Monday, May 22, 2017

A toast to the halfway point

We can’t believe week three is already over! It has been a great week of second and third lessons in most of our classes, and we have started to get deeper into topics surrounding sexual and mental health. Our students have been quite engaged and enthusiastic about our puberty, sexual anatomy and pregnancy classes. We’ve had a lot of great discussions with our students, and our classroom peer-educator-to-student dynamic has started to become more open and comfortable. With that comfortability, we’ve started to move into more heavy content, which has come with its fair share of challenges, but has also been a great opportunity for mutual learning. Continuing to build relationships in our community and the youth in the schools we work in has been rewarding as well.
            We had the opportunity to attend a Christian Gospel Church early in the week, which was a unique experience for all of us. We learned how to make pumpkin curry and roti, one of our Guyanese favourites; with one of the locals we have formed a connection with in our village. The people we meet on a daily basis have continued to be very welcoming and generous.
            This weekend our Georgetown colleagues joined us in Berbice. We enjoyed showing them around where we live, and reflecting on our past couple of weeks as a team in our different locations. On Saturday we visited 63 Beach, the longest beach in Guyana, along with some of our friends from our village. Even though we prepped our skin with 50SPF, and wore sunglasses and hats we all ended up being toasted from the sun. Regardless of our sun exposure, the adventure was a highlight. With full days and busy schedules our time in Guyana has been flying by, after this week we will be more than half way! We’re thriving getting into the swing of things and embrace whatever the next weeks have to offer.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Week 3: Yipee!

Hi everyone, we are just finishing up our third week here in Georgetown, Guyana! We started our week off by celebrating Manny’s 20th birthday on Monday. He was able to celebrate his day with a delicious breakfast made at our accommodations and finished it with Churches Chicken that night.
After a full day of classes on Monday we were able to meet with Susan Isaacs, the managing director at the Guyana Foundation to discuss a future collaboration. The Guyana Foundation is a charitable organization that maintains community-based centers located in various regions with a high incidence of suicide. They work with local hospitals to make counselling readily available as well as provide 3-month skills training to improve access to economic opportunities. We hope to work with them in one of their centres for a couple weekend sessions.
On Tuesday two of our peer educators, Shannon and Haylee worked with the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) to discuss mental health, depression and suicide at the Guyana National Shipping Corp Dock. It was an amazing opportunity to reach individuals outside of our regular classrooms.

            We finished off our classes for the week and were lucky enough to travel to Berbice on Friday afternoon and visit Megan E., Megan B., Kate, and Robbie, our peer educators located there.  We were all very excited to see each other for the first time in 3 weeks and got the chance to discuss our separate experiences in this culture. They were amazing hosts and cooked us the best meals while we stayed with them. On Saturday we were lucky enough to meet Ravi who greeted us with kindness and generosity and drove all 8 of us to beach 63 and fed us the most delicious food. Overall, we had a fantastic day swimming in the ocean and spending the day in the sun.  We loved to see another region of Guyana and cannot wait to see our friends again this Friday to celebrate Independence Day in Georgetown!

Haylee, Shannen, Shannon, Manny

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Week 2!!

Though we were sad to say good bye to Cora, our Program Director, at the beginning of this week, we have had a successful first week of lessons in our classrooms. We have been facilitating discussions surrounding physical, mental and sexual health in seventeen different primary and secondary schools. This week, our lessons primarily focused on self esteem, healthy relationships, peer pressure, and mental health. The teachers and school administrators continue to be welcoming and supportive of our health curriculum. On Friday evening we had the pleasure of teaching in Guysuco, a trades academy for young adults, where we had rewarding discussions about consent, and sexual anatomy. We also attended a youth space in the Blackbush region, where we facilitated conversations and interactive activities about communication and leadership with some of the community’s youth leaders.
            We have been focused on getting involved in the community we live in, in doing so we and have formed relationships with many of the people in LetterKenny. They have been so welcoming to us and we are very grateful. One amazing experience we had this week was attending a Hindu service at the local Mandir. It was interesting to see how the service was run by the youth in the community- we look forward to the cultural experiences ahead of us in the next 5 weeks.
            So far we have killed one cockroach and befriended another, who has found a new home in Robbie’s room. The heat is something that we have learned to embrace– our laundry dries so quickly! Our excursions to the Saturday market has provided us with the opportunity to try new fruits and vegetables, however we do have a few favourites. The pineapples and mangos have added a delicious sweetness to our experience – while (sneaky) spicy peppers have kept things interesting. They are small but mighty, Meg B and Robbie tried a bit of one and were feeling the effects for a couple hours after ingestion. Needless to say we have learned to respect those tiny hot peppers and to proceed with caution when cooking.
            We continue to be surrounded by the warmth of the Guyanese people, and face everyday with an open mind and an open heart to everything Guyana has to offer. 
The Berbesties 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Week 2: We're Ridin' Solo

            Hello again! We cannot believe that it’s already been two weeks, but time flies when you keep busy. This week was off to an exciting start as we were approved by the Ministry of Education to teach in public schools! With our approval we quickly started approaching schools regarding the possibility of engaging in health based discussions in classrooms.
The same day that we received our approval, we were luck enough to be interviewed by Kaieteur News about our purpose and goals while in Georgetown. It was interesting being able to tour their facilities and see where newspapers were made daily. It was also very exciting to see a feature of us in the Kaieteur Newspaper the next morning! Here is the link to the article if you're interested!

Tuesday was yet another busy day; with our Ministry of Education approval we continued approaching more public schools before Cora arrived from Berbice. We had the opportunity to meet the Deputy of the Ministry of Education and got to learn more about what the Ministry of Education does throughout the country.
After our busy morning and afternoon at Ruimveldt Children’s Aid Centre we had the opportunity to be featured on “Reality Check”, a segment on NTN’s radio station. We spent the full hour feature discussing topics of stress and positive thinking.
Sadly Wednesday morning we had to say goodbye to our amazing Program Directors. Despite being sad about having to say goodbye to Rebecca and Cora, it was our first day being able to navigate solo. We spent the day continuing approaching more schools and organizing our teaching schedules for the upcoming weeks, which kept us busy for the day.

The rest of the week was filled with teaching, meetings, and another afternoon at Ruimveldt Children’s Aid Centre. On Friday we got the chance to attend the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association’s (GRPA) Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) meeting where they announced the launch of Guyana’s #Idecide campaign. This campaign emphasizes women’s reproductive rights to awareness and accessibility to contraceptives and sexual reproductive health. This movement has spread globally and we got the opportunity to witness the launch of Guyana’s branch of the movement.
Overall it has been an exciting week being approved by the Ministry of Education to teach in public schools, saying goodbye to our program directors and being able to navigate on our own. We cannot wait to see what the next week’s holds as we have many more classes planned.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!


Shannon, Shannen, Haylee, and Manny

Monday, May 08, 2017

Week One and the Fun has Only Just Begun!!!

After flying to Georgetown, and spending the morning exploring the city, the team headed to Berbice. We arrived late afternoon in the village that we will be calling home for the next 7 weeks. Our accommodation is a cozy apartment above a shop owned by a very nice man named Ravi. Omeshwar, who works closely with the Ministry of Youth, Culture, and Sport, has kindly offered his help and assistance for any matter that requires it.

On Monday evening Cora introduced us to some of the adults and kids that live in the local village, that she had spent time with last year on initiative. We spent the early evening getting to know their wonderful personalities. To be honest, travelling to a new place, where you are used to different social norms, have a different skin tone, and speak a different dialect than the majority of people, can make it challenging to feel comfortable. However, meeting these kids shortly after arrival truly broke down this feeling. We shared interests, played games, ran around, and laughed. After an hour, we could all agree that we felt the warmth of this culture.

Throughout the rest of the week we visited 20 schools, introduced ourselves to the Head Teachers, and talked with them to try to accommodate our lesson plans into their class schedules, where possible. We experienced very welcoming interactions with the Head Teachers, and other school staff, and received approval and teaching time slots from all 20 schools. The teachers seemed passionate about health education, and were very helpful in communicating the unique needs of their students to us. Kindness, and relaxed, down-to-earth nature have been consistently reoccurring traits of the Guyanese people that we have had the pleasure of meeting.

Only one week in, and we are already developing a growing love for this special place! Looking forward to getting into the schools and teaching on Monday!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Week 1 Complete!

Hi everyone, this is Manny, Shannen, Haylee and Shannon, and we are just finishing up our first week here in Georgetown, Guyana! After arriving in Georgetown from the red eye flight out of Toronto, Ontario, we travelled to our new home for the next 7 weeks.
This week we mainly focused on obtaining approval from the Ministry of Education to engage with youth in the public school system. We also all got a chance to teach our first lessons in the classroom, which was incredibly exciting! These lessons were primarily introductions about ourselves, the organization, and mental health topics.

We also had the opportunity to begin collaborations with the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA). The GRPA has an established volunteer peer education program, and we have planned several training sessions with them to engage in mutual learning experiences.
Not only did we start discussions about physical, sexual and mental health with youth, we also got to participate in the ‘NTN This Morning’ news segment where we discussed the topics of stress and physical activity. Despite our nerves, we had a lot of fun with our first experience on national television and we look forward to improving as the week’s progress.
On our Tuesday and Thursday evenings we have, and plan to continue, spending our time at Ruimveldt Children’s Aid Centre. There we are able to engage with youth at the centre and assist the incredibly hard-working staff wherever possible.

This Sunday we had the opportunity to attend a sporting day in Georgetown where Manny got the chance to play with Georgetown’s regional cricket team! We had an incredible day watching track, cycling, football and cricket. We cannot wait to see what the next weeks have to hold!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Meet QHO Guyana 2017!


The QHO Guyana team with their directors at our annual banquet.
Queen's Health Outreach is excited to introduce eight new peer educators to our Guyana Initiative! They have been working hard all year to prepare for this challenging task and are so exciting to begin their physical, sexual and mental health discussions in different classrooms within the city of Georgetown and the region of Berbice.

Meet Georgetown

Haylee just finished her third year studying Psychology and Theatre at Queen’s. So far, her year with QHO has been unexpected and challenging in all of the right ways! Haylee will be living in Georgetown over the course of the initiative and is eager to share her passion for healthy living with many of the students she will meet. She cannot wait to begin putting all of her hard work to use alongside her lovely teaching partners, and is excited to immerse herself into the Guyanese culture. Haylee is restless to begin the initiative and cannot wait to see what the next 7 weeks has in store!

Shannen has just finished her second year at Queen's, where she is studying psychology. She is passionate about health and wellness, with a particular interest in mental-health. She hopes to combine what she has learned from her psychology courses and her experience with QHO to offer her best while on initiative. Shannen will be living in Georgetown throughout initiative and is excited to partake in conversations with students regarding all aspects of health. She is eager to begin working alongside her incredible teaching partners, and to meet the students she will be interacting with for the next 7 weeks!

Manny is an incoming 3rd year student at Queen’s University. After being halfway through his undergraduate studies, he has decided to pursue Kinesiology as a foundation for his medical career. While orthopaedic surgery is his long-term goal, Manny has a strong appreciation for the multidimensional nature that is health. Growing up, he has become a consistent advocate for maintaining a healthy lifestyle as he strives to incorporate mental and physical health practices at both school and work. Whether its running Zumba classes at the gym or organizing mental health fundraisers for his program, Manny hopes to promote a similar appreciation for health in others. By joining QHO, he believes he can achieve just that. Having the opportunity to teach health and empower youth with such a like-minded team is one of the many things Manny is excited for this summer. It’s just a bonus that he gets to eat all the oxtail stew, learn the local dance moves, and make friends in a culture that he has come to love along the way. Manny recognizes that learning goes both ways, and he firmly believes that the next seven weeks will be no exception.

Shannon is a recent graduate from Queen's University's Global Development program. She is hoping to continue pursuing her love for international studies by travelling and pursuing further studies in her future. After spending the entire year preparing with QHO, she is looking forward to finally making her way to Georgetown, Guyana. She's excited to participate in the facilitation of QHO's peer to peer education program and cannot wait to see what the next 7 weeks hold!

Meet Berbice

Kate is a 4th year student at Queen’s University that studied sociology and art history during her undergrad. She has always had a passion for learning about health and this is what initially sparked her interest and led to her involvement with QHO. She is incredibly excited to depart for initiative as the team has worked hard this school year to prepare for their time in Guyana. Kate is looking forward to actively using the skills she has gained and practiced with QHO so far. She can’t wait to start teaching, learning and immersing herself into the Guyanese culture. When not teaching in the classroom, Kate is looking forward to involving herself in the Guyanese community, getting to know locals, playing with the kids and learning how to prepare traditional Guyanese meals. She cannot wait for the adventure that lays ahead for the Berbice teaching team.

Megan E has just finished her second year as a Life Sciences student at Queen's University. She aspires to be a science teacher, and to make a difference in the development of young minds. Megan is excited to use her educational background to initiate conversations on important health topics that she hopes will empower local youth to make informed choices regarding a healthy mind and body. She looks forward to learning from the people of Guyana, and becoming immersed in the incredible culture she has heard so much about. Megan can't wait to get started in the Berbice classrooms with her fellow peer educators, and to start sharing her passion for youth, health and education.

Megan B could not be more excited to promote health in Berbice, Guyana where she will be living for the next seven weeks! She is so happy that she gets to work alongside a team that she has grown to love throughout the year. Megan is going into her third year in Life Sciences where she is very passionate about learning how to keep the human body happy and healthy. She can’t wait to see all of the health lessons they have been working on throughout the year finally be put into place! Applying to QHO was one the best decisions that she has made since coming to Queen’s University. She can’t wait to talk, about mental, physical, and sexual health with the amazing students she knows she will meet!

Robbie has just graduated from his fourth year at Queen’s University in the Kinesiology program. He would like to work in healthcare, and specifically, he would like to pursue a career in physiotherapy. It is his passion to work with others to help them reach their full physical and academic potential, so that daily living and functioning are as stress free, and enjoyable as possible. He is very excited to have an opportunity to work with youth and provide tools, advice, and resources, necessary to build self-esteem and deal with obstacles to mental health. Along with his team, he will be teaching, and having open discussions about the essentials of healthy living in physical, mental, and sexual contexts. An important goal that he and his team have is helping to reduce the stigma surrounding many mental and sexual health topics, through spreading awareness, and using creative, interactive activities. Robbie cannot wait to meet the students in Berbice, Guyana! He is looking forward to a two-way learning experience throughout his time in the schools and the community.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Beginning of the End

Here we are, writing our final blog post, trying to think of ways to summarize what this amazing experience has included. We can say with confidence that this initiative has been one of a kind, and we are forever grateful for all that it has taught us, the relationships we have built, the people we have met and the connections we have made.

Shayna and Grace with their Business/Science class at Sophia
Training Centre after the final class 
Week 6 consisted of lots of teaching, mixed in with the beginnings of preparations for our departure. We taught numerous lessons covering a wide variety of subjects. We continued to welcome the development of relationships with students and enjoyed some of our one-on-one chats and girl talk boy talk sessions at the end of each lesson. Engaging with the students in a peer to peer environment has continued to prove successful in facilitating difficult discussions amongst youth. We have loved and valued every question asked by the students and hope that our discussions have shed light on some hidden areas of health.

Squad on-air at NTN-Radio! 

Tuesday evening, we were welcomed on to the NTN-Radio Show entitled Reality Check. Facilitated by the wonderful host Frederick Rampersaud, we spoke of mental health, mental illness, stigma, depression, self harm and suicide. It was a wonderful experience and we thoroughly enjoyed connecting with the listeners who called in!

At the Ruimveldt Children's Aid Centre, we broadened our repertoire of hand games, refreshed our memory on hopscotch and played a version of cricket in the rain! We continue to be amazed by the enthusiasm of all the children and the dedication of the centre's staff.

St. Margaret's Grade 6 Students 
Looking back on the past 6.5 weeks, it is crazy to think back to where it all began. We are excited about this year's developments and are look forward to seeing how these partnerships continue to develop in the upcoming years. While days may have felt like weeks, weeks undoubtedly felt like days, leaving us here at the end of our journey searching for where the time went. To all the people we have met, the organizations and groups we have fostered partnerships with, the schools that welcomed us, and the students and youth that continue to amaze us, thank you. This has been a once in a lifetime experience and it could not have been done alone.

Signing out,

The Georgetown Squad 2016
Rebeca, Andrew, Grace + Shayna

Monday, June 06, 2016

Week 5- The Mosquitos are Alive!!!

Well hello there!

Here we are, another week later, still trying to understand where all the time is flying. We had another jam-packed week, filled with non stop lesson planning and teaching. This week, we had the pleasure of starting at yet another new school, The Business School. With 3 new classes, we jumped right into mental health and mental illness, focussing on stigma and the importance of reaching out for support. Following with this trend, on our weekly news segment, we spoke of depression and suicide. While it is a difficult topic, our commitment to starting the conversation and spreading awareness continues to grow.

Andrew teaching a Grade 6 class about peer pressure
At our other schools, all teaching pairs taught a variety of lessons including puberty, sexual health, menstruation and pregnancy, STIs, bullying, peer pressure and self esteem. Over the past few weeks, we have loved watching classes open up, as we have seen through increased participation in discussions and the desire to ask questions.

The ladies of both initiatives reunited!
On Friday, we connected with the Ministry of Public Health's Mental Health Unit. While it is only 4 weeks old, they are already making great strides to providing the best possible resources, information and awareness to the Guyanese public. We are excited to watch this unit unfold, are looking forward to following its developments and implementations. Later that afternoon, the four of us made our way to Berbice where we were reunited with our other half of the initiative. We had the honour of watching the Berbice PEs teach one of their weekly classes, and can't wait to use some of the techniques and teaching points we took note of in the rest of our classes! It was great to see how the other half of QHO Guyana's initiative is engaging with their community, and we loved meeting some of their friends from the Letter Kenny Youth Space! We headed back for Georgetown with a weekend of memories, new ideas, and one million new mosquito bites.

While it is crazy to think that this experience is coming to an end, we are excited to head into our last full week of teaching back here in Georgetown.

Still sweating,

The Georgetown Crew
Shayna, Andrew, Grace + Becca