By Janelle van der Hoek, Associate Director
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 their class.
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.
Relationships are 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 team.