Alumni Update and Intern Introduction: Kristy Tomkinson

In honour of International Volunteer Day on Wednesday December 5th, YCI would like to spend some time this week to recognize the importance of our volunteers by showcasing some of our alumni and their stories. 

First up is Kristy, who previously volunteered with YCI in Guyana in 2006 and is now joining the YCI team as the new Program Development Intern! Before joining us in the Toronto office, Kristy spent 8 months in Mombasa, Kenya, through the Aga Khan International Fellowship, where she interned with the Madrassa Resource Centre Kenya on an early childhood education programme. Previous to that, she was in Suzhou, China where she taught English with the Suzhou International Foreign Language School. Kristy is very excited to once again be involved with YCI. Welcome Kristy!

Kristy's YCI Blog Photo

The Hokey Pokey never fails! – Taken in Bumbani District, Mombasa, Kenya

How did you get involved in YCI?

I first heard of Youth Challenge International when I was waiting to speak to my program counselor at University of Guelph, in the International Development Studies department.  I saw a poster that asked me “Are you up for the challenge?” At the time I had been trying to figure out ways to go abroad to get real life experience in International Development.  I was aching to see life on the ground and actually be a part of the change at the local level.  So at that moment, I was definitely up for a challenge.  Weeks later, I was accepted into the Guyana program where I spent 2 months in Port Kaituma with 9 other volunteers.  Our main tasks were to develop and facilitate Youth Life Skills Week at the local school, design and facilitate community-based workshops on health, and distribute information on HIV/AIDS within neighbouring Amerindian villages.

Little did I know that this once in a life-time experience would lead me down a path to focusing on children and youth issues within International Development.  Since then, I have worked with First Nations youth, taught ESL in China to university and elementary students, and supported an Early Childhood and Development NGO in Kenya.  My passion for children and youth development has only strengthened and I now find myself working alongside YCI again, continuing along that path I paved six years ago.

What does your position at YCI entail?

I am the Program Development Intern at YCI’s Toronto headquarters.  I am mainly responsible for supporting the CIDA funding renewal for the upcoming call for proposals.  Funds from CIDA mainly support YCI’s volunteer programming in Tanzania and Ghana.  I am thrilled to gain more experience in proposal writing and I am learning a lot about the ‘ins and outs’ of CIDA guidelines and procedures.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing youth today?

I have always been an ardent believer that education is the most important issue facing the developing world.  Throughout my work and research with children and youth, I’ve come to discover that a sense of worth and confidence, paired with a specific skill set, can make all the difference in the world for our next generation of leaders.  Ultimate poverty is the absence of self-worth.  Through mentoring, friendship, skills-building, leadership training, and other educational opportunities, we can find what it takes for a child or young person to say, “Wow, I didn’t know I could do that!” – and that is the very first step in realizing the potential of young people on our planet.

Outside of work, what are some of your favourite things to do?

Above all else, camping is my passion. And I don’t mean parking a car in a designated spot near an already set up fireplace, within walking distance to heated showers and modern toilets – I’m talking about the backcountry kind.  Whenever I get a long weekend, I pack up my provisions (including my husband and my dog), rent a canoe (if we’re canoeing), and take off to Killarney, Algonquin, or the French River, and spend the days and kilometers hiking or paddling.  For me, it’s the greatest escape and an amazing way to appreciate our country and Mother Nature.

Random Fun Fact: I was proposed to near a set of rapids during at 30 km paddle down the French River!


Speaking Creolese in Guyana

With only one week left of our eight week volunteer project in Guyana, I’m reflecting quite a bit on my experiences here. When originally deciding on where I would like to do my volunteer placement with YCI, Guyana was my first choice for several reasons. Among things like program focus and geography, I wanted to come to Guyana for a truly rural experience. The projects here seemed to be located in rural communities, and I thought it would be neat to live and work in a remote setting without the comforts of home that I so keenly take advantage of. Though I was expecting to be placed in a remote community, our group (three of us) got placed in the booming mining town of Bartica. Bartica is a rather developed town by Guyanese standards, so although I’m not really getting a rural experience, I’ve thoroughly been enjoying the culture and perks of living in Bartica. There have been many public events and festivities in town in the short time we’ve been here. Emancipation Day, which marks the freedom of slaves of African origin, was celebrated in Bartica with cultural dances, music, costumes, and lots of smiles. It was really nice to be part of the celebrations that mean so much to the Guyanese people. We were also happy to be in town for the annual Bartica Regatta, an event of power boat racing and local acts which attracts people from all over Guyana. The town life has been quite fun!

Cultural dance on Emancipation Day

Another attraction I had to Guyana was it’s location in South America. Now that I’m in Guyana, South America, it feels more like I’m in the Caribbean. Guyana is part of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and so much of the culture here reflects that. I’m finding enjoyment and humor in so many aspects of the Caribbean culture. At almost any given point in the day, I can hear reggae music coming from somewhere (or many places). All of the local shops and restaurants are blaring reggae or R&B, and all of the cars have speakers installed in them that are surely meant for large arena music concerts. It took me a while to get used to waking up every morning to the sounds of dogs, chickens, cows, goats, and BASS. It’s really quite funny.

Mobilizing in Itaballi, a small community

Guyana is an English speaking country, and this was another factor in deciding on where to volunteer. It is the only English speaking country in South America, so what better way to experience a part of this continent without dealing with a language barrier, right? Wrong! The Guyanese actually use an English-based Creole language, with influences from Dutch, West African, Arawakan, and Carib languages. They seem to not pronounce certain sounds and blend words together, while speaking really, really quickly. And they don’t use him, her, or our – instead they use he, she, and we. (“She bring she shoes.”) There were times during my first few days in Guyana where I was sure people were speaking a completely different language. But I like to think that over time my understanding of Creolese is evolving. For example, I’ve learned that “Git in da cana” means get to the side of the road to avoid getting hit by a car. Very useful. “Wuh yuh wan, gyal?” means “What do you want, girl?” “Meh deh pon de phone” means “I’m on the phone.” I’m loving the Creolese slang and it’s been pretty fun trying to learn and use some of it myself. Of course when I say these things, I just sound foolish.

The realities of volunteering in Guyana have been different than my expectations on many levels, and this has been most of the fun. My advice to future volunteers? Be open-minded, be flexible, have a sense of humor, laugh, soak up the culture, laugh some more.

We put on a health and nutrition fair (from left to right: a hospital nurse, our team leader Tygue, and my partner Vahirda)

Here I am facilitating a youth workshop

-Charlotte Andrechek, Youth Ambassador, Guyana 2011

Charlotte completes her 8-week project in Guyana next Monday. Charlotte and her team have been working on health and literacy education in Guyana. 

For more volunteer blogs, check out our Travel Diary category. 

Women’s Entrepreneurship in Guyana

Entrepreneurs are changing the world from the bottom up. Entrepreneurship is extremely important in order to create jobs, value for society, and economic growth. Today development organizations, governments, and NGOs are focusing more of their efforts on supporting entrepreneurs in developing countries realizing that this generates results far bigger than the resources invested. Entrepreneurship provides income, knowledge and skills, and empowerment to many people around the world who are providing needed goods and services to their communities.

As the Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme Officer at Youth Challenge Guyana, I have been coordinating a networking initiative for female entrepreneurs over the past two months. The objective of the program is to train and support 50 female entrepreneurs, empower them to become leaders in their communities, and foster an entrepreneurial environment in Guyana. We hope to create a network of female entrepreneurs who will work together to improve their lives, empower others, and make a difference in the community.

Attendees at the Women's Entrepreneurship Programme initial training workshop

Guyana is one of the four non-Spanish speaking South American countries; however it is distinctly Caribbean with a mix of many different ethnic backgrounds. It is a country with only 765,000 people and like many of the Caribbean countries Guyana experiences significant brain drain causing the population to shrink by approximately 0.5% each year. High unemployment rates are one of the main problems in Guyana, especially among youth. Women face numerous challenges as well including lack of education and skills, low self-esteem, domestic violence, and a sense of powerlessness that often prevent them from participating in economic activities which will enhance their livelihoods. I am very excited to be working with Youth Challenge Guyana to address this issue and provide a network to support and empower female entrepreneurs.

The programme officially launched three weeks ago on May 14th with an initial training workshop that covered an introduction to entrepreneurship and basic business management including strategic planning, record keeping, costing and pricing, and marketing and sales. We had a total of 50 participants with a wide range of businesses from salons, variety shops, and restaurants to fashion designers, recording studios, and event planners. The training was extremely successful and it was so exciting to hear the appreciation and satisfaction that the women expressed. The specific outcomes observed included increased levels of self-confidence and inter-personal skills, increased business knowledge and skills, and an established network of committed female entrepreneurs. We now have a Women’s Entrepreneurship Programme Committee which meets twice monthly to plan monthly workshops and networking events while developing the programme further.

Awarding certificates at the end of the initial training sessions

Last weekend there was a new women’s exposition in Guyana to promote women’s talents, skills, and entrepreneurship. We had 15 female entrepreneurs from the programme participating in the exposition where they promoted and sold their products and services. All participants had very creative and attractive displays with their own business cards, banners, flyers, packages and promotions that they had specifically prepared for the expo after the training. It was so exciting to see all of the women in action gaining exposure, obtaining new customers, gaining valuable experience interacting with customers, and managing their operations. In my opinion, the biggest improvement that I have seen over the past 3 weeks among all of the women is their increased self-confidence ☺

Two of the female entrepreneurs with the Prime Minister, Samuel Hinds, at the Women's Expo

Over the next 6 months our committee and I will be organizing monthly workshops and networking events while each member of the programme will receive additional support from a mentor and me. I also hope to work with other NGOs and the government to develop a strategy for entrepreneurship and employment in Guyana which is critical for development.

Overall, the past 2 months have been an incredible learning experience and I am so happy that I have this incredible opportunity to work with Youth Challenge International and Youth Challenge Guyana on such a phenomenal initiative. You can check out my blog at for more updates on my life and work in Guyana. I can’t wait for another 6 ½ months!

– Amanda Armstrong, IYIP Intern, Guyana 2011

Amanda was recently featured on the Ivey Business School Website for her work in Guyana. 

For more International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) blogs, check out our IYIP section.