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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Bravest soul and
Freest spirit who touched
Us in so many ways
Has made her peace
And Said goodbye
A beautiful smile
She always shared easily
Her heart shining unabashedly clear
Has made her peace
And said goodbye
A people person
Not technology bound ever
Relentlessly Sought and connected with
Our humanity, her humanity
In the children
Dreadlocks in transition
Messenger to us all
As we continue on our
Journey keep her in
Our thoughts and
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.”