Tabanca de Suzana, a magical place: My Summer Research Internship

On this past summer of 2019 I had the opportunity to work on an ongoing NOVAFRICA field research project with the NOVAFRICA Summer Research Internships. As a master student with particular interest in Development Economics, a topic on which I intend to focus as a future researcher, I can only say this was the ideal internship experience. Not only I was able to apply what I’ve learn throughout the last year of classes, which I was very excited about putting into practice, as I also learned a lot more of working on the field, discovering a lot of challenges in the day to day work of a field researcher and a lot of joy in 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 in distance but far away in time. 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 really long short way to the village of Suzana, meaning 150 kms, or 6 hours of journey in a big jeep and literally jumping all the way to 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. All the 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 from the domestic animals freely walking through the muddy roads of Suzana (as we were in the floods season) to the snakes that twice showed up at my door, the 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 important 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 like Suzana, with very reduced antenna signal and 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 this two-month period.

Suzana village, Guinea-Bissau

Suzana village, Guinea-Bissau

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. The mutuality of Suzana works similarly to a health insurance but it takes advantage of the community involvement in the project. Briefly explaining, the locals who decide to adhere 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 dislocation to “Hospital de São Domingos” (the nearest hospital) in case of need. I was in charge of promoting the project and deliver an “intervention package” with hope of increasing the take up rates of the mutuality program. Also, in order to access the impact of the intervention, the collection of data was needed. Therefore, during my stay I had to collect the data, preparing the questionnaires and testing them on the tablets, training and coordinating the inquiry team which went day by day knocking door to door in the village of Suzana, prepare the intervention, a training session with the community’ women leaders, which were acting as promoters, and collect back the information needed to access the impact of the intervention, this is, 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 on 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, but what I take the most from the two months I spent there are, without any doubt, 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 a very welcoming people, always prompted to chat and share things with you, to build a relation of 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 truly good 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!

Written by Simão Paiva, student of the Master in Economics at Nova SBE and member of the NOVAFRICA Student Group.