Two months have gone by so far here in Guyana but it feels like just yesterday I was stepping off the plane at Cheddi Jagan International Airport in Georgetown. Excited, nervous, grateful, scared; all of the above were the emotions going through my mind and body. It was during my first international experience in Brazil I was told to “expect the unexpected” and those were the words I kept telling myself over and over again. Well, two months have gone by and I continue to expect the unexpected. Since landing here in Georgetown I have learned a few life lessons, made some amazing friends and adapted to the Guyanese culture.
The organization that I am an intern with is Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG) a partner organization to Youth Challenge International (YCI). Youth Challenge Guyana was founded in 1988 by a group of Canadian volunteers and sponsors with the intent to start a field project in Guyana. 24 years later, YCG is continuing its work by encouraging youth participation in challenging and worthwhile community service projects ranging from health, literacy, environmental research, community infrastructure and HIV/AIDS/STI education through the following Programmes & Projects:
- The Health Programme and HIV/AID Project
- The Education Programme and The National Volunteer Teachers Project
- Life Skills & Livelihood Programme and the Youth Employability/ Leadership Project
As the Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Coordinator my project falls under the Life Skills & Livelihood Programme. This project originally began in January with the goal of developing sustainable businesses by providing knowledge, skills and support for 50 female entrepreneurs. Through various workshops, networking events, monthly meetings and conferences, recruitment to the project has risen to over 65 female entrepreneurs. The women entrepreneurs, a part from these meetings, workshops and networking events, have benefitted from the support of one another and the development of small business and entrepreneurship sectors in Guyana. Many of the women work together as partners, support and promote each other’s business and learn from each other.
Created from this network was a support group called WENET (Women’s Entrepreneurship Network), where all the women who are part of the project can come together, get ideas and advice while discussing their challenges. This network is the core of the entire project; women use one another as mentors and strengthen the group through increased participation levels while attracting new members. These meetings are where all the creative juices flow; many of the women in the group gain encouragement from their peers and obtain business advice. The mentorship aspect of these meetings between the women plays an important role in the success of the female entrepreneurs, their businesses and WENET.
In May 2011 when the project was implemented there were a total of 52 members, since then there have been 18 new female entrepreneurs join the program! All of these women have remarkable businesses all ranging from different stages of development.
The Businesses that are a part of WENET Include:
- Cake Decorating Business
- Salon (Hair, Manicures, Pedicures)
- Day Care/Babysitting
- Retail Store/ Boutique (Clothes, Shoes, Wedding Dresses, Accessories)
- Edible Arrangements
- Mobile Confectionary Stand (toys, snacks, poultry, food)
- Fashion Design
- Recording Studio
- Grocery & Variety Stores
- Food Vending
- Animal Care
I have spent the past 6 weeks in and out of the office at Youth Challenge Guyana meeting with these women as part of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Project. So far I have met with around 35 amazing women. I have visited their businesses, while others have come into the Youth Challenge Office or met me at local cafes and restaurants. During our meetings I have a one-on-one discussion, where I ask about their business, a history of their business and get to know them on a personal level. Sometimes I will meet with 5 or 6 women a day for around an hour or an hour and half; the most rewarding part of my day is leaving these one-on-ones with a sense of fulfillment and gratification. They may think that they are learning from me, however, they have no clue the amount of knowledge, independence and mentorship I am acquiring from them, through the development of their businesses and support they are providing to their families.
Some of the women I have met with are single mothers, working full-time jobs and running successful businesses on the side to provide support for their families (makes me regret all the complaining I did about working a side job during my studies at college). All of these women have begun to influence me in different ways; the strange thing is that I am here to help provide them and their network with support, however, after talking to some of these women they prove to be the most successful women I know.
Just yesterday I met with a woman who is 65 year old retired nurse from St. Vincent, now working in her spare time as a seamstress teaching sewing lessons. When asking about her long-term goal for her business she responded with “ I have set 3 goals in my life, the first to be a nurse, the second was to open my own successful sewing business, the third is to open sewing schools for underprivileged children in 3 regions of Guyana, this will help them open there own businesses.” She has already accomplished the first 2 goals in her life and is currently working on the third. It is hearing stories and goals such as these during my one-on-ones with the women that make me grateful to be a part of this amazing project and be able to meet such influential women. The goals and stories I hear from the women also apply to the concept of taking things a day at the time, achievement of ones goals does not come overnight it takes time and I believe one day at a time.
As I sit here and reflect on the past two months I have spent in Georgetown, I think about the challenges I have faced with travelling abroad and adapting to a new lifestyle and a new culture. I also reflect on the challenges my expats friends have experienced during their time here in Georgetown as well. The one conclusion I have been able to draw from these experiences is that throughout life you will always be tested and it comes down to what you make of these tests. You can sit back and allow challenges to affect you negatively and deter you from continuing on or you can take the proactive step forward and overcome that challenge. I look at the women in the network and see the obstacles that they are faced with every day whether it is with their businesses, their families and life in general and let me tell you it doesn’t stop them or set them back. This lesson is one I have learned early on during my internship and is attributed to the amazing women of WENET and friends that I made so far. I am excited to see the challenges and lessons to be learned over the next 5 months here in Georgetown.
–Kendra Borutski, Women’s Entrepreneurship Program Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Guyana 2012