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.
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.