In a country where half the population lives in severe poverty and the government can’t pay its school teachers and hospital nurses, young people in Guinea-Bissau like João da Cruz Djedjo must find creative ways just to get by.
João, 22, is an auto body welder who repairs rusted-out cars and vans. He doesn’t have much. His workshop is a large patch of dirt a few hundred feet from the main road in town. His only shade is a nearby mango tree. His hardware is an oxygen tank, a tiny fuel tank, and a blowtorch. There’s no electricity, hardly any hand tools, and his assistant is a neighborhood boy.
But with these simple resources – and with the training he received from a nine-month welding program at the WAVS School last year– João is able to turn a small profit.
No auto body job is too big for João; he does it all. João showed me an old Mercedes that looked like it belonged in a junk yard.
“I’ve repaired cars like this, and I’ll repair this one, too,” he said.
João has been welding since he was 8 years old. He enrolled in the WAVS School’s welding program so he could expand his skills set. During the course, he learned about gas and electric welding, machining work, and he helped install a zinc roof.
“I gained a lot of experience,” João said. “And I’ve used this experience to learn how to properly rebuild a car.”
João uses the money he earns from his work to provide for himself and his parents. His goal is to build his own shop one day.
“I just want to work,” he said. “I want to use what I’ve learned. I don’t want to have my diploma just sitting there. I want to use my skills.”
Thanks to the One Student community who help keep tuition at the WAVS School in Guinea-Bissau affordable, young and ambitious people like João have the chance to turn their future plans into reality. I’m inspired by his story. And I invite you to be a part of it – and many other stories like his.