With the end of PST comes Swearing-In as official PCVs!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I finally have (a little) semblance of wifi so hopefully this post will actually make it out to y’all. A lot has happened over the past month – model school, wrapping up PST, and of course swearing in and moving to site!

Model School

I left off just as GUY31 was going to begin a crash course in student teaching in Guyana, or what Peace Corps calls Model School. Since the changes in the different sector framework, all three sectors (health, environment and education) would now be primarily in schools, it made sense to have some hands on training in Guyanese classrooms with real children. This is the first time PC Guyana has done Model School, and from all the comments from staff, the kids and other volunteers, I would call it a success for everyone. Each sector taught for two weeks at different schools in the area, and specific to the age group we will be teaching in the future. For health, we are teaching students ages 10-14, so we taught in a secondary school, and all our students were primarily in that age group.

Going into Model School, I was definitely feeling anxious about teaching as a whole, but Model School was a huge help and calmed my nerves. Having never taught before, and struggling with classroom management and different ways to lecture the week before, I was very nervous about how the lessons would go, would they fill in all the time, etc. Luckily my co-teacher is amazing, and we definitely complimented each other in the classroom. We also had local health teachers in the classroom observing us and giving us feedback. I left model school feeling so much more confident about teaching.

Miss Morgan and I with our students on the last day of model school!

Last Few Weeks of PST

We’re now down to the last three weeks of PST. The week back from model school, we had some more safety and medical sessions, and our Readiness to Serve interviews. We also had some down time, so a few of those days we just relaxed with friends, or hung out at Lake Capoey, making as many memories, since we would all be separated after swearing in once we get to our sites. These last few weeks were definitely hard, because PST was coming to an end, and that meant leaving my current host family (who was so wonderful) and my GUY31 family who I saw everyday to living with a new host mom and not seeing some of my friends until next year at Mid-Service Training. 1 person had already left early on in training but 4 people from the cohort also left during these last few weeks for various reasons, which was really hard to deal with and comprehend. People that have become some of my closest friends here are suddenly gone, and that was definitely hard to process, especially because they all left so close together and so close to swearing in. I will be keeping in touch with them, and hope to see them back in the States at some point! In our last weekend of PST, we also set aside time for Host Family Appreciation. I am so grateful to my training host family for taking me in, providing me with good food, company, and taking such good care of me like I was a member of their own family. As a cohort, we had an afternoon full of songs, games and thank you’s for our wonderful host fams. It was just a small token of our appreciation! The time of PST came to end, and it was time to pack up my bags and move to another host family at my new site (which was only 30 minutes away). Most people had to bring their bags with them to Georgetown (where we swore in) and then move them either by car, or plane to their new sites!

Some end of PST pics with my GUY31 Family!

As you can see, we take really good mixtape photos!

Attended a Muslim wedding the weekend before we left with some fellow PCVs!

Swearing-In as official Peace Corps Volunteers

After some last minute packing and tearful goodbyes to our training host families, we we were packed on busses, bright and early, equipped with our peace corps life jackets, on our way to Georgetown where we would swear in. The trip involved a bus to the Supenaam docks, a 30 minute, bumpy speedboat ride across the Essequibo River, and another bus from the Parika docks to Georgetown. We arrived in town, and got a tour of the Peace Corps office (which is super nice) and came to the hotel we were staying at to freshen up, eat a quick lunch, and get ready to meet our Supervisors (usually the Headmaster from the school you will be working at). We had a meet and greet with them, where we got to know each other and more about the school we’ll be working at. Our supervisors also attended the swearing in ceremony and accompanied each of us back to our sites and introduced us to our next host families. After meeting our supervisors, we had free time until the next day so we all went to Giftland Mall, where we indulged in the fast food (burgers, pizza, etc) that we hadn’t seen in 2 months! I did some shopping and went back to hotel and hung out and gaffed with everyone, as this was our last night together!

Finally, the day we’ve all been waiting for, the Swearing In Ceremony was here! The ceremony was being held at the US Ambassador to Guyana’s home (which was beautiful to say the least) and along with the terrential downpour that was happening, we had to get through security and get seated (quite a morning!) During the ceremony, which was also attended by the First Lady of Guyana, Sandra Granger, there was speeches from Ministry officials, the Peace Corps Acting Country Director, and one of our very own GUY31 volunteers. We were sworn in by the Ambassador, and all received pins and certificates. There was snacks and refreshments after, before we were all hurried back on the bus because half of us were leaving back to site that afternoon! Basically those who had to fly to site, or take boats that only run certain times of day (Region 9 and Region 1) were allowed to stay an extra night while everyone else (with some exceptions) had to travel to site that afternoon. We ate a quick lunch, and had emotional goodbyes to those we wouldn’t see for a while, and headed out. Since there was a bunch of us going back to region 2, our supervisors had arranged a bus to take us to the docks, and we all chartered a speedboat since there was so many of us. I arrived at my new host mom’s house just in time for dinner, and began unpacking some of my things. And the start of the two years officially begins! Who knew that it would come by this fast. I am so proud to be a part of such a diverse and kind-hearted cohort of which I have no doubt will all do amazing things during their service. Let the teaching begin!

GUY31 after Swearing In!

My health people 🙂

The pin we received at swearing in.

Some views from my new site!

What is PST?

So I’ve been in country for almost a little over a month now, but what exactly have I been doing here so far? Good question. The first 2-3 months of Peace Corps service in any country is Pre-Service Training, or PST (Peace Corps LOVES abbreviations so stay tuned for a bunch). PST incorporates a variety of topics including medical/safety training, language and culture classes, and of course technical training in the sector that you will be working in. Its designed to equip you with the tools and skills you will need to aid you in your two years of service. There was also work to be done prior to arriving in country so I’ll break it down week by week so you can get a feel for what I’ve been doing here!

2 Days prior to Week 1 – Staging: Two days before GUY 31 actually arrived in country, we all met up at “Staging” at a hotel in Philadelphia. Staging is just the Peace Corps word for a mini-orientation. Day 1 was just registration and meeting people and Day 2 we had morning and afternoon sessions with a lot of icebreakers, reflection, and some informative sessions about Peace Corps goals, expectations, and policies. After this session, we ate our last meal in the US, got our new passports and all boarded a bus to JFK for a midnight flight to Guyana! If you think transporting 38 people and all of their luggage for two years to an airport at the same time was hectic, you are spot on.

Week 1 – Orientation Week: The first week of training was more of a low-key introduction to Guyana. We were at a lakeside resort for the first 5 days where we had sessions in the morning and afternoon and then had the rest of the day and night to relax, swim, hang out and get to know each other. During this week, each trainee had a medical intake interview with the PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) where they went over our health records and discussed any prescriptions we needed to get ordered for our time in country. We also went over and had to choose from three different types of malaria prophylaxis pills (which you are required to take by Peace Corps if in a malaria-prone country) we wanted to take for the duration of our service (yay side effects!). We were also given our first round of vaccines. In Guyana, apart from the standard immunizations, most US citizens should already have, they also administer typhoid vaccine, 3-part rabies vaccine, and Hep B booster if needed. We also had our first sector interviews where we were asked more about our role, what we want to accomplish, and our preferences regarding site placement. Some of the presentations we had this week were medical policies and a session on malaria, language (Creolese) and culture sessions (basic phrases, introduction to families), administrative policies, watercraft safety (swim and canoe test), and safety and security overview. At the end of this week, we left the resort and each met our host families for the rest of training.

Week 2: After spending our first weekend getting to know our host families, we all gathered at a local library, our training site for the next 2 months. We started each morning with reflections about the previous day living with our host families, sharing stories and worries with each other. Other sessions this week included:

· Language and Culture sessions: taking local transportation, asking for directions, talking about family members

· Safety and Security Sessions: Transportation safety, unwanted attention, incident reporting and response

· Medical Sessions: Common medical problems, food and water preparation, STIs and HIV/AIDS, Alcohol awareness, sexual assault awareness and impact

· Diversity training, intercultural behavior session

We also got our second rabies vaccine this week, received our water filtration buckets, our fully stocked medical kits (which has just about everything) and opened up our bank accounts at the local bank (which took forever).

Week 3: This week we started out with our final interviews with our program managers before we found out our site placement at the end of the week. Any last final requests should be said in this interview before they finalize our site placements. The week also started off with payday which hit a few snags with transactions not going through until a few days later. All fixed now! Sessions for this week included:

· Introduction to PACA (Participatory Analysis for Community Action): how to integrate into our sites and communities

· Language and Culture: Guyanese foods, money and shopping (included a field trip to the nearby market), preparing for PACA

· Diversity sessions

· Medical: Nutrition, domestic partner and interpersonal violence, urgent common issues and emergency (First aid)

· Safety: Emergency action plan (EAP) roles and responsibilities, satellite phone usage

At the end of the week, we had our first TAP (Training Assessment portfolio) interview where we self-assessed and received feedback on our progress in training, integrating with our host families, and adhering to PC core expectations. We also found out our sites (more about this in the previous post)!

Week 4: On the Monday of this week it was a holiday in Guyana (CARICOM Day) so Peace Corps held Culture Day where all the volunteers and host families gathered at Lake Capoey and spent the day immersed in Guyanese culture! Each volunteer dressed as their assigned culture would (mostly whatever background your host family is) and we had a mini fashion show, sampled a lot of different foods, dance performances, skits and songs, and then spent the rest of the day playing games and swimming. It was a really fun day!

Back to work on Tuesday. From this week on, we will be focusing mostly on our technical training by sector. In the morning, we all split up by what region our site placement is in and had in-person chats/phone calls with people living in our region to be able to ask them any questions or concerns we had. We also had a session with all the staff (safety, medical, housing, admin, etc.) to express any questions or concerns to them as well. That afternoon we had a training session on Child Protection laws and working with youth in Guyana. The rest of the week we broke up into our sectors (health, education, and environment) and began the introductions into more technical training. Here is what my sector (health) training schedule looked like

· Ministry of Education presentation: structure, systems, and policies

· Adolescent Development and Physiology

· Lesson planning, classroom management

· Low cost/no cost resources

· Intro to HFLE curriculum (Health and Family Life Education)

Week 5: This past week was a lot of lesson planning and practice teaching in front of our peers. Each day we had to create a lesson plan on one of the units in each of the curriculum books (grade 6-9) and either co-teach or individually teach in front of the rest of the health sector. An example of a lesson I co-planned was on Myths and Misconceptions about HIV. We had to gather content, discussion questions and come up with engaging activities since the Ministry and Peace Corps want HFLE to move away from the classic “talk and chalk” learning to activity-based learning. I’ve never really taught before (along with the majority of the health sector), so it was definitely a stressful week for me, but I am so grateful for the practice and feel a little more ready heading into model school this coming week.

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GUY 31 Celebrating our One Month Anniversary in Country!

Week 6 & 7: It’s model school time! Since each sector will be teaching in schools this time, Peace Corps has put together model school, or a crash course in student teaching to help us become more familiar with Guyanese classrooms. Also, it is summer break here in Guyana, so Peace Corps has recruited local teachers and students to be a part of model school. The 12 health volunteers will be at a local secondary school, with two volunteers paired with a teacher. We will then be conducting sample lessons with the teacher to a class of about 15 students. The morning will include 2 teaching sessions, and the afternoon will be a debrief and lesson planning for the next day.

Week 8: After two weeks of model school, we’re back to some more administrative training. We have some more medical sessions about mental health awareness, resiliency, helping our peers and completing our personal health plan.

Safety sessions for the week include bystander intervention and completing a safety and security quiz. This week we will also have our individual readiness to serve interviews with staff.

Week 9: The last full week of training! This week we will be going over some administrative tasks like how to manage finances at site, living and working in indigenous communities, and transiting to new placement. We also have our final TAP (training assessment portfolio) interviews and at the end of the week, we have host family appreciation day! The weekend is filled with packing and saying goodbye (not so much goodbye for me as I’ll be moving 30 minutes down the road) as a lot of volunteers are moving to different regions and some are accessible only by boat or plane!

Week 10: The day we will become official Peace Corps volunteers is almost here! On the Tuesday we leave for Georgetown, get a tour, and meet our counterparts – the local teachers we will be working with. On Wednesday, August 15th is the Swearing-In Ceremony! All of these weeks in training has led to this moment. After lunch that day everyone moves to their site and spends the next two weeks settling in and getting to know the community before school starts in September.

So this is a recap of what PST in Guyana looks like! PST is also a really nice way to start service in the Peace Corps because you get to spend time with other volunteers before we all go off on our own.

A little bit of geography and all the feels from Friday’s Reveal

These past few days have been a roller coaster of emotions, to say the least. The build up of this past week of training all led to Friday, when our permanent site placement would be revealed to each of us. Throughout the week we continued with safety and medical preparation sessions, language and culture lessons (which included a field trip to the market) and two interviews – one was the final interview before site placement to talk more about our host family experience so far and express and last concerns about where we wanted to be placed for our two years, and the other was our first training assessment interview to talk about our progress in training, integrating into our communities and adhering to Peace Corps core expectations. Both went pretty well I’d like to think.

Now we get to Friday. The anticipation of this day has been in the back of my mind since I first got accepted to Peace Corps in August 2017…and the day has finally arrived! During that morning, I was feeling a lot of anxiety about it, thoughts constantly running through my mind. Would they send me to the interior or keep me coastal? Would I have cell service + wifi to keep in touch with friends and family or would I be in isolation? I was preparing to deal with any of these scenarios because in the end I started to realize that PC staff would place us where they think we would integrate and fit in the best.

The time finally came for the big reveal. Staff made it into a scavenger hunt where we had to hunt down our site placement packets throughout our training center (aka Bacchus library). And the placement is…30 minutes away from where I’m living right now in the Essequibo coast! I got placed at the Anna Regina Multilateral School, a secondary school in Anna Regina, the capital of Region 2, Pomeroon-Supenaam. I will be co-teaching a health education class to kids ages 10-14, leading after school clubs based on interest and eventually start working at the local health center. Here is a map of Guyana with all the regions on it, and my home now and for the next two years is in Region 2.

Regions 1-6 are considered coastal and interior with Georgetown, the capital located in Region 4. Regions 7-10 are completely interior and those regions have little to no cell service, and many volunteers were placed in those regions. Places I want to eventually visit include Kaieteur Falls (world’s largest single drop waterfall by volume of water) in Region 8, Potaro-Siparuni and Mount Roraima (highest part of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateaus in South America and also the triple border point of Guyana, Venezuela and Brazil) accessed through Region 7, Cuyuni-Mazaruni.

Anna Regina is about a 30 minute drive away from my current host family’s house in Huis’t Dairen and about a 5 minute drive from the Bacchus Library where we train. When training ends, I will be moving in with another host family in Anna Regina. I’ve been there quite a few times already because its the place to go for all needs – bank, post office, supermarkets, clothes, etc. Below is a map of the Essequibo Coast which shows the village I’m in right now, Huis’t Dairen, where the PC training center is (Bacchus library in Affiance) and Anna Regina the main town on the coast and in the region.

At this point my mind was going through so many emotions. I felt excited because I know the town where I would spend my two years, but at the same time disappointed because I had wanted to travel somewhere new and getting explore the different cultures and areas of Guyana more. I eventually realized that although my site placement might feel too close to home right now, the school I’m placed at has a lot of students with so many opportunities to create change, and I have weekends and vacation days to visit other volunteers and explore more of this beautiful country. After the big reveal, a bunch of us volunteers went out to celebrate!

Later that night and the next morning I started getting that first feeling of homesickness. It all became very real, now that I had an actual assignment after training was over. It never really got me until that moment because it all seemed intangible and too far into the future. This is my home for the next two years. The thought of being here alone without seeing my friends and family (with the exception of an occasional visit home or visit from fam in country) for two years was very overwhelming and I just sat and cried it out. To make myself feel better I looked at my favorites pictures from back home, and a book of words of encouragement and pics that everyone had put together for me before I left. Not being close to loved ones for two years is definitely going to be the hardest part of this experience, but I know they are going to be supporting me from afar, and that their encouragement and motivation will help me get through these two years. I’m trying to go into this next week of training with a sense of determination and motivation to get everything I can out of training to help me when I get to site. Tomorrow is Culture Day where volunteers and host families gather at nearby Lake Capoey for skits, dances, poems, food, and a mini fashion show all based on the different ethnic groups that make up Guyana. I better go practice my part!

Until next time,

Preethi

First real week of training is over!

Today marks one week since GUY31 volunteers left the resort and moved in with all different host families along the Essequibo Coast in Pomeroon-Supenaam, aka Region 2. We arrived at a local library, which is going to be our training center for the next 2 months and each got a slip of paper with our host family’s names and had to find them at the meet-and-greet, which was so cute! I immediately fell in love with my host fam – my host parents were very welcoming, and two of their seven grandchildren live in their house also, which is great because I love having kids around. I spent last weekend getting to know them, and I went to a 7am church service with them (apparently that’s pretty standard here) because my host sister was singing for the Father’s Day program they had going on. It was a nice and relaxing weekend before the start of training.

On Monday we started training at a local library. Depending on how far you live from the library, you can either walk, or take a minibus/taxi. I live in one of the farthest towns, about a 25 minute drive from the library, but one of the other volunteer’s host dad is a taxi driver and he has offered to drive a few of us who live near each other every morning. I’ve been waking up (in a pool of my own sweat lol) around 5:30am (everyone in my household is usually up by 4:30-5), do some yoga, then my morning routine (which includes a bucket bath), eat breakfast, and then get picked up for class at 7:30 am. Our training this week was a lot of informational/policy stuff, medical/how to stay healthy during service training, and of course language and culture classes. This week we also got our second rabies vaccine (yay!) and opened up our bank accounts. We have class until 12 and then we break for lunch (we bring lunch frome home) and then back to class until around 3:30-4. After class either a taxi ride home, or hang out with other volunteers for a bit exploring the markets and such. Maybe next week I’ll explore the gym across the street which is apparently free for Peace Corps volunteers, since it was started by one? It gets dark at around 6:30 here so we have to be home by then, to help and learn to cook guyanese foods for dinner (we get tested)! One of the days after school, my host sister took me and some of the other volunteers out to this beautiful lake about a 40 minute walk from our house. That walk was totally worth it.

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Can’t wait see what next week has in store!

Moving in with Host Families :)

Wow. What a week it has been. At the beginning of the week I was awaiting departure to Guyana in a hotel in Philly and now I’m soaking up the sun in this beautiful lakeside resort we’ve been staying at since we arrived on Tuesday for orientation. The experience has been nothing short of amazing while we get to know each, try local foods, get an introduction to Guyanese culture, family life and Creolese, swim and relax. The fun is just beginning!

Today afternoon we leave the resort and head to our training center not too far away in Essequibo and meet our first host family!Each of the 38 volunteers lives with a different host family within a reasonable distance of the training center. Today is a big day! I’m feeling pretty excited to be able to live and communicate with a Guyanese family and to immerse myself in the culture but also considerably nervous because it’s a big change for me, and I hope that it goes smoothly. I’ve never lived with any kind of host family before so figuring out the do’s and dont’s will be a little confusing but I am very hopeful that it should work out and we become a family!

We get to hang out with our host families this weekend and then start official training on Monday. The next two months are pretty much going to be a crash course in medical/personal safety, language (learning Creolese) and culture, and of course more tactical training in our specific sectors, which for me is teaching health education to Guyanese children in secondary schools. It’s a rigorous curriculum with a lot of teaching assesments, creating lesson plans and gathering materials to teach with. It’s going to be a wild ride!

Will have limited WiFi so I’ll post as soon as I can!

Arrived in Guyana!

Finally have some wifi to connect with you all. Arrived in Guyana at about 6:30 this morning to some pouring rain! No worries though because the whole day was a nice cool temperature (don’t even want to know what it’ll be like sans rain). They’re fixing the gates at the airport so we had to deplane in the rain, but wow, what a warm welcome we got from the Peace Corps Guyana staff when we left the airport. They had a big sign and were screaming and clapping for us. Can’t wait to be a part of this amazing group.

They gave us a quick snack before we started our travels for the day of Channa (spicy chickpeas) and this really good potato ball thing, and we were on our way! Bus ride, ferry ride (where we got some really nice views of islands in the Essequibo River) and another bus ride later we arrived at our destination, a resort for the next 4 days for a mini orientation before we move in with our host family for training. Took a quick nap, had a nice dinner and going to crash before a long day ahead tomorrow!

The journey begins today…

It’s finally happening! I’ve arrived in Philly for a mini orientation or “staging” as the PC likes to call it, before we head off to JFK for a direct flight to Guyana tomorrow night. It’s been a long weekend of packing, unpacking and repacking, tearful goodbyes with my friends and family, and eating all my favorite foods. A bit nervous about all the unknowns out there, and sad to leave my family, but I am incredibly excited to see what the Peace Corps has to offer me! I really could not have made it to this point without my friends and families support, encouragement, advice and blessings, and I hope to make them all proud.

After orientation sessions tomorrow during the day, we board the busses headed for JFK tomorrow night for a midnight flight to Georgetown, Guyana. Some odd bus and ferry rides later, we will have officially arrived at the resort that we stay out for the first few days to get acclimated before we meeting our host families we will be staying with for training! There’s a lot I don’t know yet about where I’ll be staying, what I’ll be doing, and what life will be like living in Guyana but I’ve learned to get comfortable with the uncomfortable – the experiences that come from it will last a lifetime.

I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated as frequently as I can based on WiFi availability, etc. and I look forward to sharing the many and hopefully amazing experiences I have with you all.

Love,

Preethi

June 10, 2018