IYIP Blog: Forget What You Might Have Heard About Guyana!

Kendra is enjoying her last few weeks in Guyana, a country far different from the image Google painted for her.

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.

Guyana- A beautiful country in SOUTH AMERICA (definitely not Africa).

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.

A community in Guyana, as seen from the hills.

 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.

A shot of a government building in Georgetown.

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 BorutskiWomen’s Entrepreneurship Program Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Guyana 2012

IYIP Blog: Meet Ziredi, Gender Equality Team Member

Meet Ziredi, a driving force in the ZANGOC Gender Equality Team.

YCI’s long-time partner in Zanzibar, the Zanzibar NGO Cluster for HIV/AIDS (ZANGOC), has been working to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS in Zanzibar’s communities since 1996.  Overseeing and coordinating the work of 45 community-based and faith-based organizations across the archipelago as well as providing testing and counseling services to the community, no single civil society organization has done as much as ZANGOC to fight against the epidemic on the islands.  However, one glaring gap has existed at ZANGOC for years: no clear strategy on gender issues in their programming, including no plans to address gender-specific barriers related to testing and treatment among female community members and a lack of women in major leadership positions at ZANGOC.

Ziredi Abdul Karim Msanik has sought to remedy this issue. Last year, the 25-year-old member of ZANGOC’s Executive Committee teamed up with YCI to launch ZANGOC’s Gender Equality Team (GET).  The primary goal of the team when it was established was to ‘mainstream’ gender into all of ZANGOC’s members’ activities, making gender considerations a central component in the planning and implementing of all of the activities ZANGOC and its members carry out in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

When asked about the partnership with YCI, Ziredi is quick to comment that “YCI has really helped ZANGOC”, citing examples of gender projects which the two organizations have championed together, but also more general capacity-building efforts among ZANGOC’s member organizations.  As for her own development, she adds, “YCI has built me up to who I am today…being a leader”.

And a leader she is, indeed.  This year alone, with YCI’s support, Ziredi has carried out a gender audit of ZANGOC’s member organizations. In order to identify the specific needs of each NGO, she organized an intensive five-day gender mainstreaming training for GET’s members and partners, and has overseen the development of ZANGOC’s new Gender Policy, presently being reviewed by the Executive Committee.

Ziredi hard at work in the ZANGIC office in Zanzibar.

Following her studies in law at Zanzibar University, Ziredi says that she hope to “use [her] skills to advocate for gender issues [and] human rights issues…Even though the situation is not that easy, I believe that it will reach a time when Zanzibar will change when it comes to gender issues.  We will see gender issues as the main priority.”

-Ben Verboom, Health Policy Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012

IYIP Blog: A Long Way From Where I Started

Camaro and the Gender Committee members at the Ghana YMCA.

Seven months sure goes by quickly.  My internship has come to an end and I’ve come a long way from when I first arrived: unsure of where I was going to start with my mandate, the new intern trying to find my way in this new environment.

My first day of work a male co-worker came into my office and said to me “Just so you know, I don’t believe in all this gender stuff”.  Well then, it’s going to be a long seven months, I thought to myself.  I knew that doing gender equality work in a male dominated society wouldn’t be easy, and I certainly encountered some challenges.  During my first big gender workshop the discussion got very heated around the notion that men and women are not meant to be equal because the bible says so.  During my time in Ghana, I have found myself in many a frustrating conversation about gender.

But I appreciated those moments because they challenged me to find new ways of relating gender equality to the context I was working in; and if my work caused people to think about gender equality in ways that they didn’t before, I consider myself successful.  The upside to those challenges is that they made the pleasant surprises even better.  When people really seemed to “get” it, was when I felt most rewarded for my work.

The other most rewarding part of my mandate has been working with a gender committee made up of YMCA members from around Ghana.  The group of women will continue working as advocates for women in the Ghana YMCA and towards implementation of the gender equality policy.  During our last meeting, where I was supposed to be making sure they were equipped with the skills they need to continue the work, I was the one learning from their experience and knowledge.

Although interns have been driving gender work with the Ghana YMCA for the past two years, there is no shortage of well-informed, passionate and capable women ready to make sure the organization meets it’s gender equality goals; and I feel privileged to have worked with and learned from these women.  At the end of my mandate, I can say that not only have I made progress in terms of my mandate, but I found a home in Ghana and a family at the Ghana YMCA.

– Camaro West, Gender Advisor, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Ghana 2012

IYIP Blog: A Shot for Peace

Camaro West and Devin Woods, YCI’s two CIDA IYIPs working with the Ghana YMCA.

My time in Ghana is coming to a close. As the Communications Officer with Youth Challenge International’s Partner the Ghana Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), I have experienced a diverse many aspects of Ghanaian life.

Recently, I had the opportunity to play a role in a global event held by YMCA’s around the world. The event, “Hoop Springs Eternal” is a YMCA World Alliance Challenge and aimed to mobilize five million youth throughout their network to take basketball shots simultaneously. Each event held its own theme. The Ghana YMCA chose, “A Shot for Peace Towards a Peaceful Election 2012”. Held on October 13, 2012, close to 400 Ghanaian youth took part in shooting for a peaceful election.

Guest speaker his Eminence Nii Guate Asuasa II, Supreme War Lord of the Ga State taking his shot for peace.

During my time in Ghana it has been abundantly clear that the people of Ghana are and continue to be deeply concerned about the prospect of violence before, during and after their fast approaching presidential and parliamentary elections. With the elections slated for December 2012, it is hoped that this event will further bring awareness to the issue and remind Ghanaian youth of their commitment to peace.

The event, held at the University of Ghana, Legon carried important messages for youth. Key note guest speaker his Eminence Nii Guate Asuasa II, Supreme War Lord of the Ga State engaged youth on their role as future leaders and highlighted them as the key resource for the nation. Mr. Reynolds Kissiedu, Chairman of the Ghana YMCA also urged all parties involved to strive for a peaceful election period.

Youth pledge their commitment to peace.

The event also involved the coming together of the ‘Big Six’ youth movements. These movements include the Ghana YMCA, Ghana YWCA, Ghana Scouts Movement, Ghana Girl Guides, the Ghana Red Cross/Crescent, and the International Award. Together these organizations represent a large portion of Ghana’s youth and their joint commitment to peace is seen to be a significant voice.

My role here at the Ghana YMCA is to initiate a new era in the way the Ghana YMCA communicates with the public, its members, and its key stakeholders. This means using new and traditional methods of communication to both engage and educate target audiences on the work of the Ghana YMCA.

Some young members of the YMCA Ghana.

Please support the work of the Ghana YMCA by liking the Ghana YMCA Facebook page.  Also check out this short video I have put together about the Hoop Springs Eternal event:

-Devin Woods, Communication and Mobilization Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Ghana 2012

IYIP Blog: How good is your Swa…English? Put your language skills to the test with these loanwords.

Did you ever play Jenga when you were a kid? Have you ever advertised or searched for something on Kijiji? Would you have been able to sit through The Lion King without rolling your eyes if there had been characters named “Lion” and “Friend”instead of cool, exotic-sounding ones like Simba and Rafiki? Did you know that you don’t actually have to come all the way to Africa to go on a safari?

I love languages, and one of the things I love most is that words from one language somehow find their way into the vocabulary of another. No, they don’t run away. They aren’t stolen, either. We call them loanwords, or borrowings. If a word is lucky and the group of people who borrowed it reaches a subconscious consensus, changes start happening to the word and it slowly starts to seem like it really does belong in its adoptive language.

Jenga, a great game with a strange name. Who knew Swahili popped up in so often in childhood?

Confused? Let me see what I can do…

Spaghetti, in Italian, is the plural form of spaghetto, but in English, spaghetti is a mass noun – you can’t count it and you don’t pluralize it (like rice, flour, salt, etc.). In Quebec, spaghetti is not a mass noun, it’s been pluralized, Francophone-style, so it’s des spaghettis. In Quebec, sushi is not a mass noun, it’s been pluralized, Francophone-style, so it’s des sushis. Woah, that sentence was such a déjà-vu!

That, my rafiki, is true integration. And what more could a borrowed word ask for? (If only it were as simple for people to integrate!)

Who does not remember the Lion King!?!?!

Well, let me tell you, Swahili, like English, is no stranger to loanwords – shule looks rather German, don’t you think? Oh, and if you stay in Tanzania long enough to get tired of eating ugali and rice, be sure to ask for supageti when you go to the shop looking to satisfy your Western craving!

Okay, I think you get the picture. Time for the fun stuff! According to the blog-writing tips that I’ve been checking out, people love lists. So check out this list of words in Swahili and do your best to figure out their English counterparts. If you’re really sharp and get the last two, my hat’s off to you, because they’re much more difficult to guess out of context.

Helpful hint: Read them out loud as you try to guess – Swahili words are pronounced exactly as they’re spelled.

  1. kompyuta
  2. picha
  3. baiskeli
  4. lifti
  5. daktari
  6. kalenda
  7. namba
  8. kodi
  9. wiki
  10.  karoti
  11. ofisi
  12. akaunti
  13. koti
  14. geti
  15. sigara
  16. kwaya
  17. pancha
  18. betri
  19. bia
  20. reli
  21. biki
  22. simu


1. computer  2. picture  3. bicycle  4. lift  5. doctor  6. calendar  7. number  8. code  9. week  10. carrot  11. office  12. account  13. coat  14. gate  15. cigarette  16. choir  17. puncture (flat tire)  18. battery  19. beer  20. rail (railway)  21. pen (from Bic pens)  22. cell phone (your phone has a sim card, doesn’t it?)

Check your score:

  •  If you got 20 or more correct, you either cheated or you’ve been to Tanzania before. But good job!
  •  If you got between 16 and 19 correct, congratulations, you’re very clever and you’ll probably be able to write Swahili soon!
  • If you got between 11 and 15 correct, you’ve done a good job, but you probably let yourself get distracted by the spelling of some of the words.If you got fewer than 10 correct, you should be ashamed of yourself for thinking you were too cool to follow my instructions. Try again, reading aloud!

Translations for the words in the intro paragraph:

jenga = building, kijiji = village, simba = lion, rafiki = friend, safari = journey/trip

-Elena Togias, Education Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012

IYIP Blog: The Pole Phenomenon: Why Canadians can now stop apologizing for saying “sorry” too much

For those of you who don’t know Swahili, saying “pole” is the equivalent of saying “sorry” in Canadian. Did I say Canadian? Uh…I mean…English. Now, many people know that English-speaking Canadians are notorious for saying “eh” all the time, but not as many know that we also have a reputation for saying “sorry” way too much, and for ridiculous reasons. Example: if you bump into a Canadian, chances are they’ll apologize to you because you bumped into them. Ridiculous, eh? I know. I’ve done it, so you can admit to having done it, too. Canadians are so ridiculous that you’ll even find them apologizing for saying “sorry” when they shouldn’t have said it (ahem…like when they’ve been bumped into by someone). Yup, I’ve done the double “sorry”, too. For shame!

But fear not, fellow Canadians – have I got news for you! Based on six months of intense field research here in Arusha, I have come to the groundbreaking conclusion that Tanzanians say “pole” far more than Canadians say “sorry”. What’s more, they say it for crazier reasons than Canadians do. How do I know the reason that someone has said “pole”? Simple, I ask for an explanation every time I hear it! Picture this:

A Tanzanian passing me on the road says “pole” to me, expecting me to say “asante” (“thank you”) and continue on my merry way, but the linguist in me can’t resist the temptation and I ask “kwa nini?” (“why?”) instead. That’s right, I choose to break a serious politeness rule in order to collect data…

(N.B. Feel free to replicate this simple informal interview technique for your own research purposes.)

Okay, I’ll admit, I haven’t heard anyone apologize for being bumped into by someone else, but still, I thought I’d share the hilarity of The Pole Phenomenon with all of you who have not been lucky enough to experience it live. Now, I’ve compiled a list of the ten most noteworthy instances of The Pole Phenomenon that I’ve come across, but they are not all equally ridiculous/hilarious/perplexing, so I have done my best to rank them in order from least impactful to most impactful. Here it is:

Top 10 Reasons People Say “Pole” to You in Tanzania

10. You’re working

9. You’re carrying something on your head

8. You’re carrying a baby

7. You tripped on a stone which for some reason you hadn’t noticed was sticking about 10cm out of the bumpy road

6. You tripped over your own two feet

5. You’re walking happily, talking/smiling to yourself

4. There’s dust in the air

3. You sneezed

2. You’re left-handed

1. The sun is shining

Sorry if you don’t agree with my rankings…

Pole for your work, Ester – it really looks like you’re suffering! (Ester is Umoja’s cook)

Look at me, carrying a massive pile of wood on my head – that warrants a pole for sure!

Poleni to the poor plants by the side of the road for being so brown and dusty! (Poleni is for when there’s more than one recipient)

If white skin doesn’t attract enough attention, eating with your left hand sure will! Pole to all you lefties!

After six hours of climbing in the dark of night, I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro only to find that the sun had beaten me to it! What did you say, “pole sana”? (“Very sorry”) Oh, asante sana! Thanks so much! I appreciate your sympathy!


Take a look at the ridiculous Serengeti sunset, then say pole to the person beside you.

-Elena Togias, Education Officer, CIDA International Youth Internship Program, Tanzania 2012

IYIP Blog: Election Promises and Women’s Realities in Ghana

Recently our two CIDA IYIPs in Ghana, Camaro West and Devin Woods collaborated on a video project. This video is about Election Promises and Women’s Realities in Ghana (hence the title). It was also featured in a recent blog post by  Camaro for Girls Globe, which can read by clicking HERE.