Cirilo grew up in a country where most people live on less than $2 a day. As a kid, he dreamed about becoming a doctor or lawyer. With a career like that, he thought, he’d leave his life of poverty behind.
Now as an adult, Cirilo shows up to work every day ready to direct his team of seven assistants. His brother works with him as a partner. The job pays very well by West African standards. People in the community respect him.
But he didn’t become a doctor. Or a lawyer.
He’s a welder.
Like most families living in Guinea-Bissau, Cirilo’s parents couldn’t afford to even pay for his school uniform – much less university fees. There was no chance he was going to law school or med school.
So Cirilo found a new dream to pursue instead. He learned a trade-skill and started his own business. Today, he earns an income that is equal to or better than the pay of many white-collar workers in Guinea-Bissau, where wages are low and employees often go months without receiving their salaries.
On a sunny afternoon at his workshop, Cirilo looked around at his team of apprentices and his brother, a carpenter. He wore ragged pants and a fishing hat – and a permanent smile. The boss was happy.
“None of us are professors, secretaries or doctors – but I thank God for the profession he’s given us,” Cirilo said. “It’s a profession I love a lot. Whenever I’m resting and I let my mind wander, I always end up thinking about whatever welding project I’m working on how to calculate out its dimensions.”
The workshop is a tribute to Cirilo’s resourcefulness. Here’s the table saw he retrofitted. Here are the hand tools he bought using money he gradually saved up over the years. Down the street is a giant warehouse; the owner had hired Cirilo to build and install its massive roof. (That job paid really well).
Cirilo is 35, married, and expecting his first child soon. Thanks to his reliable income, he’s able to support his parents and pay school fees for his siblings, including two brothers who are studying at universities.
How did he get here? It wasn’t easy.
Growing up, Cirilo learned how to fish and raise pigs so he could pay for his school fees. His father was a nurse and his mother worked in the fields. After finishing high school, he studied general mechanics. But the training didn’t focus on a specific trade-skill. He spent two years trying to find a job, but no one was interested in hiring him.
Then he heard about the WAVS Vocational Schools and its nine-month welding course. He quickly enrolled, knowing it would give him the specialized skills he needed. After graduating, he was ready to strike out on his own.
At first, he had to rent tools for each welding job he took on. But he gradually built up his own workshop. Today, it’s all his own.
“I worked hard to get the tools I have,” he said.
Cirilo was so happy with his experience at the WAVS School, that he’s paying for one of his apprentices to go through the same welding program this year. (Thanks to members of the One Student Community, who cover most of the costs of training programs at the WAVS School, tuition fees are less than $10 a month). Cirilo plans to enroll his other apprentices in the future.
“I want to pay for all of them to go through the welding program,” he said.
Cirilo has traveled the path out of poverty – and it didn’t require a university degree. Now he’s paving the way for others.