17 April 2003, CONAKRY, Guinea – One doesn't need to know sign language to understand that a deaf community in a poor neighbourhood of this coastal capital is delighted to receive a fishing canoe, outboard motor and nets with funding from FAO.

The story begins in 1998, when, yearning to be no longer dependent on their families, a group of five deaf young people managed to negotiate a small self-improvement grant from the Governments of Guinea and Canada. Since they lived in the fishing community of Dabondy, the ocean beckoned as a source of income and independence. The grant paid for a 15-horsepower outboard motor and a fishing net, and the group formed a partnership with a boat owner to go fishing. Still, they dreamed of greater independence.

The problem: no boat

"Our handicap doesn't present a particular problem for fishing," says Boubacar Berry, 23, president of the cooperative, who communicates with partial speech and his mother's help. "The problem was that we didn't have a boat."

In 1999, they got their boat, a five-metre ocean-going canoe. On a good day, a crew can bring in 200-300 kilograms of fish, earning about US$160 to US$240.

An FAO project, worth US$8 600, paid for the boat, a second 15-horsepower outboard motor, fishing nets, an insulated box to keep their catch fresh and money for a revolving fund to help pay for fuel and maintain equipment.

The group was fighting poverty, but it was also growing: to 10 men, who go fishing in shifts to get maximum use out of the boat, and 15 women, who process and sell the fish. "It is hard to say how much money I make because we share the money among the members of the cooperative," says Mr Berry. "But my life is better now. I am independent. For the future, I want to improve the way we fish, with more equipment."

More help needed

Sayongbe Bangoura, 27, married with six children, uses sign language to communicate with an interpreter, who translates into the local language, Soussou. A second interpreter translates into French for visitors.

"Thanks to this project, I have a little more to eat, but it really isn't enough. I'm looking for more help," she says. "If my profits go up, the priority is always a bit more food – there is never enough – and then it would be to save some money."

The "Deaf fishing community of Dabondy", as the cooperative is known, is still seeking modest help. When the men return in the middle of the night with too many fish for their insulated ice-filled boxes, the extra fish rots before the women rise the next morning to light the smoking ovens. A couple of extra boxes would make a lot of difference.

They asked FAO to publicize their story so that charitable organizations might learn of their needs. Anyone wishing to help can contact the FAO Representation in Conakry at FAO-GN@fao.org.

Peter Lowrey
Information Officer, FAO
+39 06 570 52762