Looking back at Guyana- 1 Year Later

I was at loose ends in fall of 2010, having just finished my Bachelor’s of Music.  While I loved studying something I was so passionate about, I felt that after focusing on it for so long I needed reconnect with some of my other interests, including volunteering and international development.  A friend who had recently spent some time in Ghana recommended YCI, and it seemed like the perfect thing for me at that moment.

I chose a project in Guyana, focusing on literacy and HIV/AIDS education, and left soon after.  We spent 5 weeks in Aranaputa, a tiny village beautifully situated in the Rupunumi plains, where we were warmly welcomed.  We began working with both the Primary School and Nursery School and discovered that though the children were anxious to learn, the resources available were woefully inadequate.  We were shocked to discover that even some of the oldest children in the school, in Grade 6, struggled with basic letter identification.  We began running after-school sessions for each grade level, and were incredibly touched by the excitement and enthusiasm the children showed for learning.  It was incredibly rewarding to see the progress that they made throughout our time there, and how they thrived under the extra attention and guidance.

Jenn and her 6th Grade remedial literacy class.

I have so many other treasured experiences from my time in Guyana. I was amazed and inspired by the friendliness of the local people, who plied us with traditional local beverages at night and dropped off bags of mangoes, starfruit, and peanuts for us in the mornings.  Leading workshops in Aranaputa and the surrounding communities helped me gain confidence and experience as a public speaker and facilitator. Clearing a hiking path with machetes in 30+ degree weather through dense jungle in support of a new tourism initiative by the community helped me find a level of perseverance I didn’t know I had.  But most of all, I will never forget the kids who never wanted their classes to end and were so excited by the prospect of an education.  It shames me now to think of how boring school was to me at age 11 or 12, and I now have first-hand experience with how absolutely vital early childhood education is. It is almost one year ago today we were preparing to leave the little red-roofed community centre that had been, for a short while, home.  My time with YCI in Guyana inspired me to be creative and think of ways to combine my passion for music with volunteerism; I don’t want to have to choose between the two.  This summer, I helped out with a children’s choir doing a humanitarian tour, combining volunteer work with performances, in South Africa (http://www.cbc.ca/sask/features/singafrica/).  For me, it was a culmination of the things which inspire me most; development work, traveling, and music, and the strong cultural connections which all of these things help people make.  Realizing this has been a crucial first step in learning more about myself and what I want to accomplish in my life.

– Jennifer Berntson, Youth Ambassador, Guyana 2010 
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