Day to Day

Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
Trip End Aug 27, 2011

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Flag of Guyana  , Demerara-Mahaica,
Friday, April 1, 2011

Many of you have been asking me to give you more details about what I do day to day, what Guyana is like and how I am liking my stay so far. For those of you whom I haven't told, here it goes for the first time, but for those of you whom I have answered, I apologize if you are re-reading this again… I mean re-reading literally because I am more or less directly copying the information I wrote to Lindsey and pasting it into this blog and adding a few extra comments because I am too tired to be original after a long hot day (I know, it is lame and I sincerely apologize for my laziness Lin!).

I have been extremely busy since I got here, so much so that it is hard to believe that at the end of this week I will have been here for a month!! My days pass in what seems to be a blink of an eye. I have started getting up early so that I can exercise to keep myself feeling healthy (by the way, in addition to continuing Yoga I started doing exercises from this great book Wendi and Jorge suggested to me called "You are your own gym".The name explains it all and I highly recommend it), which means I am awake by 7am even though I should be sleeping in to take advantage of my 10am start time (how awesome is that right?). Then I enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and I don’t have to make a lunch because Nicola makes it for me (again.. how awesome is that right??).  We usually take a cab to work because I also live with another Red Thread member named Andaiye (she lives upstairs), so between the three of us, it costs about as much as taking the bus.  I do on occasion take the Mini-buses myself, which as I mentioned before are small privately owned vans which stop on predetermined routes regulated by the Mini Bus coalition (any of you travelers out there -friends included whom debated this with me before about buses like these in other countries… despite being numbered, they are privately owned and that’s why they yell out at you from the street… they need to pack in their vehicles as much as possible to maximize profits), but they drive fast, are crowded and you have to walk a long distance from where they drop you off, so cabs are a lot more convenient (I told you, I am inherently a very lazy person).

I arrive at work shortly before or after 10am, and I bring my computer to the volunteer corner where I share a desk with whoever decides to sit with me that day. Most of the women here are Guyanese, but I am also working with Leeann who is a Canadian PhD student, and Professor Peake’s daughter Esther is also here from Canada at the moment. In the mornings I tend to do whatever work I have to catch up on from previous days, or extra tasks which Red Thread itself might like me to do (as I mentioned I am working more for the Youth Network at the moment than for Red Thread’s women’s empowerment initiatives).  The tasks I do, do however,  include helping with the violence reports, basic admin stuff like looking for flights for conferences, cleaning, attending meetings and preparing the various tasks necessary for events like the Women’s March we had two weeks ago (we have another picket and meeting coming up next week on Monday and Thursday).

Other work that I do in the mornings would be from the Youth Network.  At the moment we are working on various fund raisers to help cover the costs of proper classroom materials (books, pens, pencils, proper chalk boards [currently we have wooden boards painted black which wastes an entire piece of chalk with each line you write because it is so coarse], classroom posters to spruce the place up as well as a printer to help students do their homework) and to send a group of underprivileged teens from the area to camp in the summer. The money we earn is going to go toward paying for food, accommodation and the materials we need to facilitate the various activities we will be holding for them.  Did I mention that we will also be responsible for planning, hosting and running the camp? We really have very few resources, but the camp is important because it strives to empower the youth to be aware of their individual power and potential, while fostering their skills and talents to help them secure a brighter future for themselves. More details to come in a separate post because we will be exhausting every avenue for fund raising and that includes you my dear readers (yes I know it is ballsy on my part to be "begging" from all of you, but I know most of you reading these words are family so I don’t feel so badly about it). We are currently planning events such as movie nights that will earn a net profit of $25US TOTAL over the course of three days for all the work and planning we are putting into it… so every tiny little donation makes a big difference.  We need all the support we can get.  Last year it cost $2000US to run the camp for 35 youth because they got the accommodation more or less for free, but the expected cost might be closer to twice that amount this year if we are unable to get subsidized accommodation. As I said, more to come on this but just be aware, the work we are doing and my “begging” is for a very good cause.

Anyway, back to the play by play of my day.  In between the tasks which constitute the aforementioned work, I take a daily break  around 11:45 to buy fresh fruit from a lady who announces her presence by yelling “Mango, banana, orange, watermelon,  pineapple….” up and down the street. The mango and sour apple she sells usually get a sprinkle of salt and “pepper” as they call it, but this is hot pepper, like ground chillis or something like that, which is similar to what we saw in Southeast Asia from the fruit sellers. I really wonder where this culinary tradition comes from, and if perhaps it serves some practical purpose like preserving the fruit for longer in the heat explaining this cross cultural and cross continent activity!?

A fter my snack I do a little more work and I usually have lunch downstairs or go downtown with Leeann or Pere to do some running around (picking up various materials for the fund raisers, arranging my extension for the rest of my stay, doing photocopying etc.). By the time I return, I have to prepare for tutoring or classes.  Every day I do one on one tutoring with a boy named Walter (I can’t really include his real name or any up close photos of him or the other children the way I would with my Korean students, because most of the children are wards of the state and we need to protect their privacy) and we study Math and Grammar together.

While I am tutoring Walter, I am also trying to split my time among other students who have homework assignments they need help with.  Many times they come in needing to do science lab reports without ever having done the lab in school, or research reports without having access to a computer or the ability to get to the library.  How are these kids supposed to do the work if they don`t have the proper resources? Apparently the state of the education system in Guyana is quite dismal despite being in the world`s top percentiles of countries spending a large proportion of their GDP on education and being ranked quite high on the Education Index for all developing countries. But despite their fiscal efforts toward education, Guyana is still one of the poorest nations in the western hemisphere and thus schools often lack basic resources like textbooks for all students or equipment for science and technology.  In addition Guyana is facing a serious brain drain, and qualified teachers are hard to find especially for these subjects given the training required and that teacher`s wages are very low.

Due to this lack of resources, especially for underachieving children needing special attention, many of the students we teach (all coming from low income areas) are behind in all of their classes and are unable to even complete required assignments.  This is why Red Thread is running the Youth Network and we are doing what we are doing.  In addition to tutoring, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 4:30-5:30 I teach English, Science and Computers respectively to students aged 14-18. The students so far are awesome, and while they can be a bit dismissive and uncooperative at times, overall they are sweet and respectful and actually try to engage with the material unlike the Korean kids I was teaching (but as you long term readers well know, there was a whole set of other reasons for that). I have only been doing official teaching like this for about two weeks, but I am liking it a lot so far partly because the work is meaningful and partly because I only teach officially for 3 hours a week which is much less tiring than teaching 34 classes a week lol!

The end of the day comes between 6pm and 8pm (and sometimes even later) depending on what time the students finish up their work and we complete the other tasks we didn`t complete before the children come to Red Thread around 3pm. I am also working on a module for the computers course which I take home to work on if I am not too drained, as well as trying to keep up with some recommended readings (which frankly I should be doing A LOT more of, but I am just not finding the time so far).

The weekends come quickly, but are also filled with work related (albeit interesting) activities. Last Saturday we attended a meeting about Domestic Violence in the Presbyterian Church, and every other Sunday, the Youth Network holds workshops to get the kids out of the dormitory and get them doing something productive.  This Sunday we had a combo workshop/picnic and sports afternoon.  The workshop was about stereotyping and how stereotypes undermine our individuality and prevent us from accessing resources. The boys and girls were separated according to gender and I facilitated the girls group.  We discussed gender roles, what kind of gender stereotypes (and other stereotypes) exist and what it means to be empowered.  Many of these kids have very rigid ideas about what it means to be a man or a woman, and often hold negative racial stereotypes  despite being of the belief that they don`t (Guyana is still a very racially stratified country).  This is why the workshops and the summer camp are so important, because what the volunteers for the Youth Network have been trying to do first and foremost, is to break down the barriers that keep these kids believing that they can`t do something because of their race or gender and to help put an end to domestic violence (many people [both men and women] still hold the belief that if a child or woman is not doing their ``duty``, they deserve to be beaten).  Most of these kids do not have role models to help them think critically about these issues and that is where the Youth Network comes in.

 After our meeting, we took the kids out the Guyana National Park so they could get out of the dormitory (which I have only seen the outside and first floor of and is, for what I have seen, a sad state of affairs). Pere and Kandasia work for Red Thread through the UNDP and thus have many connections through them but absolutely no funding (surprise, surprise). Because of their UNDP connections however, they were able to secure private donations through their supervisor for food and bus transport to the park, as well as a number of other volunteers to come and help play some sports with the students. I came along with the intention to help, but instead they put me on a cricket team (a sport I have barely heard of, not to mention played) and severely hindered their cause (winning).  I think I am their least favourite teacher now and definitely the least cool which brought up a lot of old highschool insecurities from Gym Class (seriously).  It was so awesome to see kids having fun, and it was hard to drag them back “home”, but it feels really good to know that we see them at least 5 times a week and we are making even just a small difference in their lives.  So as you can see, things are going really well, I am liking my work a lot although I am definitely not doing what I was anticipating so far (i.e. working with women), but working with the youth has been extremely rewarding and I am really liking the admin side of it too.

The family I am living with is great as you already know, I am just not used to living with people anymore so the lack of privacy is probably the only thing I would change( I feel rude just running into my room and doing work without being a little bit social). It also causes a slight problem when my tiny bladder decides it needs to use the washroom (which any of you who know me will vouch IS a problem) and there are four girls living in the house with one toilet lol. But they are extremely sweet, live in a nice neighbourhood which is relatively safe although all of the houses have bars on the doors and windows and locked gates with dogs... so at home I feel pretty safe! If you are wondering what I am doing to stay safe otherwise,  I just never walk outside at night alone and only carry a small amount of cash on me whenever I go somewhere in the day.

As for Georgetown... it is a crumbling colonial capital (and I am surprised to see that all of the colonial structures are wooden and not stone –probably a result of the local environment ) which actually sits below high tide level and is only protected by a sea wall.  As I have mentioned, over the last few weeks there have been fairly heavy rains causing many houses and streets to flood, leaving the remaining picturesque elements of the city in a muddy mess. Outside of its current visual drawbacks, it has a very Caribbean flavour, extremely friendly people and a lot of amazing food (curries, roti, jerk chicken,  and even Chinese).  So far the driving is relatively tame compared with other countries I have visited so I am definitely happy about that (although they do drive on the “wrong” side of the road lol) and there are a lot more cars than motorbikes. It is definitely more of a Caribbean culture than South American, but I haven't been to the interior yet so we will see what it is like there. I am heading to Berbice ( which is somewhat in the interior to the East) this weekend to check out the town where Pere and I will be helping to facilitate a workshop on AIDS and Drug abuse.

I will update again soon!

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Hana on

Miska, another amazing entry. I truly don't know when you find time to write such extensive blogs, but it's greatly appreciated!!

Please send info/link how to make a donation. I plan to send your blog to my rich/er friends.

xoxo mama

mishkabobala on

Hi mom! Thanks for being so supportive of our cause! We are doing a fund raising seminar this weekend for which I am preparing a presentation. I will blog about that over the course of the weekend, send you the presentation as well as a donation sheet and letter. If your boss wouldn't have a problem with it, perhaps you could send the letter and an envelope around the office and collect any spare change for me from people willing to make donations. Every little bit helps. I will also see if there is some way to set up a paypal account for it... I will keep you posted! xox

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