent that one of the largest problems would be the logistical part of even getting aid to the people in Massarankissidou. Cars can’t drive, large cargo can’t be transported by moped, and walking 60 kilometers by foot to the nearest city isn’t a reality. Because of this, rivers are often used to transport larger goods. For example, our founding member Allassane Camara once used all the strength he could muster to drive an all terrain vehicle full of mattresses through the rivers to the village.
Arriving in the village
After an energy-sapping 4-hour motorcycle ride, we finally arrived in the village, and were greeted in a party-like manner. The village community hired two drummers, and welcomed our exhausted group with singing and dancing.
After such a brutal trip, being greeted in such a warm-hearted and happy way by the locals greatly reinforced our morale, and made us want to help them even more.
As guests in Massarankissidou
After the merry welcome, we made our way to our shelter. Our travel group had the opportunity to stay in the house of mayor Bangali Camara – he accompanied us all the way from Macenta to the village. The rooms in which we stayed reflected the poor living conditions that were found in Massarankissidou. Bangali Camara does not live alone in the house though. Normally the house’s five rooms are shared between multiple families.
Water for showering and the toilet stood prepared in a bucket; everyone understood that this water had been lugged all the way from the river by children, and knew to respect every drop as if it were the last. A small solar panel on the roof provided enough electricity for a lightbulb. It provided us with a bit of light in the darker hours.
In the circle of the village community
In the meantime, the mayor rounded up the high ranking men of the village, and we all sat together in a circle. Among those from Massarankissidou, there were also mutual friends from other villages in the surrounding area, who wanted to see if friends from Conakry and even Europe would really come all the way to Massarankissidou.
They prayed for us, and as a sign of respect, a shirt of the founding father of Massarankissidou was passed around. The village inhabitants made it very clear that they didn’t underestimate our knowledge and skills, due to our long trek all the way from Europe just to visit and help them. The village is eternally thankful that we’re making efforts to improve the drinking water situation. The mayor explained “We are poor, you guys are rich, and there’s not a lot we can offer you. What we do have available, though, is land, and we are happy to share with you what the land has offer.” To celebrate the day, a cow was slaughtered. While of high value, it was the village’s form of a gift for us and the whole community.
The customs of the village inhabitants really show themselves: In Massarankissidou live people who place a great importance on respect and guest friendliness. To that, the community knows exactly what sort of terrible living conditions they’re experiencing. Pushing through all of that, they’re still proud of what they’ve accomplished, as well as their cultural roots. We found that remarkable.
We accompany the children to the river
Visiting the water source was number one on our agenda. We were able to convince many of the kids to accompany us down to the river.
We documented the way down to the river and back on film, and used GPS sensors to track distance, elevation etc. The resulting video can be viewed here. Many of the German travellers were shocked by the current water situation. The original thought of a roaring river right next to the village turned out to be quite the opposite. The reality was an ankle deep stream, much farther away than anticipated, where the kids worked laboriously to fill their canisters with water.
Once we arrived at the river, we started taking water samples and doing water analysis. The needed equipment was kindly provided by the Bremen sector of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) – this in preparation for a possible partnership on the well project.
The bacterial analysis is necessary to start talking terms for building a well. If the water were over-polluted, for example, there would be no sense in building a well that would deliver dirty water.
An alternative that would come into question (should a well not be suitable) would be to build a rain water collection device. For this, we measured out the dimensions of the roofs, and constructed the first ever map of Massarankissidou.
Very touching was the openness and friendliness that was brought upon us by the inhabitants, while we were completing our work. There were smiling faces to be seen out of every house entrance, with people yelling “Merci, merci beaucoup!” to us. Also through that, it became apparent just how dearly they wished for a well; something that they could not finance on their own or as a community.
Leading conversation with the locals
After returning from the water source, we took it upon ourselves to talk with the children and local people about the current life circumstances. Through that, multiple shocking points came to light.
A big problem in the village is still malaria. In Massarankissidou alone, over ten kids die every year from the mosquito-borne disease. We had printed photos from previous visits, through which it became very quiet and sad – reason for that is clear. On top of malaria, most of the sickness includes diarrhea, vomiting, and febrile seizures. We personally had to experience some of this. During the trip, Jutta Mester-Camara got very sick from malaria, and only barely survived it.
An additional problem is the education. When we questioned the kids who brought us down to the river about their ages, none of them were able to provide answers. Most of the citizens can’t read, write, or solve mathematical problems. The kids don’t have the option to learn these skills, which would allow them to do something more constructive with their lives. For over a year, no teaching has taken place. The village currently can’t finance a teacher. Even in exchange for local goods and shelter, no new teacher wants to work in the village
Shortage of money is already an existing problem in Massarankissidou. The little amounts of agricultural earnings are used for self-sufficiency, while the few extra crops are sold in the surrounding region by the women and children, who also have to carry it by foot, due to the catastrophic roads.
Another point that crossed our minds was the shortage of younger men in the village; they are mainly living outside of the village, seeking work in surrounding diamond mines, or other forms of income. Trying to keep living as a family in Massarankissidou isn’t the most suitable option anymore, due to many more high paying jobs being available outside of the village.
A walk through the village
During our visit, we decided to go and get a general overview and tour of the village. The mayor, Bangali Camara, led us through Massarankissidou and showed us what the community is currently working on. We were impressed by the improvisation and self-sufficiency that the locals showed towards their projects. The people in Massarankissidou are quite the opposite of helpless, and actively try to improve their living conditions through the materials that they have available to them. For example, they crafted a clay brick press out of an old motor, and transformed a car battery into a charging station, in the house of the mayor.
Everyone in Massarankissidou wishes that the kids could get an education. All of the citizens know that this is the only chance to access a better life. With the help of the clay brick press, the citizens even constructed a school building. The building stands empty, though, as there is no teacher to educate the kids; and what are the locals going to teach the kids? Maybe how to grow coffee?
Also worth noting was the medical building. The community built their own clinic, as well as another one that is under construction outside of the village, due to sanitary reasons. In this heavily used building lie the few medications that are available to the community.
A message to the world
During our stay in the village, it occurred to us that we should videotape the mayor. He should personally name all the problems in Massarankissidou, and the ones they need the most support with.
Bangali Camara was astonished by our plans, because filming him would give an inside perspective on the problems which we can’t relate to, and would later be shown in Guinea and Europe to spread awareness. With an improved tripod and a compact camera, we filmed Bangali in the village. The resulting video can be found in the project overview of “Water For Massarankissidou.”
After a two-day stop, and lots of work, it was time to depart for the return journey. Nobody was remotely excited for the motorcycle ride back to Macenta. We left the village leaving with mixed feelings, teary eyes, and a crowd of cheering kids who ran after us.
The trip to Massarankissidou left our travel group with lasting impressions. First off we were appalled by the living conditions, but were secondly amazed by the friendliness, openness, and self sustainability of the inhabitants. After the trip it was clear to everyone: We want to support Massarankissidou. It can’t be that these people have to live without a nearby supply of water, medicine, or access to education.
We’re standing up for Massarankissidou – Join us!
Massarankissidou stands as a symbol for the serious humanitarian issues that are apparent in most villages of rural Guinea. You are fully welcome to support us with our developmental work. With your donation, you ensure that we can continue our well project and can implement further measures to improve their lives.