Day to Day
Trip Start Oct 30, 2010
49Trip End Aug 27, 2011
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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).
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!
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.
I will update again soon!