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

Monday, May 30, 2016

Week 3 - Yippee! Week 4 - Teaching Galore!

Classes are progressing really well, everyone is warming up to us and we can feel great relationships forming! Each class has more insightful questions and discussions. Teaching has been going well in the Letterkenny youth space, and Shannen and Cora have even started teaching at a new youth space in Scheldon. We are hoping to run sustainability inspired workshops in the coming week, where we educate youth on how to be peer educators, empowering them to nurture our positions. Patrick and Lexi finally made it to Blackbush, despite rainy season and difficult travel.

Kids in the village took us on an incredible adventure to the beach. Far from beaches we have experienced before, but one of the most beautiful and fun places we've encountered. Spent the afternoon playing games in the sand and swimming!

We successfully triumphed the infamous pumpkin dish. Not as good as the local one we are treated to, but feeling like culinary geniuses nonetheless. We also discovered a family within our family... a young cat that had (unknowingly to us) gave birth in our kitchen cupboard. We made mom and her 4 kittens a cozy new home and check in on them once and a while.

We were lucky to be invited to an Independence Day celebration at Rosehall Primary, filled with great singing, poetry, and stories of the rich history and Independence of Guyana. This year they celebrated 50 years of independence!!

We're taking in every minute of this amazing experience, and looking forward to what the next 2 and a half weeks hold!

Until next time,

Berbesties :)

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Week 4- Give Us Some More!


We are back and better than ever. Today marks the one month of us arriving in Guyana. Looking back, it's amazing to think of all the people we've met, the accomplishments we've shared and the relationships we've built with our students. It's scary to think we are only 2 weeks away from completing our initiative, but with that said, we are beyond excited for what the upcoming weeks have in store.

Words of pride by St. John's Form 2 students
This week, we began teaching at St. Margaret's Primary School, North Georgetown and Christ Church Secondary School, while continuing on with our regular scheduled classes elsewhere. It was a busy week but we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. On Monday, in Grace and Rebecca's sexual health class, they spoke of STIs, contraceptives and HIV/AIDS. The pair teaches the same group of students at the Adult Education Association both Mondays and Tuesdays and have loved seeing the progress made week to week.

Tuesday, Shayna and Andrew began teaching at St. Margaret's Primary School. With over 100 grade 4 students in one classroom, they taught an empowering lesson about mental health and self esteem. That evening at Ruimveldt, the kids were as hyper as ever, and were running off the walls. We had a great time playing catcher catcher, hand games and singing songs with the kids.

Wednesday, we all made our way to the Cheshire Home for youth and adults with mental and physical disabilities, where we discussed mental health, depression and suicide with support staff and administrators. This was an amazing opportunity to engage in some meaningful discussions and reach out to another piece of Guyana's population.  
Celebrating 50!

Guyana's 50th Independence Day was on Thursday, and boy was the day filled with energy and excitement! We spent the afternoon watching an amazing parade surrounded by joy, dancing and pride. What a special opportunity it was to have been here for that historic day.

Throughout the week, we took part in a 3 day focus group lead by 3 social work students from the University of Guyana. It was a great way to learn more about the university's programs, campus and services.

With only 2 weeks left, we are definitely trying to make every moment count. We are looking forward to this coming week, jam packed with old and new classes, NTN and hanging out at Ruimveldt Children's Aid Centre. We are also looking forward to visiting our friends in Berbice next weekend and can't wait to meet all of the highly spoken of children at the Letter Kenny Youth Space!

Until next time,

The G-Town Crew
Rebecca, Grace, Andrew and Shayna

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Week 3- The Half Way Point

How crazy it is to think that we are half way done this journey! The G-Town crew had a busy and exciting week, filled with new schools, new faces and new experiences. This week, we began teaching at multiple Region 4 public schools, adding 15 new classes to our weekly schedule.

GRPA Comprehensive Sexuality Education Toolkit launch!
On Monday, we went to a play about suicide and depression starring one of the youth members at the GRPA! It was amazing to witness fellow youth working to raise awareness on these important topics. Later in the week, we were invited to celebrate the launch of the GRPA's Comprehensive Sexuality Education Toolkit. We can not wait to implement and incorporate many of the activities and guidelines outlined in the toolkit into our own lessons.

At school, we taught a variety of topics, including STIs and Contraception, Suicide and Depression, Nutrition, and Bullying. A highlight for all teaching pairs includes enthusiastic participation from Form 3 and 4 students during our male and female condom demonstrations. We are continually impressed by the motivation and desire to learn of our students, and are excited with every new question put in the question box.

Thursday morning, we spoke about Hygiene and Nutrition on the National Television Network's Morning Show. Feeling more comfortable behind the camera, we hope to continue engaging this slice of Guyana's population in the upcoming weeks.

One of the million pictures taken at the beautiful Kaieteur Falls
This weekend, we were joined by the Berbesties (Shannen, Lexi, Cora and Patrick) where we exchanged stories and lessons learned of the past 3 weeks. We are excited to implement some of their best practices in our future classes! In our short time together, we also had the pleasure of exploring one of the most amazing natural wonders, Kaieteur Falls, the biggest single drop waterfall in the world! It was a day we will never forget, with memories (and pictures) that will last a lifetime.

See ya on the flip side,

G-Town Crew
Shayna, Andrew, Becca, Grace

Monday, May 16, 2016

Week Two - Can Do

Aloha World!

After a whirlwind of a week, Berbice crew is still kickin. We have so much to share but here are a few highlights!  The week started out with something more difficult than any algebra problem we had ever encountered: coordinating the teaching schedule with 17 different schools on the docket and overlapping/under-lapping/side-lapping class times.  It was a challenge and a half, but in the end it all came out perfect! We all have the chance to teach at a variety of schools, all ranging in class size and ages, and we were even able to mix up the teaching pairs so that we all get the chance to teach together.  We figure if we can get through this without even the slightest hint of an argument, we can get through anything.

That being said, our schedules are all very busy and made the week fly by!  Classes went well for the most part; we started off with a few common lessons including bullying and peer pressure for Primary classes, and a focus on mental health for Secondary.  Some classes were very attentive and engaged, while others were a little more reserved, but we are confident that the second week will change this.  We can already feel great relationships forming with the students, and are excited to continue them!

The people of Letter Kenny have continued to be amazing, incredibly hospitable, and have made us feel so much more at home.  We were even lucky enough to be invited to attend a service at the local Mandir, which was a delightful experience.  We spend most afternoons at the Youth Space playing all sorts of games with the youth in the community.  We are also in the process of planning a few lessons to put on at the Youth Space to mix things up a little!

More updates to come, and thanks for reading!

The Berbesties

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Week 2 in G-Town

This week has flown by but looking back, it's exciting to see everyone we met, everything we've accomplished and everything we have coming our way in the upcoming weeks! On Monday, Gracie and Becca had their class at the Adult Education Association, whom they taught again on Tuesday. After a week of introductory lessons, it was exciting for us to dive right in to the topics students, schools and organizations felt were most needed! In addition to our classes we taught last week, we all had the pleasure of starting at Reyaz Business Institute, where we were amazed at the focus and motivation of the students.

Thursday morning, we had the opportunity to speak on the National Television Network's morning show. Being able to speak about substance abuse to a wider audience was both challenging and rewarding. It was our first time in front of a green screen, but we are excited to be back talking about some more important topics this coming Thursday!

Throughout the week, we were meeting with different members of the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport to discus new ways we can expand our reach to the youth of Georgetown. We are looking forward to advancing our partnerships with likeminded organizations. Friday afternoon, we were invited to facilitate a discussion on mental health at the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA). A group of community members covering a wide range of ages gathers here weekly to discus relevant social and health topics. In a refreshing change from the classroom setting, we found it stimulating and educational to discus topics such as mental health, depression, stigma and suicide. We hope groups like this will continue their work to raise awareness in the Georgetown population and beyond.

On Saturday, we attended the GuyExpo, an annual event showcasing Guyana's businesses and services. It was great to see all of the health resources and services currently available. We gained a lot of knowledge and new information that we are excited to share with our classes!

Walking down the streets, you can feel the excitement, buzz and celebrations building for Guyana's 50th Independence Day. We are super excited to see what's in store!

Talk to you on the flip side,

The Georgetown Crew

P.S. Our manatee friends are doing great and send big hugs and kisses to friends and family near and far!

Sunday, May 08, 2016


It's crazy to think that it's already been a week here in Georgetown! We said goodbye to the Berbesties (Shannen, Lexi, Patrick, Cora) and our lovely program director Maddy (we miss you guys!!) and found ourselves officially on our own. We have been busy orienting ourselves around this city, keeping our eyes open for any opportunities for future QHO partnerships.

Becca + Shayna after their Form 4 intro to health class!
This week, we made progress getting into Georgetown public schools and taught our first classes at Chase's Academic Foundation. The introduction lessons were a success and the students had so much fun playing health based Jeopardy. After meeting with the head teachers at Adult Education Association (AEA) and Reyaz Business Institute (RBI), we are eager and excited for the full week of teaching we have coming our way.

We also had the pleasure of meeting all those involved at the amazing Ruimveldt Children's Aid Centre over the course of this past week. The kids are full of energy, and we are in awe of all of the hard work that goes into running the centre. Shayna is so excited to be working on a dance with the older girls, getting them ready for an event they have this week. We are all looking forward to returning to the centre this Tuesday!

Also on next week's agenda, we have a full slate of classes and our first appearance on NTN- The National Television Network! We are looking forward to continuing QHO's progress made on the news last year by raising awareness and initiating important conversations about relevant health topics on a national scale.

To top off this amazing week, this morning we joined the company of 6 manatees (Steve, Louis, Margarette, Harvey, Bessie and Hank the Tank) after our workout at the national park. We will definitely be back to visit our newfound friends soon!!

That's all for now,

The Georgetown Crew

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Move-in, Meetings and Mosquitos

Exciting week for us as we finally arrived in Berbice and settled into our new home in the lovely village of Letter Kenny. It was an adjustment at first but the village was welcoming and we are taking everything in stride. The first afternoon in Letter Kenny (Tuesday!) we finally got to meet the youth that we will be spending most afternoons with. The youth space where we typically hang out with them, and occasionally teach in, was a little worse for wear, however after an afternoon of teamwork it was back in good shape. We quickly learned that the kids had much more efficient ways of cleaning up and we were definitely taught a lesson or two. 
Wednesday was spent making initial visits to some of the schools we'd been approved to teach at. The meetings went great and we were even able to schedule our first lesson for two days later, on Friday night (this story to come shortly). Wednesday night was our first of many epic bug battles, thankfully Patrick prevailed against the palm-sized moth. 
Thursday was an observed holiday, Indian Arrival Day, so the town was quieter and the schools were closed. We were thankful for this in the end, as we had lots of lesson planning and logistical matters to get through. Friday was a whirlwind of a day, from 8 am till 3 pm we darted around the region, meeting first with the ministry and then 9 different schools. The meetings were quite successful and our teaching schedules are coming together! We are hoping to be teaching between two and four classes a day, with the total number of schools still undetermined. 
Nerves and excitement were very high Friday afternoon as we made final preparations for our first lesson, which took place at Guysuco training center. This is a post-secondary (after high school) institution that offers live-in, military style learning and extracurriculars that train the students to enter a variety of trade workforces. We divided into teams (Shannen and Lexi, Patrick and Cora) and each tackled a class of 50-60 boys aged 15-20. It was intimidating for our first lesson, but both pairs agree it could not have gone better. Both classes were super receptive and interactive, good times were had by all. We hope to return to Guysuco about 3 more times in the following weeks. 
The next morning was a bit lazier, but we still got our daily workout in, and then ventured to the Saturday market to stock up on groceries. We all have a little ways to go in our fruit picking and bartering skills, but can tell that market will come to be another highlight in our weeks. 
We keep saying to each other, "It feels like we have been here for a year, but also 5 minutes", which may sound silly but couldn't be more true. Even through the crazy week, we all comfortably settled into our new home, started to get into a routine, and adjusted to our new normal. We seriously can't wait to start the next full week of teaching, wish us luck!
Thanks for reading,
The Berbesties 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Day 1, Lots of Fun!

At the airport getting ready for our red-eye!

HELLO FRIENDS AND FAMILY! Just touched down in G-town and we couldn't be more excited (or exhausted!!). After a long night of travel, midnight sandwiches and far too little shut-eye, we were greeted at the airport by our amazing program directors, Maddy and Jamie. The humidity and hot weather hit us like a wall, but we are slowly acclimatizing and settling in to our lovely guest house (Georgetown's home for the next 7 weeks).

Things in Guyana tend to be quiet on Sundays which gave us the perfect opportunity to wander around the area and plan for our first week. With a holiday on Monday and meetings scheduled for Tuesday, Georgetown peer educators (Shayna, Becca, Andrew, Grace) are hoping to be in the classrooms starting Wednesday. Berbice peer educators (Lexi, Patrick, Cora, Shannen) will make their way down the coast Tuesday morning to the village of Letterkenny. They will then be meeting with various schools to solidify teaching schedules, with the hope of beginning to teach early next week!

It's currently 6:30pm and we are winding down getting ready for bed (this is not a joke). We've got a big week ahead of us and can't wait to see what it has in store! Thanks for the ongoing support, talk to you soon!


Guyana Crew 2016