Born in Madrid in 1987, I did all my studies at the French Lyceum of Madrid and got my degree in Journalism at the San Pablo Ceu University. Graduated in the MA Photojournalism and Documentary photography at the London College of Communication. As a journalist I always try to approach issues from different perspectives and provide a truthful insight. I´m currently based in Madrid working as a freelance for local agencies. My stories are born out of curiosity and a never ending pursue of understanding human being. I want to raise questions and show the world we live in, its virtues and mistakes.
On March 24th, Dennis Sassou Nguesso won the presidential election in the Republic of Congo, making him one the oldest rulers in the continent after winning a referendum last September that changed the constitution, allowing candidates aged over 70 and scrapping the two-term limit. But this small Central African country has a cultural movement that transcends politics and aims to become a national symbol.
Yves François Ngatsongo, also known locally by the nickname Yves Saint Laurent, after the world famous fashion designer, is president of “France Libre”, the first association of Sapeur in the Republic of Congo. “La Sape” (Societé des Ambianceurs et Personnes Elegantes) was born during the colonial years.
What started as a resistance movement toward French ruling quickly became one of Brazzaville´s most characteristic symbols, to the point that Irish beer Guinness used them in one of their commercials as a symbol of authenticity. Taxi drivers, teachers or artisans spend their little wages in expensive clothes from Europe to be part of these African dandies.
Rosine Assemekang never understood the Western ideal of beauty. For this Congolese woman, those tall, thin girls’ did not represent African women.
“Our women have curves, ample bottoms. African men like la femme forte (a strong woman),” she said.
While Europe is struggling against anorexia - France, following the steps of Israel in 2013, recently passed a law banning excessively thin fashion models, exposing modelling agents and fashion houses that hire them to possible fines and even jail - Africa praises curvy women. Seven years ago Rosine started a beauty pageant with the idea of showing how these "femmes fortes" were completely capable of modelling and catwalking. The Miss Mama Kilo pageant was born. Seven years later it's become one of Brazzaville's most exclusive events. Tickets ranged from 80 to 160 Euros for the ceremony held at the Continental Palace, one of Brazzaville's best hotels, where this year 18 contestants ranging from 100 to 170 kg represented five countries - Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Benin and Central African Republic - participated in the contest. Shopkeepers, hairdressers, teachers, cooks and even a comedian walked down the runway and stood for their ideals towards beauty.
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There is a saying among Venezuelans: “Venezuela’s main exports are petrol and beautiful women.” Known primarily for its natural wonders, its ex-president Hugo Chavez and its crime rates, Venezuela is a country where beauty is taken to the next level. Miss Venezuela transcends any other national beauty contest and over the decades it has become a trademark for the country, transforming a TV show into a national pride seen by millions of people.
Families around the country gather in front of the screen to watch the show. In a place where people have found in satellite TV a way to avoid state-controlled media, this beauty pageants is the most seen show of the year with an audience’s share never below 60%. The day after the pageant, the new ‘queen’ is all over the newspapers, and the results creates a debate worthy of a presidential campaign. Venezuelans elect their queen, which symbolizes more than a woman. She becomes an icon, a symbol of beauty and nationhood.
For many women, modeling offers a chance to leave one of most dangerous countries in the world - where unemployment and a strict currency control make it difficult to look for opportunities abroad. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, 24.980 people were killed in 2014 – ex-Miss Venezuela Monica Spear was among those victims. With constant class tension and when and bloody confrontation is part of daily life, the election of a Venezuelan “goddess” is a rare source of common ground in the society.
"I've been modeling since I was 5," said Josbey Arcia. "I believe this industry pushes you to your limits. You need to have personality. Being a model is fantastic, being on a catwalk while people look at you, knowing that some girls hope to be you some day. It's incredible."
Venezuela holds the record for the most “Miss Universe” titles in the world (7) and is Guinness World Record holder for winning two years in a row (2008, 2009). Gabriela Isler, Miss Venezuela 2013 and current Miss Universe, will pass the crown next January 25th in Miami.
Migbelis Lynette, a 19-year-old from Cabimas will represent Venezuela in the most important beauty pageant of the year. However, Venezuelans do not choose the most natural girl. The country is a paradise for plastic surgery in terms of price and quality. 35,000 to 40,000 breast enlargements take place every year, and Miss Venezuela contestants are no exception.
Advertisements can be found everywhere, acting as a reminder that you can always look better. Women are aware of the influence of commercial media, but that does not diminish a perpetual competition of the prettiest. The definition of beauty gets lost between scalpel and silicone, and perfection is the ultimate goal.
These beauty queens have set a standard that many young girls hope to achieve one day. Modeling school becomes another extracurricular activity, just like ballet or theatre, making experience crucial to success in the business.
Five-year-old girls learn how to walk with heeled shoes and learn basic modeling movements and photo-shoot skills, so that when they reach fifteen they are ready for the big catwalks.
After more than a decade of violence and political unrest, Ivory Coast is experiencing important investments from foreign nations in an attempt to encourage economic growth in the country. But while government projects will allegedly benefit the population, some people suffer from evictions that are pushing many Ivoirians from their homes to make room for high-visibility infrastructure projects.
In October, the country announced a $114 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China at two-percent interest over 20 years to finance a six-lane motorway construction linking Abidjan to the historical city of Grand-Bassam, 30 km to the east.
Gonzagueville belongs to the Port Bouet commune, in the outskirts of the capital. All of the buildings in the suburb of Abidjan have been demolished to make way for the construction of the Abidjan-Grand Bassam motorway.
According to witnesses, police officers arrived early in the morning in the southern coastal suburb of Gonzagueville and burned down several tents, threatening residents and telling them to leave the premises immediately. “Some of us were woken up at 5 A.M,” they say, “and told we had one hour to leave.”
Residents say the government didn't set an official date for them to leave by. They proposed to start next summer to avoid disrupting the school year, but the government refused.
Several miles of houses in Gonzagueville, among other areas, were taken down as part of a $114 million project aimed at developing the tourist sector along Ivory Coast's south coast and help ease congestion in the capital Abidjan.
The Ivoirian government has planned to pay $6.5 million in compensations to relocate the people living in these areas. However many say they haven’t received the money they were promised and are living among the debris of what used to be their homes.
Isaac is a traditional healer. He has no place to go and is staying with a friend. He hasn't been able to work ever since he was evicted due to the lack of space at his friend’s place.
Another resident evicted, Viviane is moving back to her home country, Ghana. She says she hasn't received any compensation. “And even if I did, it would not be enough to buy a new home.”
People claim that residents living in shanties and tents across the coastline in Gonzagueville are constantly threatened by local authorities to leave the area. Those lucky enough move in with friends, but most of those displaced by the demolitions have no place to go and are forgotten by local authorities.
Assouan Carine says that she and her mother were living in a tent with six more families until local authorities burned it down.
Before being evicted, residents remove literally everything from their homes, including the roof, to use it in their future houses. However, several families have no place to go and are surviving among debris in unhealthy environments. Improvised camps can be found across the coastline in Gonzagueville, often hosting multiple families, who struggle to have access to the most basic needs, like clean water.
Most children can't go back to school and have to stay home in the rubble of their former township with their families and help search for steel and re-sellable metal in abandoned houses.
Hotels, churches and gas stations were also taken down. Some crosses are set by residents in the sand across the coastline to mark the former emplacement of churches.
Many other projects are being undertaken by the government – including roads, housing and infrastructure upgrades - to boost the already high production of rubber and cocoa. Ivory Coast is the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and its economic capital Abidjan is known as Western Africa's Paris.
Prayer houses have become a public health concern for the Congolese Government. The misconception many Congolese have about physical and mental illness makes them avoid hospitals and go to their nearest prayer house.
The “Galilaya” Church has many of these prayer houses across the Congo. It belongs to the 8th Community of the Pentecostal Churches of Central Africa (8th CEPAC) and is one of the many movements that shape the religious landscape in North Kivu´s capital, Goma, a city with 1 million inhabitants in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In a nation that has witnessed so much horror and violence many turn to religion in the search for answers and solutions.
The DRC has a strong Christian tradition born out of colonialism. It is estimated that around 90% of the 70 million inhabitants are of Christian faith. However religious schisms have created an increasing number of religious movements within Christianity. Pentecostalism is one of these movements. This renewal movement within Christianity is based on four fundamental beliefs: Salvation, Baptism with the Holy Spirit, divine healing and the Second Coming of Christ. It is the notion of divine healing that has given the movement such strength in a region punished by war and misery for the last 20 years. Pastors like Moise Munyuabumba, head of the Galilaya Church, promise divine healing to every Congolese who embraces the faith. The pastor has apparently cured patients of sterility, mental traumas, sexual impotence, and even cancer, along with other ailments. The church comes together a few times a week in the prayer house to seek salvation. The prayer houses are people’s homes that have been turned into churches. The healing sessions are intense. The faithful usually go into a trance-like state and sometimes end up having prophecies or speak in tongues.
The misconception many Congolese have about modern medicine makes them avoid hospitals and go to their nearest prayer house. This misconception stems from the idea of witchcraft and old beliefs in which the source of evil emanates from sorcery or spells. Easy treatable diseases can become lethal because of late diagnosis. People with a burn would rather go to a prayer house than a hospital. Those who go to hospitals might not find the answers they were looking for and will try their luck with people like Pastor Moise Munyuabumba. Desperation and fear make many Congolese seek spiritual shelter in “Galilaya” where their physical and mental traumas can be healed through praying. In the third largest country in Africa where life expectancy is 48, modern medicine has to combat Churches like “Galilaya” who promise divine healing. The DRC also has the lowest rank in the Human Development Report along with Niger.
Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
After experiencing the deadliest war since World War 2, healthcare in the Democratic Republic of Congo is in disarray and millions of people are relying on shamans and spiritual healers to treat their physical and psychological disorders. The absence of infrastructure and health care facilities, combined with a lack of faith in western-style medical treatment, means that most patients go to local shamans or radical Christian ‘houses of prayer’ instead of hospitals. Many of these ‘traditional’ health practitioners believe that mental and physical disorders are the result of witchcraft or demonic possession, and thus condone the use of highly unorthodox methods to ‘extract’ the illness or 'demon'. In the DRC, western-style health institutions are regarded only as a last-ditch solution. This attitude has only exacerbated the endemic and led to many deaths from treatable diseases.
Plastic surgery ads are part of Caracas's urban landscape.
According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, 24.980 people were killed in 2014 in Venezuela. Ex Miss Venezuela Monica Spear was among those victims. Modeling offers an chance to leave one of most dangerous countries in the world where unemployment and a strict currency control make it difficult to look for opportunities abroad.
Restoring the coastline is an essential part of the project. The government expects to boost tourism in this forgotten area.
Hotels, churches and gas stations were also taken down. Local children search for steel and re-sellable metal in this abandoned swimming pool.
Crosses set in the sand across the coastline mark the former emplacement of churches.
According to residents the government didn't set an official date for them to leave by. They proposed to start next summer to avoid disrupting the school year, but the government refused. Some were woken up at 5 A.M. and told they had one hour to leave.
The new motorway is expected to be ready in March 2015.
Assouan Carine (left) and her mother were living in a tent with 6 more families until local authorities burned it down.
According to witnesses, police officers burned down several tents and threatened residents, telling them to leave the premises immediately.
Improvised camps can be found across the coastline in Gonzagueville, often hosting multiple families.
A boy smokes fish in a makeshift oven amid the ruins of Gonzagueville. People living in shanties and tents across the coastline here are constantly threatened by local authorities to leave the area.
Those lucky enough move in with friends, but most of those displaced by the demolitions have no place to go and are forgotten by local authorities.
Access to clean water is limited. A man seeks water in one of the few functioning wells in the area.
A ruined building and field of rubble are all that is left of Gonzagueville in Port Bouet.
Residents collect everything they can to use in their future homes.
Right after the bulldozers left, Gonzagueville became an open scrap market. Reinforcing steel bars can be sold at 2$ per kilo.
On October 2011, Ivory Coast signed an agreement with China that will help finance a massive highway construction project.
Ivory Coast is the largest economy in the West African Economic and Monetary Union, and it's economic capital Abidjan is known as Western Africa's Paris.
Before being evicted, residents remove literally everything from their homes, including the roof, to use it in their future houses.
Several families have no place to go and are surviving among debris in unhealthy environments.
Most children can't go back to school and have to stay home in the rubble of their former township with their families.
Dao Lassana stands in what used to be his bedroom. As a landlord he was supposed to received around $284 in compensation from the government.
Viviane is moving back to her home country, Ghana. She hasn't received any compensation; and even if she did, it would not be enough to buy a new home.
Isaac is a traditional healer. He has no place to go and is staying with a friend. He hasn't been able to work ever since he was evicted due to the lack of space.
Gonzagueville belongs to the Port Bouet commune. All of the buildings in the suburb of Abidjan have been demolished to make way for the construction of the Abidjan-Grand Bassam motorway.
Justin Kabumba with his sister Beat Mekarubamba. Beat has been diagnosed with breast cancer and seeks healing in the Galilaya prayer house.
Ghislaine Kahindo had diabetes.
Collette Muhanwe was sterile.
Furahu Kahalako had mental illness.
At the end of every Mass and prayer session, women tell how Galilaya changed their lives. In this case sterile women show their newborns.
Galilayas prayer house in Goma, North Kivu.
Members of the Kombolewa choir during a Mass.
John Akilimali was cured of poisoning.
Every Saturday women come with their sons to the Galilayas prayer house. On this day, Pastor Moise Munyuabumba conducts the prayer and heals people. Many women who suffer from sterility come to see the Pastor.
Daniel Masumbuko is from Uganda and has had a very close relationship with Pastor Moise, ever since Moise went to Uganda to heal him from erectile dysfunction disorder.
The Galilaya Church belongs to the Pentecostalism Movement. Members of this Church gather together over Easter to recreate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
A young boy plays the role of Jesus Christ during this reenactment of the crucifixion that took place on Easter Sunday.
Pentecostalism is an evangelical faith. Its adherents generally believe in the Bibles divinity and inerrancy.
Furahu Kahalako joined this Church to seek help with her mental illness.