I sat next to Rosa on the veranda of her family home – a home made out of mud bricks that she and her family had dug out of the earth around them and were later hardened under the unrelenting sun. Her mother sat nearby, her coarse hands revealing a woman no stranger to physical labor. She brought over a basket of peanuts and pointed to the land in front of us, deep furrows in the earth marking the rows where those peanuts were harvested from just a few months earlier.
Growing up in Guinea-Bissau, Rosa’s mother and her family depended on the harvest. There was no time for an education. And hence this became her lot in life: hard labor to keep a family going.
Without an education, this woman’s hands have only grown more coarse over time. Besides harvesting peanuts, she also breaks rocks and sells them to construction workers. At the local rock quarry, she methodically works through a seemingly bottomless pile of rocks each day – striking them one at a time with an iron rod – as she sits under a sliver of shade to guard her from the African sun.
A generation later, not much has changed: In this tiny corner of West Africa where two out of three people live off less than $2 a day, you must work hard just to survive.
Rosa’s mother, a widow raising seven children, wanted more for her daughters and always encouraged them to pursue an education. But when Rosa, her youngest, asked for money to study English at the WAVS School, she was heartbroken to turn her down. Feeding her children was all she could afford.
But Rosa found a way. Even though she was just starting high school, she also joined her mom to work at the rock quarry. With the money she earned from breaking rocks, Rosa enrolled in an English language course at West African Vocational Schools. Thanks to WAVS Teacher Sponsors who help cover the cost of the course, the fees were affordable for Rosa – less than $10/month.
“I knew that if I work hard now, I can achieve my dream of an education and a future professional job – not breaking rocks in the rock quarry” Rosa said.
I asked Rosa, now 19, what she hopes to do with her English language skills.
“Oh, many things!” she told me, gleaming. She laid out her dreams of studying international relations, possibly becoming a diplomat, or working at the seaport as a liaison for international organizations. I could picture her broad warm smile greeting people from all over the world.
Earlier this year, Rosa graduated from the WAVS School’s English program. This June, she will graduate from high school. Soon, she’ll apply to a university. In the meantime, Rosa has already found a way to use her new language skill. She is teaching 10th graders at a private school two days a week. Even though the salary isn’t much, Rosa sees the value of the job.
"I don’t do it for the money,” she said. “I do it for the experience and to continue to practice my English.”
I can’t wait to sit down with Rosa again in a few years to see where her dreams have taken her. Maybe her hands will be a little softer than her mother’s, though I imagine that the spirit of hard work that she inherited will never go away.
This article was written by Holly Collins, WAVS Board Adviser.
The education that Rosa received at the WAVS School has given her new opportunities and hope. You can equip young people like Rosa with the skills they need to provide for themselves and their families -- for a lifetime.
Each student pays tuition for the courses they take, but this only covers about 25% of the total cost. The remainder of the costs are covered by generous donors like you. By sponsoring a teacher at the WAVS School, you help cover the costs of the teacher's department and open up new opportunities in life for young people like Rosa.