Desk Officer Chris Hitch recently visited Project Trust’s volunteers in Guyana. Here are five things he learned on the visit:
Volunteers have comparable roles but very different experiences across Guyana
In all the projects in Guyana the volunteers are teachers. Some are primary schools teachers, so are allocated a class, and teach everything including English, maths, history, Spanish, art and P.E. The volunteers in secondary schools work as subject teachers, teaching maths, science, English or ICT. But beyond the volunteering role the projects in Guyana are very different. We have projects in the depths of the rainforest, in communities in the highlands, in ranch and rodeo country in the south and three hours’ journey upriver via speedboats. It’s always interesting for volunteers to visit each other’s projects in different regions, and discover the country’s great variety for themselves.
No matter how well you know a country, it can still surprise you
Because there is so much diversity to Guyana, even on my ninth visit to the country there are still things that surprise me. This year I visited volunteers in a new project, which is culturally completely different to the rest of Guyana. The two volunteers there are teaching in a school on an island called Leguan in the mouth of the Essequibo river. The island is about the same size as Coll but has a population of about 2,000. The population is predominantly Hindu, and culturally it feels more Asian than Caribbean, with religious ceremonies at temples and women wearing saris and henna. At times I had to remind myself I was still in Guyana.
Project Trust’s impact in Guyana
As with any trip to Guyana, going back to visit Orealla, the project I volunteered in, brings back strong emotions and memories. This year was particularly special, because there is a real success story from the school. A Grade 11 girl (16 years old) is going to be the first student from the school to sit the CXC (GCSE equivalent) exams. One of the volunteers this year is tutoring her for the exam, but her education to get her to this point stretches back through all the generations of Project Trust volunteers for the last nine years. The student was in primary school when I was a volunteer, and it is lovely to see how well she’s done and the impact that successive years of Project Trust volunteers have made. There are similar stories of success from all our projects in Guyana, and that impressive level of impact is what future generations of Guyana volunteers will be expected to strive for.
Relaxed and adventurous: key characteristics of Guyana volunteers
Guyana is about the same size as the UK but has a population of 750,000, most of who live in or around the capital on the coast. As such the infrastructure in the interior of the country isn’t great, and in particular roads are poor so access is very difficult. Because of that volunteers have to be prepared for using buses, 4x4s, boats and planes, long walks, and generally lots of adventurous travelling. “Just now” is an important phrase in Guyana. “Just now” can mean in three minutes, three hours or three days, so if something is going to happen “just now” you have to get into the rhythm of things and not fret about it.
Limited Resource Teacher Training
Whilst I was in Guyana I met with Tom Greenwood, who was a Project Trust volunteer in Guyana in 2007/08. He subsequently studied at Plymouth University, then completed the Teach First programme. He now lives in Guyana, working as a teacher at the School of Nations and running his own organisation called Limited Resource Teacher Training, which has run programmes in Uganda, Nepal and India. Tom works with Project Trust volunteers at the start of their year in Guyana and during the Easter holidays, running training workshops to prepare them for what teaching in the country is going to be like and for the challenges they will face. His knowledge and expertise are an incredible resource for Project Trust, and we very much appreciate all his hard work.
You can find out more about Limited Resource Teacher Training here.
And here are an extra 2.5 things Head of HR and Administration Doug Young learned on his visit:
Another story of Project Trust’s impact in Guyana
I visited the volunteers in Region Nine in the south of Guyana, which is mainly savannah. It was great to go back to a country where I was Desk Officer for seven years and lived in for two. One project I visited was Aishalton. The volunteers there teach in a secondary school and this year two former pupils are sitting their teacher training exams. The community are really proud about the two teachers graduating and the headmaster emphasised the contribution Project Trust volunteers have made over the past 12 years to the education of the former pupils.
There are even more opportunities for volunteers to make a big difference
There are a lot of primary schools in the area surrounding Aishalton where volunteers could make a real impact. You can drive through the savannah and not see anything for hours, but if you happen to take the right route you pass through a myriad of villages, all with primary schools with about 100 kids. The biggest challenge for secondary teachers in Guyana is the kids they are getting in often aren’t literate or numerate, so if we can get volunteers working in schools with kids from a young age they can be better prepared for making the most of high school.
Villages look very different in Guyana, but community is very important
Guyana is an incredible place to be a volunteer with amazing opportunities to be part of a community. Physically villages in Region Nine are very spread out, for example there might be 500 people living across about 100 square miles. But they still maintain a tight-knit sense of community, and the people are very dependent on each other, so there is a huge amount for volunteers to get involved with.