With a year passing since my last update, I thought a “Top 10” type list would be the best way to summarize what’s been going on with me down in Guyana, and elsewhere. So, here we go…
Chase’s Top 10 since 2015
I ended 2015 with a visit to Utah, and a cruise to Mexico, surrounded by family and friends. Considering #4 on this list, it may also have been my last trip to Utah for some time, but then again – who knows! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end the year, and as hard as it was to get back on the plane to Guyana – I am glad I did. It’s the home stretch here and I’m looking forward to wrapping things up.
Last term, Jenni and I finished an 8 week HIV education series at our primary schools. It was great to co-teach these lessons with her, and encouraging to see how much information the kids retained week after week. The reported HIV rate in Guyana is relatively low – under 2% nationwide; however, based on observations and interactions with HIV service providers, this number could be significantly underestimated. The majority of Guyanese still feel stigma around HIV tests, and many don’t get tested who should. As many Guyanese don’t know their current HIV status, it’s important these kids know how to keep themselves protected before coming of age. A fun bonus to these lessons were Jenni’s two friends, which were visiting during the last lesson, got to help us with the final day’s HIV Jeopardy game…it was good fun getting “Auntie Shannon” and “Uncle Justin” involved with the kids.
Alright, into 2016…let’s just say the readjustment back to life in Guyana after being away for a month was not as smooth as I hoped it would be. Starting with leaving my laptop charger in the states, to my phone getting stolen, to hurting my foot and being sick, the beginning of January was definitely a challenge. No laptop + no phone = no communication, which I really could have used the first few days being back. As with most things though, it all ended up working out…and thanks to wonderful family and friends (Casey Jr!), I had the lap top charger and phone replaced in no time, all of which helped me get on with the work that needs to be done here.
Something REALLY exciting happened in the beginning of January…something I don’t think I really ever believed would happen, but did. My parents and my brother, despite their fears and reservations, took a leap of faith into the adventure of life. After selling almost everything they owned, and packing up the rest, they said goodbye to Utah and moved to Ecuador, South America! My brother made an awesome video of their move here: https://youtu.be/JBdlLDi6fAU. So now my family is in South America with me, although due to required connections, travel time from Guyana to Ecuador is roughly the same as Guyana to Utah. This is a move my parents have been considering since well before I left for Peace Corps, but I would like to believe that their observation of my experiences here perhaps helped them move the decision along. 🙂 My Dad has been keeping an excellent account of their beginning days as Ecuadorians here: http://www.toddtalkinecuador.com/. It’s great writing, so check it out! I am definitely looking forward to catching up with them in Ecuador after my service is done. More on life after Peace Corps in #9 & #10…
Towards the end of January, the Peace Corps HIV Taskforce put on our 2nd Nursing Student in-service training. This 3 day training is designed to educate, inform and equip health service providers with the understanding and strategies needed to provide equitable, appropriate, and adequate care to Guyanese marginalized populations (HIV+ persons, sex workers, LGBT Guyanese). We did a similar workshop last year, and one of the exciting factors in this training was the utilization of peer facilitators. Select students from last year’s workshop were invited to come help co-facilitate this workshop, which was GREAT! Observing the workshop’s impact on the participant’s attitudes is rewarding, but to see this same information being taught by Guyanese to other Guyanese is truly fulfilling. We aim to have a 3rd workshop before I leave, again engaging student facilitators in the process. The end goal is to eventually work this information into the general curriculum so that all health service providers will have these sessions delivered to them through the standard Guyanese nursing program. Sustainability baby.
Suicide awareness and mental health remains to be a major health priority in Guyana, and an area I hope to meaningfully contribute in before I go. In December I made contact with a U.S. based crisis intervention service that I thought would be a great fit in Guyana. As luck would have it, not only was the organization looking to expand internationally in 2016, but I was also able to arrange a meeting between the organization and a Guyanese counterpart who expressed interest in helping bring the service to Guyana. The meeting went well and there was a mutual agreement on the program’s suitability in Guyana! The service is Crisis Text Line, and a quick summary of how it works is available here: https://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_lublin_the_heartbreaking_text_that_inspired_a_crisis_help_line. I will be working over the next few months to keep things moving forward with this and will keep you posted! There are many local organizations also working to help, and I participate in their efforts whenever possible. I have been working to get a new Peace Corps volunteer placed with such an organization, which is focused on mental health and suicide prevention. In my opinion, we can’t have enough resources dedicated to this cause here. A Guy27 volunteer who lives near me, Tony, has also been doing excellent work with kids in our community on self-esteem, expressing emotions, and self-awareness – addressing the problem of suicide at its roots. It has been great watching his impact on the kids. We will be working together to expand with similar lessons in schools and other community opportunities.
Another important issue in Guyana is environmental health. Considering the relation to both the Caribbean and Amazon, Guyana has much cultural and natural beauty to offer. Unfortunately, this beauty is often hidden under layers and layers of garbage. It must be said that under the new government administration, noticeable efforts and improvements have been made in the capital city, Georgetown. However, these efforts have yet to reach the vast areas outside of Georgetown, where we all live, and the impact of waste and environmental hazards are still evident. So, over the next three months we will be having Environment Education and Fun-day workshops at various schools in our region. The workshops will help kids understand what environmental health is and what they can to do help improve the areas they live in. The first camp was last Saturday, which went great! A session about stray animals and taking care of pets was very popular with the kids, and I think even more can be done to educate kids and help them take charge in reducing the amount of stray animals roaming Guyana’s roads.
Number 8 = Guy28! Believe it or not, the next next group of Peace Corps Volunteers have arrived in Guyana. This is not only hard for me to believe, but also a new reminder that my own time here is winding down. I had the opportunity to meet this group during their first week in country, and had excellent first impressions of them all. It is crazy remembering what things were like for me back during my first week in Guyana, and although it seems like a lifetime ago, I could still relate to most of what they were feeling. It’s exciting to have more volunteers here because there is still much that can be done. It’s not always easy to find ways to make your time here feel valuable, but based on my initial impressions of the group, they will have no problems leaving an impact in the areas they serve.
Although I still have over 4 months left in Guyana, my thoughts are increasingly directed towards life after Peace Corps. I am a firm believer in being present in the moment, so I try to not let the thoughts of the future consume me – but a little planning on what to do after July 3rd is probably in order. 🙂 Luckily, what I am doing first is pretty much planned – this includes an overland trip through Brazil to Rio, and then taking part in the 2016 Summer Olympics! A group of volunteers and myself have been accepted as volunteers for the games, working in areas like the Olympic village and Olympic stadium. It will be awesome to again be part of such an iconic international event (I also volunteered for the 2002 Winter Games). We have found a place in Copacabana to rent for the month, walking distance to the beach. After the Olympics I will make my way to Ecuador to catch up with the family and work on my Español. I don’t think I could have asked for a better transition from Peace Corps back to “real life!”
Speaking of real life, what does that even mean?!? Thinking about what to do 3 months after Peace Corps has not been as difficult as considering what I should be doing for the next 30 years after Peace Corps…and I’ve found it to be a bit overwhelming. I had begun looking into work with the State Department as a Public Diplomacy officer, and took the required test to begin that process at the end of January. Unfortunately, I did not pass the timed writing part of the exam. I ran out of time and couldn’t finish the essay I wanted to write in the 30 minutes provided. This was more than just a ding to my confidence, which it was, but also really disappointing. It was disappointing because I consider myself a capable writer and should not have struggled to put down a passable essay. In any event, if I still want to pursue this line of work, I cannot retake the test until next year…which I may do. But the truth is, it’s hard to predict where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing next year. In one of my dad’s blog posts he challenged himself to reflect on a few powerful ideas: “What is your dream? How are you moving toward it? How are you living it?” So aside from closing the loop on my activities here, I think these next few months are the perfect time for me to start really reflecting on some of those same ideas. With any luck, I’ll leave Guyana with a better idea of what dream I am moving towards.