If just reading about Sal Island, Cabo Verde didn’t give you enough reasons to drop tools and help the people of Sal achieve something great, here is some of our logic behind starting Counting Hope with the people of Sal. Unfortunately, even when you visit the island it is hard to see these reasons first hand due to the fact that Cape Verde is service-orientated and hotels discourage people from venturing into the areas of the island where the following can be seen.

Children being taught outdoors in Sal, Cape Verde

A cry for knowledge

As Counting Hope focuses on education because we believe it is invaluable, it’s only right that this is at the top of our list! Whilst the people of Sal know education is key, teachers are in very short supply in Cape Verde and most parents can’t even read or write themselves let alone support their children.  Many students that have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to choose to travel to another country to further their education. Not only is this expensive, the majority of those who do go abroad to study find much better opportunities in other countries and never return; meaning that the situation on Sal Island never gets better.

Dangerous working/learning environments

In most cases, schools are better described as “shells” where people attempt to learn. From the outside, a lot of schools could be mistaken for a prison; only with broken glass in place of bars and walls that are barely taller than the door frames. Some schools don’t even have shelter over parts and if they do it is often in the form of sheet metal. For a lot of school children, they are lucky to have foam mats or wooden chairs to sit on and most often they can only sit on a concrete floor. Things like whiteboards and textbooks are luxuries to teachers, and technology is a true rarity. That said even if the richer schools where technology is available it is used very little due to the lack of knowledge that teachers have surrounding it. All in all, most classrooms aren’t equipped to teach.

Playgrounds do not get any better either. If they are not entirely concrete some do have sandpits, but the sand tends to get red hot before the middle of the day due to the intense sun. We’ve also seen young students jumping from concrete stages and wooden barrels straight onto concrete!

Health risks

On the whole of Sal Island, there is only two hospitals and neither of which are open all day weekdays. This means that the people of Sal often have to live life by the edge and are constantly taking massive risks that they may not even know about, for example school children could easily seriously injure themselves in the “playground”. Beyond injuries, the very thing that makes Cabo Verde a popular tourist destination – its brilliant sunshine – is still one of the biggest health risks, especially to younger children who are even more susceptible to sun damage! Keeping hydrated is crucial for anyone that works and plays in the sun, whether you are accustomed to it or not, but clean water is hard to come by in Sal and has to be bought at cost price. With very little shelter and no money for clothes, the situation is worsened by the fact that the thousands living in slums are almost completely exposed to the full sun. And that’s not to mention all the other health issues which we take for granted, like infections, food poisoning and animal bites which would all require medical attention.

Poverty

Cabo Verde is a very poor country ever since ships stopped using it as a stop off. There is a true democracy in Cabo Verde and whilst the government do help where they can, they are relatively poor themselves! It’s nice to see that everyone on Sal Island is making a real effort to reduce poverty levels, including the government, however there are still thousands of families living in slums, fighting over old car tyres that can be used to make things like shoes, sending their children out to have sex for money, and desperately handcrafting gifts in the hope that they may be able to sell them to tourists. Those who can find a job sometimes live slightly better, especially those who can speak English or that have studied abroad, in houses of varying sizes. Depending on their wages, some can even afford to have a water, gas, and/or electricity supply.

At the moment, the majority of jobs have been created by hotels that are owned by European chains and international companies. This means that very little of the money these organisations make helps the local economy due to small salaries and the majority of profits going back to headquarters in other countries.

Potential

There is so much potential on Sal Island, both in the people and in the land.  We believe that with the right education, the people of Sal Island will be able to achieve their full potential and it is clear to see that would make a huge positive impact on the island. The problem isn’t a lack of dreams or ideas, it’s the lack of resources and knowledge to be able to put them into action. So much of the island is untouched and could be used to help transform people’s lives, either through things like green energy, or community centres, or to create job opportunities, etc. however at the minute hotel chains and international companies cannot build fast enough.

Cape Verde has no exports

At the moment, the only thing that Cape Verde has to offer as a country is tourism and foreign exchange. As far as we have seen it is extremely difficult for anything to get anything of real use to grow on Sal Island and virtually everything is imported – from bottled water to tradespeople. Efforts have been made to artificially create conditions so that some fruit and vegetables can grow but this is an expensive process and it doesn’t produce anywhere enough to feed the island, let alone export to other places. At Counting Hope, we don’t believe this has to be the way and we hope to explore the options that Sal Island has to become less reliant on imports and less dependent on tourism.

They learn our language

One of the things that touched us about the people of Sal Island is that they told us:

We have realised that in order for our children to be successful in life they have to learn English

This is a sad truth which we feel is unfair. Why should it be that to have a nice life the people of Sal have to learn a foreign language? Whilst they have accepted this fact and don’t complain about learning English, we want to be able to change that fact and create opportunities for the people of Sal Island in their own language.

The people of Sal Island are lovely

The motto for Cabo Verde is “No Stress” and despite all their struggles and hardship, they remain committed to this motto. It is rare for you to find anybody on Sal Island without a smile on their face or that won’t give you the time of day, and then stop to have a conversation with you. Importantly nobody asks for anything for nothing. On the rare occasion that somebody asks you for some help or money, they will always offer you something in return and do not expect anything for nothing from anyone. Nobody asked us to start Counting Hope, even though the excitement on everyone’s faces when we told them our plans showed us that Counting Hope was the opportunity they so desperately need. We are confident that the people of Sal Island will use their determination to work with us and make their home everything they want it to be. It is clear that nothing could stop them, so we can’t wait to see what happens when we help them!