We all know it takes three things to start a fire: heat, fuel and oxygen.
It also takes three things to turn a dream into reality: faith, a great team, and people like yourself who invest in the vision early on.
Just like a fire, if you don’t have all three, you’re left with nothing.
This is especially true in West Africa, which is one of the poorest regions in the world. Here, there is a long list of hurdles to overcome: corrupt governments, poor infrastructure, and debilitating poverty.
But thanks to our committed team, God’s faithfulness, and your support, we recently got to celebrate a major milestone: the opening the WAVS flagship campus in the capital of Guinea-Bissau.
The journey wasn’t easy. But along the way, thousands of people like you joined in.
Many of you gave generously, volunteered long hours, and prayed diligently for our staff, teachers and students. Some of you even traveled to West Africa, enduring 72-hour itineraries, unexpected allergic reactions to tropical fruits, and long trips in over-crowded public transit vehicles.
Others invited friends to fill tables at fundraisers, stuffed envelopes, hosted small gatherings at your house, organized benefit concerts, joined our leadership team, turned your birthdays into fundraisers, or gave a timely word of encouragement to someone on our team.
Everything you did took us one step closer to today.
The new campus opened on April 19. It sits on 28 acres of land on the edge of the capital, Bissau. Once it’s completely built out, it will have space to train more than 2,000 students each year.
Guinea-Bissau is a country with less than 2 million people. So that means this vocational school will train one out of every thousand people in the country – every year!
We’re off to a strong start. Dozens of students have already enrolled. One of them is a local pastor named Casimiro.
“My experience here is very different from what I’ve had in other places. The way of welcoming us and teaching us is spectacular,” he said. “To the people who helped to make this school a reality, I want them to know that they cannot imagine the impact this campus will have on the community. It will train the people who will serve this country in the future.”
On the same day the campus opened, I was at a local clinic and one of the employees asked me why I was visiting Guinea-Bissau. When I started talking about WAVS and the new campus, all of his co-workers (most of them in their 20s) stopped what they were doing and listened in. Their questions came fast and furious: When did classes start? What’s courses are taught? How much does it cost to enroll? Is it too late to sign up?
It confirmed what I’ve seen over and over again: Young people in Guinea-Bissau are ready – and eager – to work for a brighter future. All they need is the opportunity.
In 2013, WAVS had just one campus. It was in a town called Canchungo with a population of about 30,000 people. The school had grown steadily since opening seven years earlier, but we wondered if we could do more.
Instead of training 200 students each year (as we did at the Canchungo campus), what if we could train 2,000 students … every single year?
Instead of one campus, what if there was a network of schools and partnerships throughout the region?
Instead of transforming one town, what if we could play a role in transforming an entire country?
Through prayer and many long conversations with trusted community leaders in Guinea-Bissau, it became clear that we should open a campus in Bissau – the heart of the country.
But purchasing a large piece of property in the capital city is complicated (property rights in West Africa are a little “fuzzy”). For six years, we searched for land without success. Government officials said they wanted to help us, but they rotated out of office so frequently, it was hard to gain any traction.
Privately, I wondered whether we should give up. By late 2018, I decided that if something didn’t work out within the next few months, it was time to move on.
In early 2019, we met with newly appointed city officials. This time, things were different. They were ready to take decisive action. They identified a piece of city-owned land to give to WAVS (we still had to pay a fee to register the land in our name).
The property was more than what we had hoped for: 28 acres of prime real estate in one of the fastest-growing neighborhoods of Bissau, right at the crossroads of two future major roads. It was an answer to our prayers.
The plan was to build the first classroom building and open the campus within a year. But instead, for the next three years, we faced a steady drip of unforeseen challenges: problems with construction contractors, delayed shipping containers, and even people sneaking onto our property at night to mine our land for rocks and sand. Last year, we had to sue the government to stop the National Guard from interfering with our construction contractors (it’s a long story).
The opening date kept getting pushed back.
But by late last year, we were able to resolve those challenges. That’s when we finally got some momentum.
In a period of six months, our team hustled to build a water tower, construct a mile-long security wall, complete the first classroom building, finish a major earthworks operation to level out the land, hire new staff for the campus, and enroll students – all before opening day on April 19.
On the first day of class, we all stood up and celebrated when the students walked into the classroom. The Bissau campus was finally open.
Faith, a great team, and people who are willing to invest in the vision early on – that’s what you need to turn a dream into a reality.
Even with all three, there are no guarantees. Some dreams just never make it. Personally, I had to learn to be ready to accept that possibility. But without all three elements, there’s not even a chance.
So today, we’re praising our hard-working team for a job well-done. We’re giving thanks to God for his goodness and faithfulness. And we’re celebrating you – the people who joined in on the journey along the way and invested in this dream.
Chris Collins, WAVS Executive Director
Starting in the fall, we expect at least 200 students to enroll at the Bissau campus. We want to be ready to accept them.
You can help by joining the One Student community, which is a group of people who give each month to equip West Africans with life-changing job skills, one student at a time.
Each student at the Bissau campus invests in their own education by paying a small fee when they enroll, but this only covers a fraction of their overall tuition costs. As a One Student member, you help cover the rest!
Every $10 per month that you give helps train one student each year. Once every three months, you’ll receive an impact report with personalized data, including the total number of students that you have helped train. Learn more.