CLEARVIEW — Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony on the coast of West Africa, has been in the news lately with its military accused of drug trafficking. It’s a poor, politically unstable and dangerous country, but to Martha Reynolds it’s a second home.
Martha and her husband, Herb Reynolds, are the founders of the Christian organization West African Vocational Schools. Though they are pushing 80, they’ve only just retired from full-time volunteer work with the nonprofit group, most of it in Guinea-Bissau.
Martha Reynolds speaks Portuguese-based creole, the language of her well-worn Bible and the Guinea-Bissau people, whom she calls family.
“I love them and God gave me a mission there,” she said.
Martha Reynolds first traveled to Guinea-Bissau in 1994 as part of short-term missions project and then kept going back.
Her dream was to establish a vocational school in the town of Chanchungo, where people could learn the skills to get out of poverty. She started the group that would become WAVS in 2000 and the school, designed by Herb Reynolds, was completed in 2007.
At the vocational school, men and women learn basic computer skills, auto mechanics, sewing arts, welding, leadership skills and the English language.
“It’s a pilot program and just the first of what we hope will be many schools there,” Herb said. “We’re just pioneers at heart.”
WAVS is supported by churches and individuals here who donate to pay for supplies, the salaries of the teachers and director Chris Collins, who is based in Shoreline.
“For me to see what Herb and Martha have done in their retirement years is pretty inspiring,” Collins said. “I hope I am just as busy when I am in my 70s.”
Both widowed, the Reynoldses married in 2002. Together they have eight children, 27 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. It was a good match for all, they said.
Herb enthusiastically joined Martha in her endeavor and made his first trip to Africa in 2003.
Retired with business backgrounds that would allow them to even consider the construction of the school, Martha and Herb were in the right place at the right time, she said.
“To whom much has been given, much is required,” Martha Reynolds said. “Together our talents began to dovetail and we were able to accomplish so many things. Still it took years to get the school built.”
Local people were hired to do the work, including the hand-made production of the cement blocks used to build the walls of the school. Others were taught to construct the solar system that provides the power for the school.
Now well-established, the vocational school has about 160 students, 23 staff members and an administrative board of directors. Former students now are among the teachers.
When the couple returned from their most recent trip to Africa, they brought with them gifts from the school staff.
“They told us that because we visited Guinea-Bissau, they now have jobs and skills that would have been out of reach,” Martha Reynolds said. “I told them that God is awesome. He is the one who did it.”
The school was made possible by a long list of people in Washington state and in Guinea-Bissau, she said.
“We will go back to visit Guinea-Bissau again and bring other people with us, so that the work can continue,” Martha said.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to help
For more information or to donate to West African Vocational Schools, go to www.wavschools.org.