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The Here and Now

The Here and Now

Hey there — it’s me!  Ya’ll are due for an update, and it’s been awhile, so there’s plenty to cover.  Here we go…

Work Stuff

Health Center Library:  This is very exciting!  Another PC volunteer had previously introduced a reading library at his health clinic, promoting reading to infants and children at a young age.  Considering the literacy challenges in my village, and the volume of children that come through our infant clinic each month, I thought this would be a great opportunity at my health center as well.

So with the help of Darien Book Aid (awesome organization: http://www.darienbookaid.org)

Books from Darien Book Aide
Books from Darien Book Aide

I was able to get some books to start up a small library, and am now providing talks at the beginning of the clinic, explaining the importance of reading to children at an early age – even for just the benefit of kids seeing parents with books.  For those parents who are unable or uncomfortable reading to their kids, myself or other health center staff read to the children for them.

Mike helping read to clinic kids
Mike helping read to clinic kids

The volunteer who initially started health center reading, Mike, helped me roll out the program and has so far been well received by kids and parents at my center.  This initiative provides great utilization of the time parents and children spend waiting to get through the clinic process.  Side Note: We can use more books!  Board books or books with nice pictures and simple reading seem to work the best.  So if you have any old children’s books lying around, they would be much appreciated here.

Literacy Tutoring: This is a new area for me, as I have never taught literacy or reading to anyone before.  Thankfully there are plenty of resources, both human and material, through PC to give me a good idea where to begin.  I have been working with neighbor kids in my community a few times each week (including James, the kid on the cover pic), and it has been so rewarding to see their progress being made.  I can only imagine how frustrating it could be going through as an adult and being unable to read, but it’s a reality many people here live.  Knowing that these kids are working to have the basic literacy skills needed to improve their lives is encouraging!

SASOD: I have had the opportunity to get linked up with a fantastic NGO in Georgetown that is working to help marginalized populations in Guyana.  SASODI am volunteering with them a few days each week to expand and further develop sexual, mental, and emotional health programs, in an effort to reduce STI’s, HIV, and depression/suicide amongst key populations. Not only is this work that is personally important to me, but it also gives me the resemblance of real “job” a few days a week, which has been surprisingly nice…PLUS, my office has AC!!! 🙂

garbage

Guyana Shines: If there is one area that Guyanese as individuals could have an immediate impact on, I would say it’s the environment.   11063513_947771475246655_1439253735021715008_nUnfortunately, garbage is inherently part of the Guyana I know; however, I have been told it has not always been this way.  Formally considered the Garden City of the Caribbean, Georgetown was well kept and maintained.  Now, after years and years of trash, piled in drains and trenches – it is difficult to find an area where littler is not present. 11069876_947777145246088_573415641543979524_n This causes a negative cycle of “trash breeding trash” wherein Guyanese don’t think twice about littering, since the litter is already there.  Guyana Shines is a fantastic group that has taken the challenge to tackle this problem, and it has been great to have the opportunities to work them.  11076265_947772488579887_9072346016383001353_nTheir cleanup projects, combined with in-school environmental education and trash bin placements, help to provide the foundation to a better Guyana.

Colored Pencil Project: Another amazing organization from America!  (http://www.thecoloredpencilproject.org)  Hannah and Rachel from the colored pencil project came to Guyana to provide Peace Corps volunteers training and supplies to use in our communities.  FullSizeRender (4)This was a HUGE undertaking, as they literally brought hundreds and hundreds of colored pencil packs for us to give to children.  Their mission is to encourage self-expression in children through art, and to give children pencils they can keep to continue using art as way to communicate after the sessions are over.  CP project 3I was able to facilitate the sessions with all of Bagotville Primary.  It was fantastic seeing the kids express themselves through their self-portraits and world drawings, and their surprise and excitement when they were told they can keep the pencils!  Thanks again Colored Pencil Project!CP project 4

Kings Highway Orphanage and Kids Play Park: These projects are still happening, and are also true testaments of the challenges in getting things completed in a developing country.  Although we have received a lot of community support and pledged donations for materials needed to complete these, the logistics and delivery of such have been challenging.  Luckily, I’ve still got plenty of time left to work through the challenges and see them through.

Workshops, Workshops, Workshops: The last few months have also been filled with plenty of workshops.  As part of the HIV taskforce, I attended a PEPFAR in service training to address the issue of Gender and Sexual Minorities as they relate to HIV and key populations.  Very informative workshop!  The information was so valuable that the taskforce has taken the initiative to prepare a similar training that we will deliver to community service providers here in Guyana.  Unfortunately, discrimination is still a big issue here, especially within the Guyanese health care environment, which prevents people from seeking necessary services when they should.  The first training will be delivered to a group of New Amsterdam nursing students in April.  I also was part of a diversity training workshop, which was put on by Peace Corps Washington and delivered to all Peace Corps Guyana staff.  This was an inspiring workshop, which I believe really helped local Guyanese Peace Corps staff better understand the wide range of diverse volunteers coming from America, and I give kudos to PC Washington for the commitment to their volunteers.
Other Stuff – Good, Bad, and everything in between

Holidays: Guyanese holidays are FUN, and there’s a lot of them!  As some of you may have seen on my facebook page, there have been a few very cultural and very fun holidays over the past month or two.Phagwah 4  Mashramani (Mash) celebrates Guyana being a republic.  The work means celebration after hard work, and that it was. 🙂 Then there was Phagwah, or Holi, which is a Hindu holiday which celebrates good overcoming evil.  This holiday involved A LOT of colored chalk, water, food, and fun.  If anyone ever gets the urge to come visit Guyana, I highly recommend coming during one of these two celebrations.


Jhandi:
My neighbor had a Jhandi to celebrate her birthday.  A Jhandi is a spiritual devotion done by Hindus and is generally performed by a Pundit. IMG_2502 IMG_2515
There was singing of devotional songs and blessings asked for the one who initiates the ceremony…..and oh, delicious puri and halwa (prasad) served after.  Jhandi’s are one of my favorite things about the Hindu culture here! Check Out This Video!

Food: My diet has become somewhat limited…I need to start cooking again!  I have settled into a routine of wheat bread or oats, PB, bananas, and cinnamon in the morning; tuna fish or egg sandwich for lunch, and a protein shake and egg/tuna with roti for dinner…it’s difficult cooking for one person, and these foods are easy to make and a bit more predicable than my cooking 🙂  Considering I have access to some of the best and cheapest fruits and vegetables available, I really need to start using them! FullSizeRender Of course, there are some foods I will never get used to…such as cow face souse – yes, actually made from a cow’s face!

Health: I got chikungunya – AGAIN.  Luckily, it’s not so bad the second time you get it…all the same symptoms, but less severe and they do not last as long.

:(
🙁

The chikungunya may have led to some weird ankle infection/swelling at the end of January, but it only lasted a weekend…I have no idea what it was.

On the bright side, other than a slight recent sunburn, I currently feel like I am in fantastic health – both mentally and physically.

Comings and Goings: I can’t believe it’s almost been a year here!  That being said, a new batch of volunteers is set to arrive, and the volunteers that got here before us are getting ready to leave.  This is hard, especially since I have become close to several people in the group that is leaving.  I will especially miss my neighbors, Pat and Mike, who have been a great support for me in the community.  At the same time I am looking forward to meeting all the volunteers from the new group coming, and hopefully new friendships and connections can be made.

Tim, Andrew, Me, Jenni, Kaylee
Tim, Andrew, Me, Jenni, Kaylee

I also miss Andrew from our group, who recently went home to pursue other ventures…our Guy26 get-togethers just aren’t the same without him!

Alright, well I guess that’s about it for the here and now.  Thanks for taking the time to catch up on me, and remember, I love to get caught up on you too!  If you haven’t already, please shoot me a message letting me know how you are doing and what’s new in your world…it takes two to stay connected! 🙂 Until next time…

Finding the Groove in Now

Finding the Groove in Now

It has been over 6 months since I left Salt Lake City, and as I move into the 2nd half of my first year away, I am finally starting to come to terms with the fact that I live here.  It’s very difficult to describe how the first 6 months were being rationalized in my mind, but the feeling that resulted is that I was just on an extended, odd, somewhat sadomasochistic, self-discovery vacation.  This feeling would obviously not be sustainable, and over the last month or so I have worked to find my groove, and to see if there is a way I can make the remaining year and a half happen.

Pumpkin carving with the neighbors
Pumpkin carving with the neighbors

In order for living here to work, I knew I had to start developing relationships with more locals.  This really isn’t the hardest thing to do, as the Guyanese people I’ve met are generally very friendly and hospitable, and happy to hang out and chat almost any time.  As I’ve stepped out of my comfort zone, aka my apartment, I have been spending more time with Guyanese neighbors, friends, and kids from all over.  As I began to meet more people in my neighborhood, I decided it would be fun to have a pumpkin carving night.  Halloween is not a thing in Guyana – so this would be a new experience for them (and they loved it!) Stuff like this has significantly helped in my adjustment here, and I am so thankful for the great people I’ve met so far.  The only down side to this, is that stepping too far out ends up costing money – and based on what the Peace Corps gives us each month, I guess they just want us to meet friends on our same street.  Luckily, some of my favorite people to hang out with do live just a few doors down…so I can hang out with them while saving to meet up with the other friends I’ve met who live farther away.

Possibly the most rewarding part of my experience so far has been working with the kids.  This came as a surprise to me, as I’ve only ever worked with adults, and I initially felt like a fish out of water being around lots of kids.  But as time has gone on, I’ve found my time with kids to be one of the most mutually beneficial and rewarding ways to spend it.  I have been working with grades 5 and 6, focusing on life skills such as self-esteem, goal setting, and positive decision making.

Grade 6...love these guys!
Grade 6…love these guys!

These sessions are some of the best days of my week, and the life skills focus is something I hope to work into future projects down the road.  Some volunteers and I have also been interacting with kids at the local community center for “game days” – literally just playing games with them and having fun.  Although this can be somewhat exhausting at times, it’s also a joy be there.

Work at the health center is still not very well defined, and I am not sure that it ever will be.  I know I am able to provide help and health education during the mornings of our busy clinics, but these are only a few times a week, and over by noon.  Luckily I have a great Counterpart at the health center, who encourages me to go and find other opportunities to help around the area.  As such I have been getting involved in work with other local groups such as the Candle in the Wind HIV Support Group, Region 3 Health and Wellness Club, and NAPS (National AIDS Program Secretariat).  Our Health and Wellness Club just assisted at an outreach for World Diabetes Day on Nov. 14, providing blood-sugar, BP, and BMI testing, along with additional information on diabetes management and nutrition.  As a member of the Peace Corps HIV Taskforce, we are also working towards our HIV “Stomping Out Stigma” day camps being held throughout Guyana for World Aids Day next month.  It’s an odd situation – there is a lot to do here, but then there are hours – days – weeks that it just feels like there’s nothing to do, or at least that nothing is getting done.

On my health front I am doing much better.  I continue to have a bitter hate for mosquitos (2 have bit me since I’ve been typing this), and the heat is still a lot to handle most the time.

Fishing with the Neighbors, and catching some sun!
Fishing with the Neighbors, and catching some sun!

However, I am actually finally sporting a sun tan (maybe burn) after going out with my neighbors fishing today – aside from the health issues had earlier, I had lost any tan I once had back home…time to work at getting some of that back.  🙂

Reconnect...wasn't ALL work and no play, but there was work!
Reconnect…wasn’t ALL work and no play, but there was work!

All of the volunteers had a great time at our reconnect conference the last week of October.  We were spoiled with AC rooms, good meals, fast internet, and each other.

Scrabble pieces for Halloween - was awesome!
Scrabble pieces for Halloween – was awesome!

Christmas has officially started in Guyana (it started in October), and I am not sure how spending the holidays away from home will be.  Being around my family and friends during this time of the year was always the best part of the year for me, so I am mentally bracing for a wave of homesickness.  Fortunately most of our Peace Corps family will be getting together for Thanksgiving, and the Guyanese friends and families I’ve met here are sure to provide plenty of Christmas cheer!

So I guess that is it for now…I’m living in Guyana, more and more each day, and sometimes I can’t even really believe it.  Some mornings I am wake up and smile, others I wake up and laugh – wondering really what in the hell I am doing, or how I even got, here in some small village on the bank of a South American river eating iguana (yes, that’s right!).

My first go at iguana, skin and all...surprisingly, it tastes just like chicken!
My first go at iguana, skin and all…surprisingly, it tastes just like chicken!

No matter what mood I wake up in though, it’s refreshing to know I am doing something that challenges myself – where I am constantly being forced to face my fears, anxieties, self-doubts, motivations, uncertainties, and plans – then take a deep breath and relax in the fact that I am just here, and right Now is good, and that any worries about not-Now will have to wait until “just now.”

Play park bridge - taking down the old to make way for the new!
Play park bridge – taking down the old to make way for the new!

Coming Up:

  • Play Park Renovation!  We are working to raise money and support to renovate the play park in my village.  We have already begun dismantling the old bridge, and have new boards on the way to replace it.  Then we need to level the grounds, bring in sand, and refurbish the equipment.
  • World AIDS Day Camps – in consideration of World AIDS day, volunteers will be facilitating 8 day camps focusing on sessions to address HIV transmission, prevention, and stigma awareness.
  • Life Skills lesson books – I am working on creating short illustrated stories/poems, with class discussions built in, to help facilitate lessons on life skills for primary school students.  The one currently in the works is for self-esteem, hopefully more to come.
  • Christmas!  For any friends and family that may want to send holiday packages 🙂 …along with holiday goodies – I would love any card, board, or other type games that would be fun to play with kids.  Art/School supplies would be helpful too, or random little gifts neighborhood kids may like for Christmas.  If you could send some cold weather, that would also be amazing!

…and a BIG THANK YOU for everyone who’s sent a package or two already – they truly have made all the difference in the world!

Boat ride at reconnect
Boat ride at reconnect
Not sure where to Begin, but I’ve Begun

Not sure where to Begin, but I’ve Begun

As the title suggests, I am not sure where to begin.  One July 3, 2014, 32 members of the 26th group of Peace Corps volunteers in Guyana were sworn in to begin a two year commitment to service.  The swearing in ceremony was a dignified event, symbolizing the end of the beginning, and the beginning of so much more.

Swearing In...it's official!
Swearing In…it’s official!

Over the next few days, 32 of us made our way to 31 (one married couple) different locations.  We are now on our own, without the cautious supervision of our trainers or the companionship of other volunteers.

Placement...here we go!
Placement…here we go!

We are expected to utilize what was learned in training, along with the experience and skills brought from home, and integrate in to our assigned communities to achieve the project goal.

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home
The inside...come visit! :)
The inside…come visit! 🙂

As a health volunteer, the goal can be simply summarized as “helping Guyanese people live healthier lives.”  For me, my specific community assignment is in La Grange, West Bank Demerara, which is a small community just across the river from Georgetown.  I will begin integrating through the La Grange Health Center, and working with my in-country counterpart to determine what opportunities are available there.

La Grange Health Center
La Grange Health Center

I can then look for other opportunities to achieve the goal through schools, hospitals, community/youth groups, and any other target areas where a need may become present.  I was also selected for the HIV/AIDS task force, which focuses on HIV awareness, education, and prevention around the country.  This will allow me to use some of my previous experience, as well as travel to parts of the country I may have otherwise not worked in. I am motivated by both the community assignment and the task force, and look forward to determining how I can contribute towards the project goals.

As excited as I am to begin service, leaving training was bittersweet.  I think all volunteers would agree there were several aspects of pre-service training that we were happy to be done with, but being done also came with the reality of being separated.  This is not a horrible thing, but it is a new thing.  For the last 9 weeks we have spent nearly every day together, with limited technology or distractions, allowing for some incredible bonds and relationships to be made.  I am optimistic about the new relationships that can be made with Guyanese locals, but also hope to maintain the recent bonds made with the other GUY26 volunteers.

As a group we have experienced a myriad of situations, emotions, and hardships together, and have relied on the support each of us provide to another.  This was never more important than in the untimely passing of a fellow GUY26 trainee.  It would be remiss to give an update without recognizing this, as both her presence in training and her subsequent passing have impacted the entirety of Pre-Service Training and our volunteer service going forward.  A fellow volunteer wrote the following poem in memory of this beautiful girl:

Guy26 member
Bravest soul and
Freest spirit who touched
Us in so many ways
Has made her peace
And Said goodbye
No questions
Quietly

RIP Hippie Girl
RIP Hippie Girl

Guy26 member
A beautiful smile
She always shared easily
Her heart shining unabashedly clear
Has made her peace
And said goodbye
No answers
Revealed

Guy26 member
A people person
Not technology bound ever
Relentlessly Sought and connected with
Our humanity, her humanity
In the children
She met
Traveling

Guy26 member
Dreadlocks in transition
Messenger to us all
As we continue on our
Journey keep her in
Our thoughts and
Prayers always
Lovingly
                          -T. Rodgers
                          Trainee name w/held in consideration of family’s privacy

It seems appropriate to end this update here, as I’m not sure I’ve moved past this either.  I can’t reconcile the passing of our trainee, and perhaps I never will.  Life is strange, beautiful, powerful, and fragile.  Some days, some hours, some minutes – I really am not sure what I am doing here, but can only hope I am in the right place for right now.  Honestly it’s not a comfortable place to be at the moment, but I know in my heart it will get better and that a difference can be made here.  As if she knew the perfect words to give us before she left, it helps to remember something quoted in training by our “hippie girl”:

“What happens when you step outside your comfort zone?  It gets bigger.”