I joined the WAVS welding class for one day. This is what I saw.

Last month, I packed my bags and boarded a plane to Guinea-Bissau. After four flights over two days, I landed in the country’s only airport. I had arrived at my new home.
After more than two years working for WAVS in the states, I’m now here in West Africa as a WAVS Program Director. My job is to work hand-in-hand with our local staff to help expand and improve the three WAVS vocational schools in Guinea-Bissau.
To learn more about what we’re doing, I decided to become a WAVS welding student for one day. Here’s what I saw.


Starting off the day

The students started their day at 8 a.m. – in a classroom. Like most days, before turning on their welders, the 20 students first learn welding theory. Today, the instructor explained how to make clean welds and avoid an “undercut” (a bad weld caused by welding too fast). I watched them as they intently followed along in their welding manuals, drilling (pun intended) the content into their heads.
At 10 a.m., the students headed out to the workshop to begin practicing what they learned in class. After putting on their boots and safety glasses, they immediately got to work.
The students quickly dispersed throughout the workshop and approached their hands-on practice stations with the same intensity and focus they had used to study in the classroom. Some students practiced basic welds, others painted desk frames they had welded earlier in week.


A welding community

Throughout the day, I saw the students laugh together and help each other out. As the class wrapped up, I realized that after studying welding side-by-side together 30 hours a week for the past 5 months, these students have developed lasting friendships with each other. This is more than just a group of welding students – it’s a community.

And it was clear that this community of welders were eager to take their new skills and use them build a brighter future for themselves and their families. One of the students, Fatumata Balde, told me:

“I want to tell the people who built this school, ‘thank you, thank you, thank you!’ Whenever you learn something new, you gain a skill that you will always have. No one can take it away from you.”


Dreaming of the future

After my day as a welding student, it was clear to me that the WAVS welding program has been a huge success so far. But the WAVS campus in Bissau (the capital of Guinea-Bissau) only has one small “workshop” – and it’s really just three shipping containers with a roof attached. The space fills up quickly when you have 20 students, 2 instructors, heavy machinery and work benches all crammed into the same space. Sparks fly everywhere.
As I dream of the future of the WAVS schools, I can’t help but get excited. What would it look like if we could create not just more classes – but also more communities? What if instead of just 20 welding students, there were hundreds of students forming communities of carpenters, construction workers, machinists, and mechanics – dispersed among WAVS campuses throughout the country? What if we could help transform Guinea-Bissau from the inside out?


Good news. We have a plan.

Our goal is to equip young people with high-demand skills and provide them with the opportunity to lift themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty.

To help achieve that, we have a plan to expand our vocational training programs by building a new 13,000 square-foot building at the Bissau campus that will include workshops for welding, construction, machining and carpentry training programs. This new building will open up more opportunities for students to learn trades that will provide them with job security and financial independence.

In a few months, I’ll share more about our progress toward making this new building a reality!

Thank you for your continued support. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of countless young people in West Africa!