Featured Author: Jessica Fenton
The African, Caribbean, Latin American, Indian, West-Indie, and Asian cultures are all prominent throughout Guyana. Walking through Georgetown was as if I was walking through a cultural time warp block to block from the various styles of music blaring from a distance, the varieties of aromas available with each step, and the colorful sights to be seen. The combinations were endless. Guyana was unlike any place I’ve ever visited.
In Partnership with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and the Guyana Teachers’ Union, I was sent to Guyana as part of a team of three Canadians to work in the small town of Lethem located close to the border of Brazil. We were set deep in the heart of the Rupununi Savannah with most of the population being Amerindians –the indigenous of Guyana. Along with my local co-tutors I administered HIV/AIDS-Gender Equity Awareness workshops for the local teachers.
Most of the teachers who attended the workshop had very little teacher training and many had no education beyond what they received in school. Some may not have even finished their own schooling, but were assigned the job of ‘teacher’ because they were the most educated in their village. Teachers traveled from all over the Rupununi, including the Deep South, during the rainy season to attend the workshop. Many teachers traveled from their villages by foot for days with their belongings on their back, leaving their families, trenching through the Amazonian and Rupununi terrain. Numerous teachers even brought their children with them to be able to attend. Some teachers had to travel at night, on overcrowded flat-bed trucks, by tractor, small boats, on muddy flooded dangerous roads, over broken bridges, in the pouring rain, while trying to escape malaria infested mosquitoes, Cabora flies, crocodiles, piranhas, , and other possible predators. David, a participant, admitted that his home had been destroyed by a recent flood but felt that attending the workshop was more important that starting to rebuild his home. The utter commitment I saw from the participants was incredible. The experience helped me appreciate everything I have and not to take anything for granted.
Teaching in Lethem posed other challenges due to a recent flood which affected road conditions, infrastructure, gas prices, electricity, supply of water, and food and supply costs. It was not soon after our arrival in Lethem that we were in for a rude awakening to the reality in which many teachers live in Guyana. It was only one day into my teaching experience that I soon realized how teachers teach in Guyana. I taught in their reality, with a lack of resources, electricity, running water, technology, and I was faced with large classes, cramp open-aired classrooms, long hot days, and trying to protect myself from the mosquitoes and cabora flies. The constant fear of possibly contracting dengue fever or malaria was on my mind as is a common fear for many teachers in the Rupununi. Nevertheless, I enjoyed every moment. I have never been so encouraged teaching as I was working with the participants in Lethem. Regardless of how exhausted I was by the end of each day I was also extremely blessed to have met so many incredible, happy, and humble people regardless of the situations they each face. They taught me more than I could have ever taught them. I was able to bring them knowledge in the areas of curriculum, content, teaching strategies, classroom management, and creative lesson ideas, but they were able to offer me far more. Life lessons.
Each day the participants came out of their shells more and more. Their individual personalities come out and some of them were hilarious. The stories they had to tell brought Guyana to life. To be able to meet people who face things I’ve only seen on TV gives me a sense of privilege to know that I can learn from them. Helping community members fight off a jaguar trying to prey on an elderly man or saving a family in the strong currents of the river is both courageous and honorable. It shows a lot of their culture and values. I’ve learned that the Amerindians are willing to take anyone in and welcome them. They showed me this throughout my stay. There will always be a place in my heart for Guyana.