Making a Difference

By Jeff Kollenkark

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.