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Reporting back from Project Overseas 2011- Guyana

Maxine Richards

Excited, energized, eager, overjoyed, ecstatic, anxious, nervous, and curious are some of the adjectives that come to mind when I received the confirmation that I would be traveling to Guyana America to train teachers as part of Project Overseas. I did not know much about Guyana prior to this so I quickly immersed myself in researching the country’s history, people, geography, culture, food, politics, entertainment, religion, and most importantly, education. The Canadian Teacher’s Federation (CTF) helped prepare me for this intercultural experience with intensive training, information about the country, and teaching resources.

President of Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU) standing with two Canadian teachers in Gayana
President of Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU)
standing with two Canadian teachers in Gayana

It was extremely busy in the months leading up to my trip.  Conference calls with the two other team members, preparing an administrative course outline, visiting the travel clinic for immunization shots, picking up resources and Canadian souvenirs, completing an additional qualification course, and remaining actively engaged in my roles and responsibilities as a classroom teacher all while attempting to maintain some balance in my personal life. Finally, the day arrived when we were heading to Guyana. Arriving in the capital city of Georgetown, we hit the ground running. We were picked up and greeted by the course coordinator and the president of the Guyana Teachers’ Union (GTU).  We stopped off at a local school to donate books to the students on their last day of school and then headed to the GTU’s office where we met with staff. We then visited the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) office to learn more about their role in international development.  Because we had only a short time in Georgetown before heading to Lethem we visited as many sites in the city as we could. We were impressed with Saint George’s Cathedral, one of the highest wooden structures in the world. On day two of our trip we headed to the Rupunini Savanna of Lethem on a small 14 seater plane - yikes! That day we met with our co-tutors. I got a lot more insight into some of the challenges Guyanese teachers face including a lack of training, large class sizes, and limited resources. That weekend we had the opportunity to visit the school and living compound where we would be teaching. Our first day of class was typical - a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  “What have I gotten myself into!” “What will they think of me? I hope they like me. Will they find these learning sessions helpful?” were all questions that ran through my mind.  Given the quiet and reserved demeanor of the participants, I quickly realized that many of them felt the same way as I did. During the opening ceremonies our program coordinator, Lance Baptiste, said these words that resonated with me, “this is a learning partnership and we have a lot to learn from each other.”

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What lessons have I taken away from this project…?

  • I am impressed, inspired, and motivated by the teachers who continue to overcome adversity and make sacrifices to improve their teaching. Guyanese teachers left their families behind and in some cases traveled for days to attend our learning session.
  • Teachers in Guyana face similar challenges to those many face in Canada. Challenges include a lack resources and access, large class sizes, student engagement, and gender equity.
  • I have become a more effective teacher with the students I interact with on a daily basis. My varying cultural experiences have enabled me to be increasingly sensitive, engaging, and compassionate towards the needs of others, especially our immigrant populations.
  • I believe in the power of collaboration. Despite some communication and cultural barriers we were able to work towards a clear vision and continue a legacy of improved teaching in the interior of Guyana that would impact thousands of children.
  • My passion and commitment towards equity work continues to be reinforced.  I view education as an equilizer when confronting issues of poverty, racism, classism, abuse, human rights, self-esteem and well being, and gender equity.  Women and girls need to be empowered and given the opportunity to fully participate in education to build and move a strong, prosperous economic and social society forward
  • My global perspective on teaching and learning continues to be strengthened. I have taught in other developing countries including China and Mexico and have discovered that teachers share similar hardships, struggles, and hopes in the pursuit of quality education. As a result, teachers have a common goal, which is to improve their teaching through professional development to improve the chances of student success.