Guinea-Bissau: a land of assets

Three years ago, I visited Guinea-Bissau for two weeks – mostly because I had never been to Africa before and I thought it would be an adventure. That visit led to a string of events that has brought me back to this little-known corner of the world where stark beauty, overwhelming hospitality, and century-old traditions collide with decrepit roads, crippling poverty, and a stubborn culture of corruption. It’s a fascinating, somewhat isolated place that’s easy to embrace. And once you embrace it, you can’t help but want to change it for the better.

I’m half way through my two-month visit here. I’m glad I’ll be here for another month – I feel there is so much more to do, to learn, and to understand. I’ve been challenged by the obvious needs in Guinea-Bissau – and especially in Canchungo, where the WAVS vocational school is located. This city of about 10,000 doesn’t have electricity, running water or decent roads. The hospital is little more than a series of rooms where people are stuck with IV drips and told to rest up. Only a very few people have cars and most people here rarely travel outside of town.

But Canchungo also has some great assets: a functioning high school, a large shelter and school for orphaned children, a handful of churches, a couple small non-governmental organizations that have opened up offices in the last couple years, and a new bank (the only bank in town). One of its greatest assets, in fact, is the WAVS vocational school. Its courses in computer basics and English have waiting lists of people who are eager to learn skills that aren’t taught anywhere else in the Canchungo area. The school is known by almost everyone in town and many others throughout the country. It’s a point of pride for the community and, I believe, a piece of the solution to Canchungo’s problems.

I spoke with one former student, Ergas Gomes, who told me that the skills he learned in the school’s computer course allowed him to get a job helping train others how to use the Internet. Word has spread about such success stories at the school and, as Ergas put it, “all of Canchungo wants to study there.”

What I’m most excited about it the potential the school has in the future, especially as we continue to make connections with other organizations that are interested in helping Guinea-Bissau. There seems to be a growing interest in investing in this country. For example, on a boat ride to one of the islands off the coast of Guinea-Bissau a couple weekends ago, I met a man from Santa Rosa, Calif., whose co-worker is from Guinea-Bissau. For years, he had been meaning to visit this country and was finally following through on that dream. Now he wants to start a non-profit to help improve the country – and he spent much of his time here asking government officials about what is needed to develop the country’s infrastructure.

Change won’t come immediately – but I’m convinced that there are enough people who want to see it happen. Thank you for being a part of this movement.