Mariana Matoso [Founder] tells the story behind Reignite in an interview for Sunday Express, a UK Newspaper, published on 11th May 2014 and entitled “Before the dawn: Three women who survived the worst”. Below is the full excerpt.
Mariana Matoso lives in London and after a near-fatal accident in 2006, she set up a charity to help an African village. She says:
I was in my final year at university in Lisbon, Portugal, when a freak accident almost killed me. It was April 2006 and I was working out at the university gym, lying on the floor doing stretches, when another gym user accidentally dropped a 30kg weight on my stomach. I was rushed to the hospital where surgeons performed an emergency operation to repair my gallbladder, which had burst, and my intestines, which were lacerated. My mum Teresa and dad Fernando, who were living in the UK, told me later that the doctors had rung them to say they needed to board a flight immediately, as they couldn’t be sure I would survive.
After three weeks in the hospital, I was finally discharged. I still intended to finish my degree but now I wanted to do something more with my life. My accident had shown me that time is short and we need to make our mark in the world before it’s too late.
My dad was born in Angola and I used to love listening to his stories about Africa. I also grew up knowing first-hand about the poverty in parts of the continent and I’d always had the romantic notion of helping in some way. Now I felt a new resolve that this was definitely what I wanted to do.
Mum and Dad had volunteered for a development organisation in Cameroon and it was when they told me about a village called Bambui that something sparked in me. Sanitation is a real problem there, as they have no sewage or wastewater treatment systems, so there is a lot of unnecessary diseases. Farmers also struggle to water their crops during dry seasons because they have inadequate irrigation systems. I had a vision of helping the community sort out these problems by working with them on some relatively straightforward interventions and equipping them with the tools and education to sustain these changes.
After finishing my degree I moved to the UK to be closer to my parents. I got a job teaching Portuguese and started to look into how I might start a charity. It took a long while but when I received £70,000 compensation for my accident, I knew things could really start moving. My mum and dad agreed to help and, in November 2011, they went to Bambui and spent six months talking to locals to identify issues that needed resolving. They came home with a five-year plan and we launched our charity in August 2012.
Reignite, Action for Development
We set up an office in Bambui, where my mum and dad are now based. We have recruited volunteers and forged links with wonderful organisations such as Arup, the engineering company, and Engineers Without Borders UK, who helped us start sanitation and irrigation projects.
One simple initiative that we have brought into 19 local schools is the ‘tippy-tap’ – a hand-washing tool that is easily constructed from bits of wood that holds a water bottle and ‘soap on a rope’. Because there is no running water in Bambui, people don’t usually wash their hands after going to the toilet so disease spreads easily. It’s an alarming fact that diarrhoea kills more under-fives out there than AIDS, TB and malaria combined.
We have also built an eco-tourism and craft centre that employs four young local people with the aim of injecting money into the economy. And in the pipeline are water-management systems, a farming skills training scheme, bee-farming initiatives and a wastewater treatment station.
In October 2013 I visited Bambui myself. I had heard so many stories of these people that when I got there, I felt I already knew them. They were very welcoming and many of them said: ‘Thank you for believing in our potential.’
I was so impressed by their determination
One day in the torrential rain, I saw a skinny little boy, half-naked and about five or six, collecting water for his family. He was pushing a cart containing four 25-litre containers, struggling to shift it on the muddy ground, inch by inch. I guessed the journey would take him an hour or more but he was just getting on with it. Another day, I went to the local hospital where I saw a woman who had just given birth outside because there were no beds. It confirmed to me that much of what we take for granted would be seen as a huge luxury to these people.
Back home, as well as studying for my PhD – which is about how we can bring water to Africa – I usually spend one to three hours every day working on the charity. But I don’t see it as work – I see it as a labour of love. After all, I started this thing and now I have lots of people relying on me. And if there are days when I feel under the weather or worry that the task is too great to carry on, I think about that young boy or young mother and I keep going.”
“Before the dawn: Three women who survived the worst” inSunday Express, 11th May 2014.
Interview by Mariana Matoso. Photograph by Stuart Wood