You will never know until you go!
It is hard to believe that I only have 6 weeks left in Georgetown, it feels like just yesterday that I was stepping off that plane. As I sit and analyze the challenges and successes that have shaped my experience in Guyana, I am overwhelmed with emotions. The multiple encounters, opportunities, experiences, thoughts, emotions (the list goes on and on) have molded my Women’s Entrepreneurship Project and my personal development of living a new life abroad. These experiences and encounters I attribute to the amazing culture, people, landscape and friends that I have made during these past 6 months.
I am grateful to be able to share my expat experience here in Guyana and I hope share a different view than the stereotypes that the country is given. It is easy for these stereotypes to be created, all kinds of biased information is available online just one Google away. When first researching Guyana during my pre-departure stages, the information I got was negatively skewed, often from newspapers in the country outlining the corruption and politics existing in the society. I would now take this time to share what I have seen in Guyana, and how it relates to the stereotypes that exist.
1) Guyana is NOT in Africa.
When preparing for my departure to Guyana, it became very clear that most people were completely unaware that Guyana existed. Many people would respond to me by saying, “WOW, You’re going to Africa?!”. Ugh, no… I think this mistake is a combination of Guyana being a very small, fairly peaceful country that is rarely heard of in the news, and, the fact that people are unaware of the world map. This is even more astounding when you begin to look at the Guyanese population and how it’s distributed worldwide, which brings me to my next point.
2) You know someone who is Guyanese.
I bet most people know someone who is from Guyana or of Guyanese descent. According to statistics, the population of Guyana is less than 1 million. The population of Guyana living internationally is also around 1 million. When I began to think about it, I realized I knew at least three people who were either born or whose parents were born in Guyana.
3) Underdeveloped- Yes. Uneducated- NO.
Because of the large population of Guyanese living outside Guyana, locals have many opportunities to travel, study and live abroad. Almost every single Guyanese I met had an immediate family member in either Canada or United States and had visited them at least once. Many have studied abroad and are highly educated at some of Canada’s best schools. While Guyana remains one of the most impoverished countries in South America, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many well-educated individuals had returned home to work. Don’t get me wrong though, the “brain drain” phenomenon is still a massive issue for Guyana.
3) Weak Government- Yes, but Strong Nation State
One of Guyana’s major development barriers is the corruption within their political system. Despite efforts to make the government more transparent, there is a long road ahead. On the other hand, the development and charity work that is taking place in Guyana is incredible. During my time in Guyana I attended numerous charity events, including a food fair, rotary club events, Guy Expo, barbeques, fundraisers and my favourite, a weekly quiz night in support of a children’s orphanage. People here are super involved in the activities around Georgetown, which makes these events more appealing to attend.
4) Is it dangerous?
Wherever you travel, there are dangerous areas that are best avoided even by locals. In developing countries these dangers are obviously more real for people who are perceived to be wealthy or have money and therefore, it is best to exercise caution. Despite all the warnings, I never once felt threatened while roaming around Georgetown. Travel smart and you’ll be fine.
5) Monoculture- NO
Guyana is actually very diverse in terms of ethnic origin and religion. Aside from the obvious Caribbean and Amerindian (native peoples) origins, Guyana was colonized by Britain; hence, English is the predominant language. Additionally, many Guyanese are of Indian and Asian descent and these roots are reflected, most notably, in the range of religions practiced.
-Kendra Borutski, Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Guyana 2012