Monthly Archives: June 2012

Donkeys, cows and jaguars (I wish!)

Feb. 14, 2012:

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!

Yesterday was the 5-week mark of my arrival in Guyana!! That means only 7 more weeks to go! I can’t believe how fast the time is going!

Our Grade 3 classroom!

I am really enjoying my time here and am learning a lot about what life is like in Guyana every day, as well as a lot about myself! I’ve been teaching the Grade 3 class at the primary school three days a week, and helping out for parts of Monday and Tuesday. The kids are starting to settle down a bit as they are getting used to our presence in the school, and I am finding my job as a teacher a bit easier with each day of practice. I’ve discovered that being a teacher is certainly NOT an easy job – regardless of where you come from or what country you are teaching in! That’s definitely something I learned very quickly in this environment! Coming from a family of teachers, I thought I understood fairly well the difficulties that teachers face and the amount of work and effort that goes into teaching, but coming here REALLY opened my eyes! Imagining what it must be like was one thing, but actually living it is a completely different story!! Not only have I found out how draining it is to try to keep 25-30 Grade 3 students occupied for a whole day of school, but I’ve also discovered how difficult managing a class is!! I thought back to all the teachers I’ve had in the past who struggled to keep some rowdy classmates under control and focused on a lesson, and I could really sympathize with them!

Not only am I trying to teach in a completely new environment, but also in a country where the education system and standards are foreign to me. Teachers here seem to rarely leave lesson plans for substitutes if they are going to be away, which has probably been the hardest part for me, because I have no background in teaching and have never written a lesson plan in my life! We usually have very little idea of what the students have been learning, what level they’re supposed to be at, and what level they might actually be at in any given subject, so it definitely makes teaching that class for the day a challenge to say the least! There are schemes written by the Ministry of Education that usually list about one topic per week for each subject, so we have been doing our best to follow that for the Grade 3s and to come up with some lessons that the majority of the students might be able to follow. Fortunately, the challenging parts are balanced out with the laughs and smiles that the kids bring me each day. I spent about half an hour the other day taping all of the pictures that the Grade 3s have drawn and coloured for me, and the notes they’ve written me over the last couple of weeks to my wall! Some of the kids also give me hugs before they go home for lunch and at the end of the day to say thank you and goodbye for the night! It’s adorable and takes any frustration I’m feeling away pretty quickly!

Getting rained on in the rainforest!

In other news, I can now say that I have slept overnight in a hammock in the jungle and survived a big rain/wind storm in the middle of the night!! One of our Guyanese friends took us camping at the creek where we go to bathe last weekend! It was a lot of fun! We went for a rainforest walk before dinner and it started to pour – how fitting! I got some pictures taken of me being rained on in the rainforest! In the morning, one of the locals gave us a fish he had just caught out on his fishing trip so we could fry it for breakfast, and it was delicious! Unfortunately (or maybe not that unfortunately!), we didn’t get to see any jaguars in the middle of the night, but we did manage to spot a fox who was interested in stealing some of our camp food!! It was sometimes hard to distinguish any real wildlife from the many stray dogs that are constantly roaming around all parts of the village, but we’re pretty sure one of the creatures was a fox! I probably would have preferred to see a jaguar, but then again, I may not have made it back alive to tell the story if I had!

On Saturday we took a road trip to another region of Guyana called Berbice. We left St. Cuthbert’s at 5 a.m. and didn’t get home until 7:30 p.m., so it was a very long day of traveling! We probably spent at least 8-9 hours driving, but it was definitely worth it! Berbice is made up of tons of small villages and a few towns, and most of the area is covered in farmland, as the main industry of this region is agriculture. We saw our fair share of donkeys, horses, goats, cows of all kinds, and sheep roaming freely across the roads, and often had to stop for them to cross in front of us! Given the speed of our driver, this wasn’t always easy, but luckily, we didn’t have any super close calls! There are also lots of sugarcane and rice fields here, and we got to stop off at a rice mill and a sugar processing plant to take some pictures. Some highlights of the day were crossing one of the world’s longest floating bridges over the Berbice River (Guyana’s second-largest river), and looking across the Corentyne River, which serves as the border to Suriname! I almost made it to another country, but not quite!

Stopping for a cow crossing!

That’s all for now!

Allison

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Surviving and Thriving!

Jan. 28, 2012:

I’m happy to report that I’ve survived my first two and a half weeks in Guyana and am doing very well!

I’ve mostly been working in the schools for the past week or so. There are three schools in the village – a nursery school, (sort of like Kindergarten), primary (grades 1-6), and secondary (grades 7-11). 

The primary school where I worked

I’ve been spending most of my days in the primary school, either observing classes and helping students with their work, or filling in for teachers who are away for a day or late for work. The school is basically just a long wooden building with concrete floors. The classrooms are separated only by a blackboard, so there are no sound barriers whatsoever! There are six different classes all going on at the same time, and as you can probably imagine, it gets pretty noisy in that building! There are some really great kids in that school and many are very eager to learn, but the environment they’re trying to learn in makes it pretty difficult to focus on anything! Sometimes I can’t even hear myself trying to teach, so it’s really no wonder that the kids have a hard time concentrating and lose interest quickly! Another obstacle is the lack of supplies in the school. Most of the classes do not have individual desks and chairs for students, and many of the tables and benches are in pretty bad condition. In the grade 3 class that I’ve been helping in, most of the students sit at one big table all together, which gives them the opportunity to distract each other and tune out of the lesson. A lot of kids also don’t have pencils or notebooks to write in, and they use razor blades as pencil sharpeners!! I’m glad I brought some pencil sharpeners and extra pencils with me!

I’ve been finding my first few days of teaching a bit challenging, but also very inspiring at times. It’s a wonderful feeling to see the faces of kids light up when they figure something out all by themselves, or with just a little encouragement. Unfortunately, we’re also quickly realizing that education here isn’t really considered a priority by many. Apparently St. Cuthbert’s is ranked one of the lowest schools in the country based on the recent test results of its students. Many of the students are a few grade levels below what they should be in subjects like English and Math. The Grade 4 teacher says many of her students are only reading at a Grade 1 level! So I’ve been trying to find ways to help those kids who are furthest behind and can really benefit from extra support. 

In other news, we’ve already had two different couples in the village invite us over for dinner this past week! Both meals were delicious – roti & chicken curry one night, and fried plantain and fish the next! Today we went for a hike and explored another part of the village with Kelly, an American Peace Corps volunteer who’s been in St. Cuthbert’s for almost a year. She took us to one of her friend’s houses to retrieve some coconuts! So I can now say I’ve had my first taste of coconut water and jelly, and it was pretty delicious! I’ve also gone swimming in my first black water creek! It’s a pretty strange feeling standing in the jungle shampooing my hair! But I love it. We usually go on the weekend, as it takes about 10-15 mins to walk each way. The vegetation is not as lush in St. Cuthbert’s as it is in many other parts of the country, so we are not actually in the Amazon here, but it definitely still feels and looks like the wild! There are some pretty tall/weird looking trees and a lot of long grass everywhere! It’s a nice change of scenery for sure! I am loving the weather here as well! We don’t have any way of knowing the temperature, but I’d guess that it’s been at least 30°C most days. It’s been pretty rainy the past week or so, and the rain storms here are pretty intense!!! They come up out of nowhere – it’s very interesting.

We don’t have running water in the house that we’re living in, so we bring in buckets of cold water to shower with from the water tanks at the back, and have to pour water into the toilet bowl to flush it. All our drinking water has to be filtered or boiled first, so it’s been interesting getting used to that! The electricity comes on just after 6 every night, and we have about 4 hours to charge our cameras or use the computer. We sleep in bunk beds with mosquito nets hanging over our beds, and so far I haven’t been eaten alive by bugs too badly!!! There are some interesting creatures living in our house though! We’ve already seen some tiny lizards on the walls, along with huge spiders, and a frog in the toilet! I usually sit in bed under the safety of my mosquito net to read with my headlamp after the lights go out! Another thing I’m finding is hard to adjust to is the lack of a garbage disposal system in the village. All garbage here is either burned or buried. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for garbage to be thrown into the bushes, or to see it laying around the village. It really takes away from the natural beauty of the landscape in a way!

Anyway, I better stop there for now. If you’ve made it through to the end, congratulations! Haha. And thanks for sticking with it!

Until next time!

Allison

My safe haven!

Our house guests playing tag!

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Destination: Reached!

Jan. 13, 2012:

St. Cuthbert’s Mission is beautiful!!!

On our way into the village!

The 2-hour ride into the village was definitely eventful! Our minibus  was packed TO THE MAX! We had to bring all of our food for the next 3 months, all of our luggage, and 7 bodies!!! (The four of us volunteers, and three YCI staff members). The first hour of the drive was on a highway, and boy were we flying!!!! Once we got off the main highway, though, it was a VERY bumpy ride! The next hour was spent bouncing through massive potholes and avoiding major ruts that the rain had made in the dirt road into the village! Each time this happened, something else from the back of the bus would lunge forward onto us! Good thing it was mostly toilet paper hitting us in the back of the head! Haha. It was a lot of fun though!

We arrived here around 4 p.m. yesterday and got settled in a bit. We put up our mosquito nets, and figured out how to go about using the toilet and shower (more challenging than you might think!) Today we went over to each of the schools to introduce ourselves and meet some of the teachers. There is a nursery school, a primary, and a secondary. I will most likely be working in the primary, but could be helping tutor some kids in need of extra help from the secondary school in the late afternoons. We still don’t really know what we are doing for sure yet, so we’ll have to work all of that out over the next few days.

The kids here are adorable and very friendly and just want to play constantly! They immediately came over to our house when we arrived and said hello. Since then, I’ve had kids hanging off me like monkeys and doing flips and wanting to be spun around upside down all day every day! It’s exhausting! Haha. Eventually I have to tell them no more, or I will get too worn out. It makes the time pass very quickly though! Today we met the village captain, and will hopefully be meeting with him every week or two to discuss things we might be able to get involved with. The people are very nice in general and friendly. They all say “Good afternoon” or “Good morning” when you pass.

The landscape here is GORGEOUS! The village is full of palm trees and some parts are covered in white sand, so it makes me feel like I’m on the beach in tropical paradise when the sun is out! We took a walk to the creek where some of the locals bathe and swim yesterday. Black water creeks are very cool and weird! The water almost looks red! It’s very interesting.

Anyway, I guess that’s it for now! Oh, and I had my first bucket shower this morning! It was very chilly! But refreshing. No more hot showers or even running water for the next 3 months!!! Haha!

Bye for now!

My new home

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I’M HERE!

Jan. 11, 2012:

Hello from Guyana!

Just wanted to let you know that we’ve arrived safely and have been staying in a guest house in Georgetown since Monday morning. The house is about two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, so we walk up there most days and spend some time exploring the beach! How nice. It’s a pretty neat feeling to be standing on the edge of South America!!!! We will be traveling to St. Cuthbert’s tomorrow morning, so that will be very exciting! The weather is gorgeous! I only have a couple of mosquito bites so far, and somehow managed to get slightly sunburned yesterday, though I was either inside all day or sitting in the shade! So I’m not exactly sure how that happened! Anyway, everything is going great and we’ve been doing some orientation activities for the last couple of days.

I will write again soon when we make it to the village and get everything set up! We are all doing fine and I love it here!!! Talk to you all soon!

Love Allison

Youth Centre we stayed at in Georgetown

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I’m off to Guyana!!

Jan. 8, 2012:

At the airport ready to go

Just sending you a quick note to say GOODBYE for now!!! I will be boarding the plane for Guyana less than 12 hours from now!!! My adventure is about to begin and I am very excited to get started!

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been frantically trying to accomplish my long list of pre-departure tasks! I’ve been running what seems like a million errands, buying last-minute supplies and gear, packing (and re-packing often!), saying goodbye to family and friends, reading up on Guyana and on all the information YCI provided me with, and generally just trying to prepare myself for this leap that I’m about to take! Since preparing to leave the country for three months is not a familiar feeling for me (yet, anyway!), it’s made the entire process all the more challenging. It’s definitely been an interesting time for me, complete with a full range of emotions running wild!

I’ve also found out some more details about the community I’ll be living and working in during my time there. The village is called St. Cuthbert’s Mission, and is about a two-hour drive south of Georgetown, the capital. The average temperature is around 30°C, so I am definitely looking forward to being warm (but hopefully not sunburned to a crisp!) Apparently the village is very remote – the nearest town is about an hour’s drive away! There are about 1,500 people living in the village. I had originally been told that the volunteers would be sleeping in hammocks, but we have been upgraded to single bunk beds with treated mosquito nets! Awesome! Mom sent me with so many school supplies that I needed a second suitcase!!! But I know they will be put to good use!

I would love to hear from any of you if you have the chance to update me over the next few months. The best way to reach me is likely by email. I’m not sure yet how often I’ll have access to the internet, but I will do my best to respond to any emails I receive and to send you some updates as well with what I’m doing down there!

Take care!

Love Allison

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Success!

Dec. 14, 2011:

I have some very exciting news to share with you all about my fundraising progress! I am absolutely THRILLED to say I HAVE OFFICALLY MET MY FUNDRAISING GOAL OF $3,900 AS OF SUNDAY NIGHT!!!!!!! In fact, I have actually surpassed the requirement by almost $200, so I’ve raised about $4,100 to date!!!!!

I cannot begin to describe how this accomplishment feels or what it means to me! Of course, I couldn’t have done it without all of the support and encouragement I’ve received over the past couple of months! I want to extend a HUGE thank you to everyone who has supported me in some way on my journey so far. I appreciate your generosity and the interest you’ve shown more than I can say.

I also wanted to take a few minutes to give you all some more details about the pub night that I held here in Ottawa on Dec. 3 with another volunteer who will be on project with me this winter. For those of you who haven’t already heard, I am happy to say that it was a success!!! Kendra and I were able to raise close to $1,700 that night in total, meaning about $850 each!!!!! The money raised that night brought me within a few hundred dollars of reaching my goal, which was very exciting!!! We had at least 50 people come out to support us (probably closer to 60 or 70 coming and going throughout the night!) The live music was fantastic and all of the musicians who volunteered their time and talent were amazing! Overall, I think the night went really well, and everyone seemed to have a lot of fun! We kept busy selling 50/50 and raffle tickets and were able to give away some really great prizes in the end! Kendra and I had set of goal of raising about $700 each that night, and again, we were lucky enough to raise that and more!!! I couldn’t have been happier with how the night turned out, so thank you so much to everyone who helped make it a success!!!

I can’t wait for my adventure to begin and to finally be able to put your contributions to good use! The countdown is on!!! I will be arriving in Guyana 26 days from now!!!!! I’m sure it will be an experience that is both enriching and life-changing, and one that I will never forget!

Love Allison

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Fundraising fun!

Nov. 3, 2011:

I wanted to give you all a quick update on how my fundraising’s been going for my YCI project in Guyana. It’s been almost a month since I last emailed you, and a lot has changed since then!!!

I am SO happy to say that I am currently at $1,335 of $3,900!!!!!! That’s just under 35%!!! I really do appreciate the support and want to extend a HUGE thank you to everyone who’s donated so far!!! Because of the donations I received, I was able to meet my first fundraising deadline of $1,250 by Oct. 31st! What a relief that was!!! And what a wonderful feeling to know that I have such a great support network!

Every few weeks, Youth Challenge International requests that I submit another portion of my fundraising, just to ensure that I am on track and continually working towards my goal. My next deadline is Nov. 14, and I am required to submit $2,250 by then! That means I am only $915 away from reaching my goal!!! If any of you were still thinking of donating, but have simply forgotten about it, consider this email your saving grace!!! (Hehehe – yes, I am kidding). However, if you did want to donate and are able to at this point, I would be very grateful if you could help me reach my second deadline!

Again, here is the link to my fundraising page. Please let me know if you have any questions for me or if you want some more information! I would be happy to share it with you.

Right now I am in the process of planning a fundraiser with some of the other volunteers on my project who live in Ottawa, so I will be sure to let you know about those when I have settled the details! Hopefully some of you may be able to make it out! I will do my best to make it a fun-filled evening and one that is worth attending!

Take care and thanks again everyone!

Love Allison

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The decision

Oct. 5, 2011:

Hi everyone!

I wanted to share with you some exciting news that I’ve just recently confirmed. As many of you know, over the last few months I’ve been looking into some international volunteer/work options, and I’ve finally come across an opportunity that feels right.

I’m happy to say that I will be volunteering in South America for 3 months starting in January with an international development organization called Youth Challenge International. Although I don’t know any concrete details about the location or project content yet (that will come closer to my departure date), my placement is in Guyana and I will most likely be living in a remote community a couple hours out of Georgetown, the capital.

I think it will be an amazing experience and I’m really looking forward to getting started! The first step, however, is to fundraise! Youth Challenge International has requested that I raise $3900 which will go towards program costs, including accommodation, meals, transport, security, and program materials for the volunteers throughout our stay in Guyana.

I know it seems like a lot, and is a bit of a daunting task for me at the moment, but I think I am ready for the challenge! I’m prepared to pay for any outstanding costs leading up to my departure, but I would still really appreciate any donations you could offer! As they say, every dollar counts!!! Here’s the link to my personal fundraising page on YCI’s website.

Thank you all so much! Please let me know if you are interested in learning more about the project I’ll be working on or about the organization itself. I’ve included the link to their website below.

Allison

Youth Challenge International

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How it all began

I guess this new phase of my life really started after finishing university last June. Until then, I had barely ventured outside of North America. Not because I hadn’t wanted to, but there just always seemed to be some reason as to why I shouldn’t go then, or why it wasn’t a good time to take off. Of course, looking back, all the reasons I thought were valid and reasonable at the time (I might lose touch with my friends or they might forget about me if I leave, I might not get credit for school and have to extend my studies when I get back, I might miss out on things back home while I’m away. What if my relationship doesn’t survive? What if I hate it there!?) now seem more like excuses. But what was I hiding from? I may never know, but at least I gave myself the opportunity to realize that I definitely would have regretted staying home forever!

Somehow, last summer I decided: Enough with the excuses. It’s time to live my life. And am I ever glad I did!

Soon after, the search began for something new and different to do that year. Not an easy task, I quickly discovered! So many options, so many places to go, and so many different things to see and do. Should I work abroad? Volunteer? Try to find an internship? For how long? Where!? Decisions, decisions.

Eventually, after many hours of research and many days of flopping back and forth, trying to make a decision, I did!

The posts that follow are pieces of the emails I sent out to family and friends leading up to my departure, as well as during my time in Guyana. Since I didn’t have a blog at that point, these emails are my best-kept memories of this life-changing adventure!

Enjoy!

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I finally did it!

Hello everyone!

Well, the title of this first post basically says it all! I’ve been meaning to get this blog started for quite some time now, and I finally got around to it! Though it’s way past due, I’m excited to finally have a place to share my thoughts and stories, and to post photos and videos from my travels.

Ideally, this blog will become my voice while I’m away, expressing the most exciting, interesting, and challenging parts of my adventures abroad.

I will start with the inspiration for this blog, which happens to be my recent volunteer experience in Guyana, South America. This was my first solo adventure abroad, and it is certainly one I never want to forget! Though I regret not starting this blog before I left for Guyana, I think I would regret not including it here at all even more! So, better to post about it late than never, I say!

Over the next few weeks, I’ll begin recounting my experiences, as well as reflecting on my time abroad and (hopefully) continue to discover ways it has impacted me.

Once I finish with Guyana, the plan is to move onto the next adventure! As there is never a shortage of opportunities for adventure out there, I should be a busy girl!

Stay tuned!

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Allison Burney

"To live will be an awfully big adventure." - Peter Pan

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