How vocational training helped this welder grow his business in West Africa

Ciro (right) and his former apprentice, Nilton (left), smile as they show off their welding workshop in West Africa. Ciro attended the WAVS Vocational School so he could grow his business and provide for four orphaned children.

Ciro (right) and his former apprentice, Nilton (left), smile as they show off their welding workshop in West Africa. Ciro attended the WAVS Vocational School so he could grow his business and provide for four orphaned children.

For years, Ciro Gomes earned a meager living as an auto body repairman — patching up old cars so they could keep chugging along the streets of West Africa. He had never received formal training as a welder, so he mostly just figured things out through on-the-job experience.

Eventually, his clients started asking him to take on other welding jobs, such as building metal doors, windows, and security bars. The new work would mean more income, which he desperately needed. Ever since his sister had passed away a few years ago, Ciro had been responsible for her four orphaned children.


“If I didn’t have this job, I wouldn’t have any other way to earn an income.”


Ciro had never received any formal training as a welder. After studying at the WAVS Vocational School, he was able to grow his business by taking on more types of welding jobs.

Ciro had never received any formal training as a welder. After studying at the WAVS Vocational School, he was able to grow his business by taking on more types of welding jobs.

But these new jobs required technical skills he didn’t have. Ciro realized he was in over his head and needed help.

Ciro had heard about the WAVS Vocational School’s welding program and knew it had a good reputation. Maybe that’s what I need, he thought.

“The work that the school is doing is more advanced, more technical,” Ciro said. “If you can do that kind of work, you’re going to be able to gain a better income.”

Ciro enrolled in the course, using the money he earned from his work on cars to pay tuition. (Thanks to WAVS donors who subsidize the cost of the WAVS School, tuition is affordable for young West Africans like Ciro.)

Ciro (right) and Nilton (left) work on welding together a door for a client. Both West Africans studied at the WAVS Vocational School to expand their skill sets so they could take on more types of welding jobs.

Ciro (right) and Nilton (left) work on welding together a door for a client. Both West Africans studied at the WAVS Vocational School to expand their skill sets so they could take on more types of welding jobs.

Today, Ciro’s putting his new skills to use.

“The way that I learned to weld [when I was young] is very different than how they teach it at the school,” Ciro said. “Before, I was never able to calculate measurements for a job. But now I can look at a job and quickly come up with a plan.”

The training helped Ciro so much that he encouraged one of his apprentices, Nilton Gomes, to enroll in the welding program, as well. After Nilton completed the course, he was selected by the school to stay on for a one-year internship in the welding department.

Nilton graduated from the WAVS Vocational School’s welding program and was later selected for a one-year internship at the school. He’s now back at his workshop, using the new skills he learned.

Nilton graduated from the WAVS Vocational School’s welding program and was later selected for a one-year internship at the school. He’s now back at his workshop, using the new skills he learned.

“At the graduation ceremony, everyone was excited for us – the staff, the teachers, even my boss,” Nilton said. “They were so excited with the work that we had done.”

Nilton, who’s now back working with Ciro at his shop, is sharing his new knowledge and skills with apprentices at the shop. (Read more of Nilton’s story here.)

Today, Ciro’s shop takes on many types of welding projects. He’s come a long way from just doing auto-body work.

“As you can see, we’re doing OK now,” Ciro said. “We’re earning enough to get by. If I didn’t have this job, I wouldn’t have any other way to earn an income.”

This story was written by Chris Collins, WAVS Executive Director.

Welder working on a door