Several volunteers who served before me told me that the first year is the hardest, and that work especially comes easier in the second year because you have more connections, you know your community better, and it's easier to find projects that will really work. Unbelievably, I'm already almost three months into my second year, and as far as I can tell there's some truth in that statement. My first year of Peace Corps service was rife with project ideas that went nowhere. They were good ideas in a vaccuum perhaps, but not in practice because I didn't have the necessary community support. Now, I'm in the midst of starting up a few projects that will hopefully see some success!
Peace Corps Guyana holds a girls' leadership camp called Camp GLOW every year, and last year my host mom's niece, Breonie, attended. She's a very intelligent, motivated and mature sixteen year old, and when I got the idea to hold a Camp GLOW in miniature in my village, I hoped that she could help me with the planning and execution. Well, I announced the camp at the secondary school today and Breonie, Wendy (my host mom) and I have had several planning sessions. If all goes well, up to 20 teenage girls from St. Cuthbert's Mission will be attending a two-day mini-camp the first weekend of August. I'm trying to get as many girls involved as possible and also recruiting a few more women from the village to act as counselors. It won't be anything too formal, but it should be fun, educational and motivational for the girls, and hopefully it's something that could continue next year even if I'm not in the picture. I'm psyched!
Another project—baskets. If we're facebook friends you may have heard about this one. The ladies in my village weave gorgeous baskets and other items out of natural straw, but they sell at low prices...$10 US for a medium-sized basket that could take a woman 2 days to make. ($10 is about the lowest a daily wage gets in Guyana—you know, unskilled labour, police, untrained teachers...) Anyway, I think that these women deserve a real wage for their work, considering that it is NOT unskilled labour and especially because there are very, very few job opportunities within the village. The idea is to aquire a market outside of the US, and I'm currently in the process of locating potential retailers and researching shipping options. I've got a few leads, but this project is barely off the ground. If any stores come to mind that you think might be interested in selling these baskets, please let me know! (Or place an order directly through me! I'm coming home in August and will definitely have room in my luggage for a few extra baskets.)
School's ending this week, and while I will miss my amazing Grade Four students to death, I have plans for remedial summer school for the incoming first graders! There's mandatory nursery school (no kindergarten) in Guyana, so the kids SHOULD know their letters and numbers coming into first grade, but many of them don't. The goal of my summer school, which will be 12 hours a week for five weeks, is to get these kids primed for grade one so they have the best possible chance for success once they start their primary school education.
I'm also doing home visits with interested parents and students to help them with phonics. Private lessons aren't really something that I feel comfortable committing myself to—that's not my role—but if a parent shows initiative and is willing to work with their student during the week, I make myself available to coach that parent in different phonics activities to use for practice. I have 2 parent/student pairs who I'm meeting with weekly, and another two who I visit occasionally. This is another “not too formal” thing—seems to be the best ways to make many projects work here is to not get too caught up in formalization. I like visiting with the families for the social aspect, and am seeing various degrees of progress with the different students—but progress all around for sure!
Running-related projects: the St. Cuthbert's “marathon” (which is actually 11.5 miles, go figure) was about two weeks ago, and I had a group of kids (mostly ages 11-15) who I was coaching for that. It was pretty awesome to have about a dozen “regulars” plus another 10 or so who came when they felt like it, so that on any given practiceday I'd have about 15 students running with me. There was a 3 mile race along with the marathon, and all of my runners were amazing! I was the most awed by the second-place female finisher (I was first place :-) ) who managed to finish the race only five minutes behind me...that's about 9 minute mile pace for almost 12 miles, in 90 degree equatorial heat in the direct sun...she was 11 years old. Girl's a beast. Keep an eye out on the Guyanese Olympic track team for that one. Since the marathon, running's taken a different turn: I have a friend, Lorena, a few years older than me who's run/walking with me at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM (her idea, not mine) to get in better shape. We're trying to get some other ladies involved, and if we can get the interest up high enough, we want to organize a Ladies' 3 Mile race sometimes in the fall, probably. Once again—a project I have an enthusiastic local to work with. Win!
Finally, I can't really take credit for this but a woman I met through a Peace Corps activity is coming to St. Cuthbert's to do an art workshop for a week, and I've been helping her with the logistics end of things. Not really my project but trying to help her get the word out and set up different aspects of it has been keeping me busy for the past week or so.
But busy is good! Typing all of this out makes me feel...I don't know...productive? Useful? Like I'm “making a difference”? At the very least, I feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of making the best of my time here.
I have LOTS of things to look forward to coming up soon: a trip to Barbados in 11 days (!!!), and then my mom comes to stay in my village for the week! After that is my girls' camp, and on August 22nd or thereabouts, I'll be coming home for my friend Ashley's wedding! I want to see as many people as I can, but I'm only home for 2 weeks so I can imagine how busy it will be, especially with wedding stuff going on. Then back to Guyana and it's September and I only have 7 months of Peace Corps service left...wow.