Thank you to the 135 guests and volunteers who joined us last Friday to enjoy a relaxing evening at Kings River Winery (near Sanger) while supporting the WAVS welding program.
Together, we enjoyed delicious food, local wine, and a live performance from violinist Patrick Contreras. And you helped raise more than $4,700 to help make it possible to train more WAVS welding students like Agusto. Thank you!
We also want to give a special thanks to the three people who became WAVS Teacher Sponsors to help grow the WAVS welding program.
By Jenna Harvey, Director of International Development
Starting the morning off with devotions.
Class starts at 8 a.m. sharp for the WAVS welding students. Many of the students have been awake since 6 a.m. preparing for the day. There are no bowls of Wheaties or stops at Starbucks to grab a latte before class, but instead the students eat rice with sauce heated up from the night before or bread with either chocolate spread or tuna for breakfast. All of the students walk to school; most of their walks are 10 to 20 minutes in length. Very few people in Guinea-Bissau have a personal or family car so walking or riding a bike are the main modes of transportation within Canchungo. Upon arriving, the students are greeted by both Cirilo, the head welding teacher, and Amona, a second welding teacher. Amona leads the students in a brief devotional first thing each morning sharing a verse or passage from the Bible and reflecting on how the verse is relevant in their lives. On the weekends, Amona is a pastor at a small church in a nearby village, Djita. Today, the students are focused on Proverbs 1:4.
After the devotional, the students begin their welding theory lesson for the day. Welding theory covers different types of welding; different types of welds; equipment names, parts, and how to use them; as well as basic welding safety.
Surprise! Today there is a pop quiz! But the students don’t even flinch as they feel well prepared from the previous theory lessons to ace the test.
Putting the finishing welds on a large metal gate.
After getting some welding theory under their belts, the students are ready for some hands-on practice. Students gain experience both through specific projects geared to help them practice a certain skill they have learned and also through real-life production projects that people in the community bring to the welding production department throughout the week. Today, the students are working on completing a large metal sliding gate for the entrance of a neighboring nonprofit organization.
Jason showing the students a new machine.
Once a week, students get a lesson from Jason, the WAVS welding program mentor. Jason gives them lessons and exposure to some machines, tools, and techniques that are less common in Guinea-Bissau, such as the plasma cutting table, tube bender, or how cast iron welding is done. While many of these practices may not be common in other welding workshops throughout Guinea-Bissau, the students are exposed to the types of equipment and techniques that are available.
Welding students installing a fence at a home in Canchungo.
Most of the welding takes place at the school. But for several of the larger jobs, there is some onsite installation involved. Here the students are installing a fence around the compound of a community member’s home.
Welding a community member's wheelbarrow.
After a long day of welding theory and practice, the students are ready to head home, but just because the students head home doesn’t mean that the welding production comes to an end. Amona stays at the school and continues to take small jobs from community members until 6 p.m. Many of these smaller jobs include small welds on bicycles, motorcycles, or motors.
The WAVS welding program is equipping students each day with the skills they need to go out and start a successful welding business of their own. The teachers are not only equipping them with knowledge of welding but they are also imparting life skills as they lead by example. In addition, the production side of the welding program is an important link to the community. Many people first hear about the WAVS School and the various programs it offers through hearing about one of the welding projects the school has done in the community.
We are grateful for the quality teachers that we have in the welding department and are so proud of our students for all the work they are putting into their studies. Keep up the great work!
Welding students are able to attend the WAVS School because of Teacher Sponsors who help keep tuition affordable while allowing the school to grow and improve every year. You can make it possible for more students to participate in the welding program so they will be equipped with life-changing job skills by sponsoring Cirilo, the welding lead instructor, today.
By Jenna Harvey, Director of International Development
Cirilo doesn’t sit still. Although class starts at 8 a.m., you will often find him at the WAVS School around 7 a.m., preparing for his work as the school’s lead welding instructor. And the day job isn’t enough. Cirilo is also a musician with a growing fan base.
Cirilo's album release and concert flier.
Earlier this year, he released his first album, Ña Deus Obrigadu (Thank you, My Lord), and held an album release party at the WAVS School in Canchungo with more than 600 people in attendance from the surrounding towns and villages. Some in the crowd even came from the capital, Bissau, more than an hour and a half away. Cirilo also performed at the 2017 WAVS school graduation ceremony in January.
His music and work ethic reflect his desire to impact his students’ lives – both through skills development and spiritual growth.
Cirilo's album launch and concert celebration at the WAVS school campus.
“Our school doesn’t just provide training to improve the lives of students, but it gives life through the proclamation of the Gospel,” Cirilo said.
Cirilo works alongside Amona, a welding assistant teacher at the school, and Jason, the welding program mentor.
Cirilo started his job in October 2012 when the welding program first began and has helped develop it into the strong program that it is today. He has also helped increase the amount of work that the welding students do for people in the community who pay the school to build doors, windows and security gates. The school earns a small amount of revenue from this work while the students receive the benefit of real-world, hands-on experience. Among hundreds of projects, Cirilo has helped lead the students in the construction of a security gate around a local bank, build a playground at a local primary school and a construct a roof over a water filter factory.
Before coming to teach at the school, Cirilo studied welding at another vocational school call CIFAP. After graduating in 2006, he worked at a company in Bissau for a few years. He saw the WAVS School while passing it on the road before, but didn’t know much about it.
Cirilo hard at work, digging a trench for the eletrical line to give the Welding department power.
One day, his motorcycle broke down not too far from the school and he stayed the night at a local church. The director of the WAVS school had heard about Cirilo through church and started talking to him about coming to start a welding program at the school. At first, Cirilo didn’t want to leave Bissau to come to the school in Canchungo, but the director kept proposing the idea to him over a period of more than two years. After taking to pray about the possibility seriously, he accepted the job because he wanted to work in a Christian environment and knew that the name of Jesus was being proclaimed in the school.
Cirilo has also pursued his singing career on the side. He has enjoyed singing since he was little, and he later learned to play guitar in church. While living in Bissau, Cirilo first performed formally in a vocal group called “Vocalistas di Gloria.” After coming to Canchungo to teach at the WAVS School, because of the distance, he had to leave the group. But because of his love for singing, performing, and writing music as a tool to demonstrate the love of God, he continued to pursue his musical career. Cirilo wrote most of the songs on his album himself. Several of the songs are written in Fula, a tribal language spoken in Guinea-Bissau, so that his music could have a broader reach.
The school is grateful it has dedicated teachers, like Cirilo, who are not only providing life-changing job skills to the community of Canchungo, but who are also Jesus’ hands and feet in the community.
Cirilo is able to train his students only with the support of WAVS Teacher Sponsors who help fund Cirilo's position and keep tuition affordable. But Cirilo and his welding department are in need of new Teacher Sponsors to help this program grow and serve more students in the years to come. You can help sponsor Cirilo today so that he and his staff can equip students with life-changing job skills.
Crouching under a large cashew tree beside a dirt road, Agusto carefully welded together two square rods of metal. Chickens pecked at the ground around him. Neighbors wandered about. This is his workshop.
A few years ago, Agusto wasn’t sure how he was going to earn a living in Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s smallest and poorest countries. Here, the education system is in crumbles and there are few paying jobs. Agusto knew that it doesn’t take much to set up your own business in Guinea-Bissau – just some tools and some job skills. But many young people like himself who are ready and eager to work don’t have the opportunity to get those basic things.
One day, his younger brother told him about the WAVS School and its welding program. He encouraged him to enroll in the nine-month course. Agusto said to himself: “OK, I’m ready. If there’s an opportunity. I can go for it.”
After completing the course and purchasing a set of quality, affordable tools through the school’s New Entrepreneurs Program, Agusto started working.
“All the skills that I’m using now, I got them from the school,” Agusto said. “How to work with the tools, how to work with the machines – all these skills I learned from the school.”
He’s now able to provide for his younger siblings and his mother, all of whom depend on him.
“I’m so proud of myself because now I have my own shop,” Agusto said. “I don’t have to go out there to ask people for money.”
And Agusto says he learned more than just a job skill. He also grew in his faith.
“I will never forget to thank God for giving me the opportunity to study in this school,” he said. “The school has a good program that helped me progress in a technical way and spiritual way, as well.”
Agusto was able to attend the WAVS School because of Teacher Sponsors who help keep tuition affordable while allowing the school to grow and improve every year. You can make it possible for more students like Agusto to be equipped with life-changing job skills by sponsoring a teacher today.
By: Jenna Harvey - Director of International Development
You may already be familiar
with the faces and the names of the WAVS School’s lead teachers and
administrative staff, but today I want to introduce you to a dedicated employee
who works behind-the-scenes so that WAVS can carry out its mission: to equip young
women and men with life-changing job skills.
Quidam Sau began working at the WAVS School in December 2012
as the head guard. His job is to coordinate with all the other guards at the
school, manage the keys to the school, water the plants, keep the grounds clean
and orderly, and other minor tasks such as replacing light bulbs and ensuring
toilets and sinks are in working order. Above all, his main job is to keep the
school a safe atmosphere where students, clients, community members and guests
Quidam Sau is more
than just a guard. He studied both English and computers at the WAVS school. He
studied English up to level 3 and graduated from the computer course in April
2015. As a computer course graduate, he also took advantage of the New
Entrepreneurs Program that the school offers and purchased a personal laptop.
Studying computers at the WAVS school.
Quidam Sau is a mason by trade and has helped the school
with many masonry projects over the years. Most recently, he laid cement in two
of the rooms in the welding department which previously had only dirt floors.
He also built conduit boxes to bury the electric line from the main school
building across the street to the welding workshop.
Quidam Sau giving a Creole lesson to a group of U.S. visitors.
Quidam Sau is at the school every weekday morning starting
at 7 a.m.. He warmly welcomes all who visit with a large smile. Last February,
Quidam Sau even gave a group of visitors from the U.S. an introductory lesson
It truly takes an entire team to make the WAVS School
what it is. We are so thankful for the work and commitment that Quidam Sau
contributes to the WAVS team!
It is starting to heat up as I walk to the school with the
red dirt beneath my feet. I pass the school’s sign for the last time during my
stay and walk into the English class. There are 8 students in the class today,
faces that were once unfamiliar, now I know by name. Mario, the teacher, shows
where I can sit and join the students. As he teaches, I listen. At times he
asks us visitors questions so that we can explain words or ideas before
breaking up into small groups to work with the students. Each native English
speaker is paired up with one or two students. We work through several
exercises. I am amazed at what they are learning just three or four weeks into
Our final day in English Class
The class is drawing
to a close and I go to the front to explain I had a little something as a gift
for the students, since we’ve been working with them for the last two weeks. A
small treat that we just learned the meaning earlier that week. A “sweet candy”
– a lollipop from See’s Candies. Something that we would view as so small, yet
they were completely thrilled about. I was able to then use this to help them
also learn English as they read out loud which flavor they received. In giving
it to them, I thanked them for letting us sit in the class and that I was sad
to go. In saying this, I could tell within myself that I was not wanting to
leave quite yet. We speak all together for the last five minutes or so, we take
pictures together and say our goodbyes – something very important in the
Guinean culture. We all linger, each visitor talking with the students they
grew close to during the last two weeks.
very important in the Guinean culture. People there value each other, enjoy
spending time together and make saying goodbye intentional. Today will be full
of goodbyes. And although in the past goodbyes haven’t been super difficult for
me, today was different. There is a staff lunch where all the staff from the
WAVS school and the visitors eat together. It is such a fun time with everyone.
As some staff leave to teach their classes that afternoon or go home, some of
the staff that we connected with stay behind and we chat as long as possible.
We stay until an English conversation class takes place in the afternoon and
then start for our bungalow.
Sunday lunch with Quidam Sau and Ema
As I begin packing in
my bungalow, I look back at my time here in Canchungo: the people I met; the
experiences I’ve had. Looking back on our time there, one afternoon stands out
to me. I spent an afternoon with two other people from our group in Fresno, one
of the staff, Quidam Sau, and his wife, Ema, who has attended the WAVS school.
After church, we walked all together to their home. Although they knew some
English, we still did struggle. We were able to look around and ask questions
about pictures or hangings on their walls. We showed them pictures of our
families. We ate lunch together, sitting in a circle and eating from the same
dish while we continued to talk. Once dinner was finished we went outside under
the mango tree and chatted some more. We knew approximately the time frame they
were given and our time was almost up. We didn’t want to overstay our welcome
and as we mentioned we better leave, Ema, who barely spoke English but could
understand quite a bit spoke with her husband. Quidam Sau explained that it
would be nice for us to stay a few more minutes. We laughed. We spoke. It was
wonderful. Throughout the rest of our time, whenever we passed by their house
which was on a main street in town, we would say hello as we were passing and
sometimes Ema would see us, jump up and make sure we could see her.
The bungalow I was staying in
I continue to pack my suitcase and reflect that it’s my last
evening in Canchungo and I’ve said all my goodbyes. I hear Jenna, my co-worker
who lives here, come up and I started joking around with her. As I open the
door I see that Jenna and Ema are both here. Ema surprised me and another
member of our group; she wanted to say goodbye again. So we speak to each
other, with Jenna acting as translator, and say tender goodbyes.
Mario, the WAVS school English teacher, and I excited for the new books. With the visiting teams, we were able to bring English books for upcoming students.
I’m so very thankful
for this opportunity to have gone to Guinea-Bissau and experience what WAVS is
doing first-hand and the impact the school is having in the daily lives of the
people there. The school is known in the community and is seen in a positive
light. The teachers love what they are doing and care about their students. The
students can also tell how much their teachers care about them and want them to
understand what they are learning. And the staff are passionate about wanting
people to know about Jesus. I’m grateful for this opportunity to be on the WAVS
I was called by God to join the team that went to Guinea Bissau in February 2017. This trip was my very first time overseas. God placed the WAVS School, out of the other exposure trip opportunities, as a special interest to me. I suppose part of that reason is that it’s a vocational school that offers welding as one of its main courses.
Doing some welding in the WAVS Shop
Welding was my heartfelt desire that I first became aware of in high school, and now I have been working in manufacturing for 22 years as a welder. With that said, and having my manufacturing skills/experience, I was really impressed with the equipment resources that are present in the welding and machine shop at the WAVS school. I really wasn’t expecting to see that type of equipment available for the students to learn from! While I toured the welding department I remember saying a few times that I don’t even have such a nice mig welder of my own, and that you can’t even find what they have at Home Depot (and Home Depot has some nice machines). The machine shop in the welding department was truly outfitted to be able to manufacture anything from steel that could possibly be needed, whether it’s of thin or thick steel! Again the available equipment is beyond what I had expected. Any student that has the opportunity to attend this school is blessed. It was also comforting to witness safety being used, for instance PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) from the instructors and students. Things like safety glasses, gloves and earplugs were all in use!
Helping to install some security gates with the welding students
The staff of the school was another standout for me. I did attend a few
of the English classes where I learned how well Mario (a native to that area
and a WAVS teacher) spoke. He was very fluent in English. No joke, even
I could learn some things about English in his classroom (Don’t tell anyone,
but I felt exposed. haha!)
Drawing near to our departure from Africa we got to tour Bissau.
It was really cool to see the land where the new WAVS campus will be.
It’s about 40 miles from the current WAVS school. Before visiting
the land, we had the chance to meet and be shown around a private university
that is about a mile away from the new school site. It was a very friendly
interaction from the university’s director and he even went with us to the new
WAVS school site. These two schools will compliment each other with the courses
All in all, during the two weeks of exposure from landing in Dakar to
leaving Africa our team was very well taken care of by a strong team that is
composed of from the WAVS staff, and other missionaries. They are just
super great people.
I will be a contributor to the workings and financial support of this
school over the long run.
By Riley Endicott - Communications Director & Missions Pastor at Northwest
Hurry up and wait. If you have been around the world of video production and film-making for any amount of time, it’s a phrase that you will likely hear over and over. Ironically, it’s also a phrase that probably describes a lot of exposure trips and short-term mission trips. Hurry up and get to the next place, task, or meeting, wait for it to start, then repeat. It’s a phrase, that for better or worse, I had embraced as a motto, until recently.
Riley surrounded by children in the community of Canchungo, where the WAVS school is located, as he is about to fly a drone.
I had the opportunity to visit Guinea-Bissau this February to produce some video content for West African Vocational Schools on an exposure trip with my church, Northwest, and The Well Community Church. Having worked in video production for the last five years I have had the opportunity to do a lot of travel and my experience in Guinea-Bissau is definitely at the top of my list. Not because the country was beautiful, the people welcoming, and school’s program high quality (which is all very true!), but because of what the people I met there taught me about my idea of time. They taught me that my concept of hurrying up in order to wait is not always the most fruitful.
The conversation that sticks out in my mind the most was with Lili, the school’s Vice Director. He explained to me that time is a limitless resource. No matter what we do, there will always be 24 hours in the day. And because it’s a limitless resource, we should first use it on what matters most: people and relationships. He explained this to me as I was in the middle of setting up my tripod for the next interview I was about to do. I was trying to be efficient with my time. I was talking with him while working on my next task, but in reality I was actually only giving him about half the attention he deserved.
Interviewing Lili, the WAVS school Vice Director
Equipping and empowering a community is a hard thing to do. It requires a lot of courage and imagination and it also requires the ability to listen and invest in long lasting relationships. All of these things require time and patience. In the United States, success is measured by how efficient one can be with their time. How many tasks and appointments can be completed within a work day. More productivity means more profit. Time is money and money, as we know, is a limited resource. Equipping and empowering our communities aren’t something that really come from being efficient and it rarely comes from financial resources alone. But these paradigms don’t always exist in a country like Guinea-Bissau. With a team full of people who are courageous, imaginative, patient and willing to truly invest their time in others, it makes sense that WAVS exists there and is helping to empower and equip its community.
When time is a limitless resource to be used to invest in people the possibilities are endless. I’m grateful for Lili and the people at WAVS who taught me this. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Guinea-Bissau and how WAVS will leave its mark on the country. I’m also hopeful that a little bit of Guinea-Bissau will have rubbed off on me so that I can slow down and invest rather than always hurrying up and waiting.
The WAVS School Director, Lili, and me on my last day in Canchungo
I was given the opportunity to join a small group visiting the WAVS School in Guinea-Bissau for 2 weeks in February. This was something special that I could not pass up as I was familiar with the work of this Christian outreach through encounters at Rotary, The Well Community Church and at their fundraiser banquet last October. I wanted to experience the school and people first hand. The school is transforming a struggling nation one person at a time through education and vocational training in areas such as computer basics, welding, auto mechanics, sewing, English, and French. They are also partnering with other organizations in the country by training teams that can instill healthier living through repairing abandoned water pumps and installing simple latrines.
Guinea-Bissau was unlike anything I have ever experienced. The days were full of new sights, new smells, new foods, new people, and a new language. All my senses were firing at once. I don’t think that I can explain the impact or experience in words. The country has great needs with high poverty and a fairly broken infrastructure as seen by the lack of good roads, sporadic electrical grid, compromised water sources, inferior healthcare, and limited opportunities to progress forward.
Above: in a local market with a fellow visitor
Below: learning basic Creole with the rest of my team in our first days in Guinea Bissau
The school is a beacon of light there providing several means to better oneself and the remote community of Canchungo. The teachers love their job and their students and believe that they can make a difference over time in peoples’ lives both spiritually and physically by providing knowledge and skills that last a lifetime. I was greatly encouraged and honored to be able to participate in the English and conversation classes.
Steps are being taken now to establish a new campus just outside of the capital city, Bissau, on roughly 20 acres. This will have the ability to impact around 1,200 people a year and add new disciplines like agriculture. The country has a huge potential to grow more of their own food and increase exports through introducing new methods and export standards. I loved talking to the students and listening to their dreams to be a doctor, lawyer, pro soccer player, teacher, farmer and so on. They see Americans as caring and loving people and would love to come to school here, the best country in the world. The prospect of coming to the US is not good with the difficulty of getting a Visa to come here from Guinea-Bissau.
Above: With the students from the Beginner English class we participated in.
Below: Building relationships with Quidam Sau, one of the staff at the WAVS School, and his family.
Life is much more difficult for the people of Guinea-Bissau, but they are generally happy people that love others and love to socialize. Their dreams and aspirations are much the same as ours. Their pace of life is slower and relationships are very important. I like that part very much. Upon returning to Fresno, I am thankful for our freedoms, our abundance of fresh safe food and water, reliable transportation, and the comforts of heating and air conditioning. Believe it or not, our roads and drivers are much better here at home.
By Jenna Harvey, Director of International Development
Water. We use it every day in a variety of forms: drinking, showering, washing hands, brushing teeth, washing dishes, washing clothes, flushing the toilet, watering plants, cooking, etc. For most of us, all we have to do is turn on the faucet, and we have a seemingly endless supply of clean water. However, for the majority of people in Guinea-Bissau, securing water for any of those tasks is a chore. Before any of those things can be done, they must go to the nearest well, draw their buckets full of water and then carry the heavy buckets back home. Depending on where the nearest working well is, this could be quite a long walk.
A successful repair of a community pump at a local school.
For the third year in a row, WAVS partnered with a Christian organization called WellFound to train students how to repair water pumps and build latrines. The training was held at the WAVS School in December and lasted three weeks. Eight students from the villages surrounding Bula, a town 45 minutes from the WAVS School, attended the training. The mechanics instructor at the WAVS School facilitated the training on building latrines. The top water-pump technician in Guinea-Bissau came from Bissau to teach the water-pump portion of the training.
Students taking apart a pump to diagnose the problem.
Not only did the students get classroom instruction, but they also went out into the surrounding communities and got some hands-on practice, as well. The students were able to fix pumps in high-use areas such as a school, a hospital, and a local mosque. In total, the students repaired nine pumps, which was more than double what they were able to repair last year.
This pump was a bit different than all the other pumps in the area. Here is the professor taking a moment to conduct some on-the-job training.
At the graduation ceremony in late December, the teachers praised the students on the new skills that they had learned, which will allow them to help their communities have consistent access to water. WellFound thanked WAVS for the opportunity to partner together to offer life-changing job skills to the local population. The students were also surprised with news that WellFound had already secured them jobs in their villages so the skills they had learned could be immediately put into action.
WAVS is excited that because of its partnership with WellFound, entire communities now have closer access to water!
When Mario Djedjo, the WAVS School’s English instructor, first got to know his 14-year-old neighbor, Victor, he invited him to enroll in the WAVS School so he could learn English.
Even though few people in Guinea-Bissau speak English, Mario knows that the language can open up new opportunities for young people and connect them with the rest of the world.
“So I asked Victor, ‘Why not study English?’” Mario said.
Victor was eager to learn, but his father wouldn’t let him.
“So I went to speak with his father and he said that the problem was money,” Mario said. “He couldn’t pay for private high school and pay for the WAVS School’s English class at the same time. So I told him that the course is not expensive – just 5,000 cefa (about $8.50) per month.”
Victor’s father was surprised to find out he could afford English classes for his son and he immediately signed him up.Two years later, Victor has worked his way through four levels of English and is now in his 5th and final level. He’s one of Mario’s favorite students.
But the story doesn’t end there.
“What really moved me in my heart was that four months ago, I started a Bible study in my house,” Mario said. “Victor was one of the first that I invited. At first he didn’t come, but after a while he started to attend. Now he never misses a day. This is the beginning of something for him to learn about Jesus. Once I asked him if he wanted to become Jesus’ friend and he ‘Yes, of course.’”
Join us in thanking Mario for having such a huge impact on the lives of young people in his community!
What counts as a job in Guinea-Bissau? Almost anything.
In a country where half the population lives in severe poverty and the government can’t pay its school teachers and hospital nurses, young people in Gineau-Bissau like João da Cruz Djedjo must find creative ways just to get by.
João, 22, is an auto body welder who repairs rusted-out cars and vans. He doesn’t have much. His workshop is a large patch of dirt a few hundred feet from the main road in town. His only shade is a nearby mango tree. His hardware is an oxygen tank, a tiny fuel tank, and a blowtorch. There’s no electricity, hardly any hand tools, and his assistant is a neighborhood boy.
But with these simple resources – and with the training he received from a nine-month welding program at the WAVS School last year– João is able to turn a small profit.
No auto body job is too big for João; he does it all. João showed me an old Mercedes that looked like it belonged in a junk yard.
“I’ve repaired cars like this, and I’ll repair this one, too,” he said.
João has been welding since he was 8 years old. He enrolled in the WAVS School’s welding program so he could expand his skills set. During the course, he learned about gas and electric welding, machining work, and he helped install a zinc roof.
“I gained a lot of experience,” João said. “And I’ve used this experience to learn how to properly rebuild a car.”
João uses the money he earns from his work to provide for himself and his parents. His goal is to build his own shop one day. “I just want to work,” he said. “I want to use what I’ve learned. I don’t want to have my diploma just sitting there. I want to use my skills.”
Thanks to WAVS Teacher Sponsors who help keep tuition at the WAVS School affordable, young and ambitious people like João have the chance to turn their future plans into reality. I’m inspired by his story. And I invite you to be a part of it – and many other stories like his.
Today, you can become a teacher sponsor and equip young women and men in one of the world’s smallest and poorest countries with life-changing jobs skills. Today, you can be a part of their stories.
By Holly Collins, WAVS Board Advisor April 28, 2016
Profession: Canchungo Government Office of Identification Studies at School: English Level 1 Age: 27 Interviewed at her place of work
All eight of Natividade Gomes’ siblings have struggled to find steady employment in Guinea-Bissau, a country where half the population lives in severe poverty and the economy is chronically unstable. And after their father passed away, her aging mother had no source of income.
That’s why Natividade is determined to do everything she can to find work.
“Since I was little, my mother took care of me and did everything for me,” said Natividade, 27. “Now my mother is old with no one to care for her. That’s why I am proud to work and to take care of my mother.”
Natividade recently found an internship with a government office that issues ID cards – an opportunity that may lead to a full-time job. She is also studying English at the WAVS School to prepare herself for future job opportunities.
“For me, the first thing I want is to do is read and write and speak English,” Natividade said. “When there are job fairs, the employers want to know if you have studied another language.”
She’s thankful that the WAVS School is in her town, which is more than 40 miles from the capital, Bissau, where most schools are located.
“By the grace of God, this school is here in Canchungo,” Natividade said. “If you don’t have money to study in Bissau, then you can study here. I thank God for that.”
Thanks to her hard work ethic, Natividade’s future looks promising.
“My mother is happy,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t see each other for long periods of time because I am working and studying and I come home tired and then do the same thing the next day. But my mother is happy and she says to me, ‘the job is good, work hard.’”
By Holly Collins, WAVS Board Advisor April 26, 2016
Ernesto Batica Ferreira
Profession: Director de Eschola 1 de Junho Studies at School: Computers Age: 60 years old Interviewed at the 1st of June School in his office
Batica Ferreria, a 60-year-old school director, shows off shelves full of binders with hand-written names and test scores. This is how Batica keeps track of his students’ records in his small primary school. He is often here until late at night recording student data.
But that may soon change. Batica recently completed a computer basics course at the WAVS School so that he can be ready to switch over to an electronic records system once the school sets up its computer lab. He can’t wait.
“I didn’t know anything about computers before this course,” Batica said. “But now I know all about computers.”
Batica’s says he’s thankful that the WAVS School is serving a wide range of students – from young teenagers preparing for university studies to established professionals who need more training.
“The school is helping many people in Canchungo,” he said. “People can go to the school and pay just a small tuition fee and learn. I thank God because of the school.”
By Holly Collins, WAVS Board Advisor April 26, 2016
Profession: Pastor of Evangelical Church Studies at School: Level 3 English Age: - Interviewed at the WAVS school
Pastor João Mendes knows that a lack of access to education can lead to a lack of hope.
He grew up in a small village in Guinea-Bissau where the local public school provided education only up to 6th grade. His family left the village when he was 10 years old and João was able to continue his studies. Eventually, he became a pastor and has now planted his own church.
In the meantime, João is also studying English at the WAVS School so that he can communicate with missionaries and read English-language books. He’s thankful that young people in the surrounding villages can attend the WAVS School, as well, and take advantage of an opportunity he didn’t have when he was younger. The students often walk or bike several miles to the school each day.
“In this region, there is no other school like it,” João said. “The school helps many people envision a better future. They can gain skills that help them make a living.”
By Holly Collins, WAVS Board Advisor April 26, 2016
Profession: Student Age: 23 Years Old Studies at school: Currently Level 4 English with Mario Interviewed at her home in Bario Novu, Canchungo
Delfina Domingos appears reserved and quiet, but she’s determined to pursue her dreams. We sit behind her family’s home, across town from the WAVS School. She tells me about the future she envisions for herself and the skills she is gaining as an English student at the school.
Her father is a lawyer and speaks English – a language that only a small percentage of people in Guinea-Bissau speak, but a skill that can open up many opportunities for those who learn it. Delfina dreams to follow in her father’s footsteps, so she enrolled in the English course at the WAVS School.
“I heard it was a good school with good teachers” said Delfina, 23, who is the eldest of four siblings. “I love the teachers here. They are patient and take time to explain everything. I also enjoy it when we study the Bible in class.”
Like many young people in Guinea-Bissau, Delfina moved to the capital after she finished high school, hoping to find work.
“I had heard of opportunities in Bissau, but I needed to speak English,” she said. “So I returned here to finish my studies at the WAVS School.”
Even though her family’s home is almost an hour-long walk away from the school, she attends every day. Delfina even convinced her neighbor to enroll with her so they could practice together.
“Everything is going well,” she said. “I am very happy with the school. I just wish there were more teachers and more classes to help more people learn these things.”
By Emily Hentschke, March 2016 WAVS Associate Director
Due to the prevalence of unjust, corrupt, and criminal actions of the government of Guinea-Bissau, the country as a whole has a poor reputation and people on the national and international level do not have much trust in its stability. The WAVS School administrative assistant Epifanio experienced this firsthand while he was studying in the Gambia. He shared that while abroad he learned “Guineans have a bad reputation for being dishonest and unaccountable because of all of the corruption and drug trading in our country.” Rather than be discouraged by this fact, he decided to make it his mission to see the improvements he was making at the WAVS school as part of his contribution to the overall development of his country.
Over the last several years, the accounting system at the WAVS School, which Epifanio manages, has been brought up to a much higher professional standard of organization and reliability, a very rare thing in this country. When the WAVS Board members recently visited for their third year, they were thrilled with how much the system has progressed and Epifanio was thrilled with the level of accountability and integrity the school is able to demonstrate through these improvements. He sees his work at the WAVS School as a way to help better the reputation of the country and its moral business standards one small step at a time. Epifanio’s correlation between his work and the larger application it can have for his country is exactly what WAVS hopes to achieve.
Each improvement we make and step forward we take, creates opportunities and increases the potential of countrywide development. The life change and economic opportunity being created at the WAVS School raises the level of hope as well as the standards that the people of Guinea-Bissau can hold their country to. Central to the mission of WAVS is the belief that the work we are doing to equip and empower individual students and staff plays a larger role in the transformation of the country of Guinea-Bissau, and we are so grateful that we have people like Epifanio on our team living out that mission.
By Emily Hentschke, March 2016 WAVS Associate Director
Each staff member walked in to the WAVS classroom on a humid Friday afternoon with a smile. They all graciously came up to shake the hands of the board members and myself then began laughing and joking with each other as they waited for the all-staff meeting to begin. Earlier in the week Mario, the Language Department Head told us “We are happy. We have a bright team and a very strong one.” As the meeting went on, the camaraderie, passion, and genuine love that I observed further validated Mario’s statement and confirmed to me that the WAVS staff are more than just coworkers, but they are a family who care deeply about each other and their mission at the school.
There are 19 staff members at the school, and from the guards, to the teachers, to the administration, it is very clear that everyone is equally committed to serving the students and each other. For example, the WAVS School staff have all agreed to set aside part of their paychecks every month to keep a care fund for each other. Whenever someone is experiencing a hardship like a family illness, or an exciting life transition such as having a new child, the staff pool together their set aside funds to support that person. At this meeting, they were celebrating and reminding everyone to pool their funds for one of the guard’s upcoming wedding. Mario told us “The best part about the job is the team,” and with support and love like that, I can absolutely see why.
Of the two weeks I spent in Guinea-Bissau, the hour spent with the whole staff was one of my favorites. It was so powerful to experience the familial community that has been built at the WAVS school knowing how great of an impact this bond has on the success of the school and on the staff. Cierlo, the Welding Department Head shared “I see that the school contributes to change in people’s lives, especially for the staff.” Right now many of the public school teachers in Guinea-Bissau are on strike for more fair treatment and consistent wages, so being able to work for an organization that is not only doing so much good for the community, but is also creating its own community of staff who are happy and well-supported is a true blessing and a rarity in this country. After a meeting of hearing about and witnessing how being part of the WAVS School has changed the lives of the staff, I walked out of the WAVS classroom on that humid Friday afternoon with a big smile.
As we pulled onto the rough and bumpy dirt roads of Canchungo after our long drive from the airport, we were greeted by adults starting at us seemingly confused and children smiling, waving, and pointing at us calling out, “Branco! Branco!” (sounds like Bronco, which would be cool, but actually just means “white” in Portuguese) along the roads to where we’d be staying. Shortly after we got settled into our rooms we were off to our first creole lesson at the WAVS school where our teacher, a young man who is friends with Chris and Holly Collins, started our lesson with a short devotional. The simple act of initiating that simple devotion before our language lesson was a perfect start to our time in Guinea.
Each day we dove deeper into our relationships with the staff, our involvement with the school, and learning the culture. Throughout our time in Canchungo we assisted in English classes at the school, participated in mechanics and welding classes, played soccer with the youth, and got to share most of our meals with staff members from the WAVS school. Over a short amount of time we learned to embrace vulnerability as we spent a lot of time without interpreters exploring the local market street, talking with students at the school, and spending time with faculty and their families in their homes. It was in those times of vulnerability that we learned more and had some of the best experiences. Whether it was struggling to communicate how and why I did not have either a wife or girlfriends back home to the welding teacher that somehow lead into singing worship songs around the dinner table with his family, or laughing and joking with the assistant school director that eventually turned into a conversation about how gracious God is in His provision and guidance in the lives of His people, each interaction was enriched through some level of vulnerability being embraced.
It was also very apparent that Christ was a large part of the lives of the staff there. Without being told to do so, the faculty start each class with a short devotional, so no matter what Christ is present in each class session and put as the priority. Their hearts to serve and live out their faith exactly where God has placed them was refreshing and admirable to say the least. They’ve recognized the call Christ has for them and have whole heartedly devoted their lives to it. In turn, the impact the school is having in Canchungo is evident through hearing how many people know about it, seeing the classes full of eager students, and hearing the way people talk about how it has provided new opportunities to benefit people from all over Guinea-Bissau. Hearing the stories of staff and students’ lives, how they ended up with WAVS, and why they choose to do what they do was a very refreshing, energizing and refocusing experience.
It’s clear that WAVS is also growing and its potential for greater impact is being recognized. WAVS is well known in the town of Canchungo and well-spoken of there, but the picture is much larger than just the small town. Soon enough they will be growing as there will be a second campus being built in the capital city on the same grounds as a private university. Getting to visit the place that God has provided the ministry to grow and continue to impact Guinea-Bissau was amazing. As well, visiting a network of other strong ministries and organizations nearby, not only to see what else God has been doing in the country, but to see an example of the strong potential WAVS has and to know the support WAVS has behind them in this journey for encouragement and guidance.
Spending these past two weeks with this ministry and the people here has been an absolutely incredible experience. Sadly, I cannot cover every significant moment in this short blog post and I am not capable of being nearly as poetic enough in my writing to fully capture the beauty, frustration, joy, awkwardness, happiness, confusion, and love that we saw and experienced while there and how all of that plays a role in how we saw and felt Christ’s love being shared there. WAVS is an amazing ministry and the work they are doing to share the love of Christ in Guinea-Bissau by coming alongside the beautiful people there with vocational training is absolutely incredible and it was an honor to get to experience it firsthand.
Riding in the back of his chauffeured SUV through the streets of Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Fresno State alum Domingos Pereira listed the signs of progress in his country. Since he became prime minister last year, his government has paved roads, installed solar street lights in villages, and attracted new investors.
But Guinea-Bissau, one of the poorest countries in the world, is still the Wild West of West Africa. Politicians here tend to have short careers – and sometimes short life spans.
“This job is not easy,” Pereira told me. “The danger is real.”
Pereira knows what he signed up for. The last legitimate prime minister was dragged from his home and held hostage by the army when he tried to run for president in 2012 with a pledge to reform the military. The army left a giant blast-hole in the front gate of his downtown villa as a warning: We get to decide who will be president, not the people.
I had jumped in the back of Pereira’s SUV on a typical hot and humid afternoon in May for a 15-minute ride to the sprawling government complex that China built for Guinea-Bissau a few years ago. It was only my second time meeting Pereira, but it felt like seeing an old friend. I had followed his rise in the country’s ruling political party over the last two years and we had kept in touch by email.
We also had a mutual friend, Alfredo da Silva, who was Pereira’s roommate when they studied at Fresno State in the early 1990s. West African Vocational Schools is based in Fresno, where Alfredo still lives. According to Fresno State, Pereira is the university’s first alum to become the head-of-government of any country.
I looked out the backseat window as we passed crowded markets, potholed roads, and a ménage of rusty Mercedes taxis, shiny UN Land Cruisers, and swerving motorbikes. We weren’t far from where Pereira’s predecessor was captured by the military.
My thoughts turned inward: Is it really such a great idea to ride in the same SUV as Guinea-Bissau’s prime minister? How well-trained is his security detail? Are these windows bullet-proof?
Pereira is different than almost any politician Guinea-Bissau has had in the past. He’s educated and has years of experience working for international organizations. He could work almost anywhere in the world, but instead he has a job that probably should come with hazard pay.
I had lots of questions for him: How are you going to reform a country that has had more military coups than any other country in Africa? How are you going to cure endemic corruption? How are you going to rebuild Guinea-Bissau?
Pereira said his strategy was simple: He would keep making deep, systemic changes that have real, long-lasting results. Fire the wrong people and hire the right people. Restore electricity. Pave the roads. Open up trade. Collect taxes. Eventually, people will realize that his reforms are working and won’t allow the country’s power-brokers to undo them.
This won’t be easy in a country where 60% of the population is illiterate. Here, rumors are used to turn actual heroes into imagined villains – and vice versa. Still, I told Pereira, it seemed like the best strategy.
“Yes, but I hope it works,” he said.
Pereira had invited my wife, Holly Collins, and I to meet him so he could hear more about the WAVS School in Canchungo, a town about 40 miles outside the capital. It’s the only vocational school in a region of about 40,000 people. The school’s courses in auto mechanics, welding, computer basics, English and French are all designed to help young women and men get jobs in Guinea-Bissau – a country with no safety net – so they can support their families. Since opening in 2007, the school has served more than 550 students, many of whom have gone on to find jobs.
“This is exactly what our country needs,” Pereira told us.
In the three months since our meeting, the tensions in Guinea-Bissau have grown. Last week, Pereira posted a message on his official Facebook page calling for calm as rumors swirled that the president of Guinea-Bissau, Jose Mario Vaz, was upset with Pereira’s reforms and wanted to fire him.
How long will Pereira last as prime minister? Several foreign diplomats that I spoke with in Bissau said they were thankful he had lasted even a year.
It will take courageous reformers like Pereira to bring real change. Our job is to support such leaders and do all we can to invest in the country’s future.