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Out of mind – A story about mental illness and the search for a cure in West Africa

Fabio Burrelli
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Fabio Burrelli. The effects of mental illness on the people and communities in Benin, West Africa.

For the past three years, I’ve been documenting the effects of mental illness on the people and communities in Benin, West Africa. I started working on the project after meeting Gregoire Ahongbonon, a man who, for more than 20 years, has been revolutionising African cultural beliefs concerning mental health.

Mental illness is one of the most pressing issues for Africa and Africans, with one out of every ten afflicted. Due to cultural and religious beliefs, people suffering from severe disabilities are deprived of human and social rights. Local traditions determine the individual’s exclusion from the community, and eventually his/her abandonment. In Africa, and more broadly in third-world countries, the “mentally ill” are not only the people affected by psychotic disorders or from actual documented cerebral diseases and pathologies, but also someone who has autism, epilepsy, dyslexia, and depression.

Over the last two decades, the issue of mental illness has been raised and addressed by Gregoire Ahongbonon, a former tire repairer from Benin. Ahongbonon has introduced a therapeutic and all-embracing method of welcoming and rehabilitating the people neglected in the West African communities. The sick, once rehabilitated, are given jobs and responsibilities that enable them to return to their families. The recovery will also see them reintegrated into the same society that excluded them in the first place, restoring an identity, life and dignity.

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I am a London-based freelance photographer with a background in the design industry. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Automotive and Transportation Design from IED (Istituto Europeo di Design in Turin, Italy) and almost ten years collaborating with high-level professionals in the industry, I devoted myself to photography entirely. I am currently working between the UK, Italy, and Benin, focusing on reportage and documentary photography. For the past years, I’ve been covering humanitarian and social issues working alongside NGOs reporting on healthcare centres’ activities dedicated to the assistance of the communities in need from West African countries.

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Dates:
Entry Fee: Free
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