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.
FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST
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.
A young boy plays the role of Jesus Christ during this reenactment of the crucifixion that took place on Easter Sunday.
Pastor Moise Munyuabumba is “Galilaya´s” spiritual leader. He has been preaching since 1996.
The ongoing conflict creates unemployment for Goma´s youth. Fear and the lack of alternatives are some of the reasons why so many young people can be found in these churches looking for answers.
Divine healing is one of the key features of the Pentecostal Movement. Beat Mekarubamba was diagnosed breast cancer at a local hospital. According to Pastor Moise, her cancer is the consequence of her being with a polygamist. She will be healed when she admits her sin and embraces God.
Goma, Norht Kivu. Mental illness keep rising in Eastern Congo. Modern medicine has to struggle with traditional healers and praying houses. Easily preventable or treatable diseases become more complicated to treat because of late diagnosis.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Isaac Rwanamiza treats 11-year-old Elephantiasis patient Mark Ndibakunri by “removing” the bad spirits through his totem. According to Isaac, evil spirits are the cause of the Elephantiasis from which the boy is suffering. Isaac sees many patients daily and can charge up to $70 per session. Healers are well respected within their communities and have the blessing of local authorities.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. 'L´École de Vie' is a school for mentally disabled children, run by the Brothers of Charity. Families who can afford it put their children in this institute, the only one of its kind in the region. As with adults, some children are dangerous and require constant surveillance.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Charlottle Habanuwg (left) stays at the psychiatric facility to take care of her schizophrenic daughter Mahombi (right). Our Care does not have enough staff to take care of all the patients and so, when possible, family members like Charlotte stay and keep constant watch over their relatives.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. This is Lwanda Binwa, a regular at the 8th Cepac Galilaya Church. She began to have prophetic visions about Beat Mekarubamba, the woman with breast cancer (previous picture). She went into a trance and was making prophecies for around 15 minutes.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Jaqueline is a displaced refugee from the war and a resident at Our Comfort. She suffers from schizophrenia and does not know where her family is. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), by mid 2013, the ongoing armed conflict in the east has resulted in 2.6 million internally displaced refugees.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Didier believes he was bewitched by someone close to him. Most Congolese, coming from rural areas, believe in demonic causes of mental illness. However, Didier's mental illness is being treated with western style medical care at Our Comfort.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Mark Ndibakunri is 11 years old and has elephantiasis. According to local healer Isaac Rwanamiza, this is because Mark stepped on a branch that had a spell on it. On the bed are various objects used in the healing process.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. The woman in this picture is Mahombi Mungubijira suffers from schizophrenia. Her mother Charlotte (next picture) stays at the facility to care for her. Most families are not able to afford the costs of treatment. Cases like schizophrenia require close monitoring and cannot always be treated in the way they should. Because the facility is so low on staff, family members are always asked to help out with the care of their loved ones.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Abimana Lushombo suffers from epilepsy and is a patient at Our Comfort. The ongoing conflict impoverishes the region, creating unemployment that drags Goma´s youth to drug and alcohol abuse. Side effects may include seizures, depression, hallucinations or schizophrenia.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Minister Moise Munyuabumba runs the 8th CEPAC Galilaya Church, a 'house of prayer', which belongs to the Pentecostal movement. Pentecolism is a form of Christianity that emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit and the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer. Minister Munyuabumba has been using religion to try and heal the mental and physical disorders of the people who come to his church.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Here Minister Moise Munyuabumba is giving a sermon at the house of prayer. Every saturday people come to him in the hope of being healed. They believe in divine healing through prayer and consider all illness a consequence of the sin of man.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. This is nine year old Aganze Dagano Levi having a kinesiotherapy session at the École de Vie. Kinesiotherapy is a specialized area of medicine in which exercise and movement are used as the primary form of rehabilitation. It´s his first year in this school. Random attacks from rebel groups create stressful situations for pregnant women that can damage the fetus permanently. This creates an increasing number of children born with mental and physical handicaps.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Electroencephalography (EGG) enables the detection of epilepsy and other brain-related injuries. Patients come and sit with sensory pads attached to their heads for around ten minutes, while a specialist monitors their brain activity. In this case this girl was fine. She had come in with her parents for an epilepsy check but was not a patient of the hospital.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. A feeling of insecurity often increases the effects of mental health disorders. Despite the effort made by international and local NGOs, Western-style psychotherapy and psychiatric treatments are virtually nonexistent in the DRC.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Dr. Moise Mbusa is the head doctor at 'Tulizo Letu', or 'Our Comfort', a mental health hospital run by the Brothers of Charity. He is the only properly trained doctor working at the institution. All patients must be seen by him and, if medication is needed, he is the one who prescribes it. Some are required to take medication in order to live. Difficulties arise in remote areas because many are forced to travel long distances by foot just to get their medication, and this can compromise their treatment.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Here Isaac is performing another spell on Mark to remove the elephantiasis. He did not say what the bottle was for, but the twine tied around the legs is meant to “trap” the illness and avoid it spreading around the body.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Some patients like Deo arrive at the mental institution wearing leg-irons. These cases normally come from remote areas where there is no medical assistance. They are too dangerous to be left alone and sometimes the families resort to extreme measures to control them.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Lack of infrastructure makes the treatment of mental illness incredibly difficult. North Kivu, an unstable region since 1994, only has one psychiatric facility that runs without government support.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Nyota Kanyere says that thanks to Minister Moise Munyuabumba, she was cured of madness.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Kome Katenga is a patient of the 'Tulizo Letu' mental institution. He joined the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (ADFL) in the first Congo War when he was just 16. Led by Laurent Kabila, the ADFL was known for its brutality and the recruitment of child soldiers. In 2002, Kome started drinking. He has been admitted into mental institutions seven times since.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Minister Munyuabumba tries to treat Beat Mekarubamba, who has breast cancer. The Minister says she has cancer because she is the second wife of a polygamist and that she will only be healed if she accepts her sin.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Ushindi was raped by her cousin when she was 14 years old. With over 1000 women raped every day, the DRC is known as the rape capital of the world. According to these numbers, up to 39% of the population could have suffered sexual abuse at some point in their lives. Ushindi is a patient at 'Our Comfort'.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Christine Kahindo was raped by five soldiers while on the way to her parents house. Most of these women are abandoned by their husbands after they are raped. The husbands think that their wives are culpable and consider them damaged goods. They are forced to leave their homes and end up in refugee camps. Christine is now a patient at Our Care.
Goma, Norht Kivu. Mentally disabled children, like Siuzione, are known as “biwelele”, which means "useless idiots" in Swahili. They are rejected by society and sometimes ever their own families. Incapable of working or getting married, they become a burden on the community.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Isaac Rwanamiza is a traditional healer from the Bakumu tribe. These shamanic healers are recognized by the Congolese Government and supported by the Ministry of Health.
Goma, Norht Kivu, DRC. Deo Kakule is a paranoid schizophrenic. He burned his house down after the fighting forced his mother to leave. Deo is a patient 'Our Comfort'.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. Men pray at Minister Munyuabumba's church.
Goma, North Kivu, DRC. A nurse at Our Care sorts through prescriptions. Mental illness, and the institutions that care for those who suffer from it, do not always get the same support as other health sectors. Institutions like the one run by the Brothers of Charity have to find way to support themselves through donations and their network in Europe.