Final footprinter report: Gemma Eastman in Guyana

The most amazing year of my life so far has come to a close, as I have now returned from my time teaching with the charity Project Trust in Guyana.

For the final 4 months of my year, I moved to Sawariwau Primary School in a much more remote area of the Rupununi, the village could only be entered by motorbike for most of the year and the only communication was by radio. There had never been volunteers in the community before and as a result me and my partner Rachael were thoroughly appreciated and made welcome throughout our whole time there.

The severe lack of teachers meant I took on both Year 3 and 4 as a full time class teacher; this led to constant movement between the 2 classes whilst trying to ensure they were both getting the same level and quality of teaching. However this was made slightly easier by the school being one large room with just blackboards to separate the classrooms, so I could see both classes most of the time. On the flip side this also meant that the highly energetic Year 1s would frequently make running visits through my classes.

It was a big change from Annai Secondary School but one that I enthusiastically embraced, especially as I was able to teach all subjects including more interactive ones like Art, Dance and Drama. In this respect I found my previous work with girl guiding was invaluable as my Brownie games and songs were a real hit with my new classes. At first it was difficult to teach subjects like Social Studies which I had very little knowledge on especially as there were very few textbooks, but the other teacher were immensely helpful in all respects, so I soon got used to teaching 2 classes 2 completely different subjects at once!

We also became active members of the community by joining the local culture group and learning the traditional Amerindian dances, as well as attending church every week which was essential in the very religious community. After church we attended lessons in the local tribal language where we taught how to read and write Wapishana by the Toshau (village leader), as part of a scheme to encourage the locals to be literate in their first language. At the end of the course there was an exam, which included comprehension like questions and also writing a story. Once we passed, there was a graduation ceremony which was a big celebration in the village with singing and dancing and a Wapishana spelling bee.

We literally became part of the village family with our very own Aunties and Uncles who looked after us and brought us vegetables and fruits from their farms. The village was a predominantly farming community, so the wealth was not in banks so much as in cows and sheep and how big your farm was, however it was also very cooperative and everybody shared what they had and nobody went without food, though some families did hunt deer and turtles nearly every night.

When the school term finished I had around 5 weeks before I flew home during which I decided to visit Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. Whilst in Peru I visited the astounding floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, and tried out sand boarding in the dunes of Huacachina. Then in Ecuador I pursued my lifelong dream of rowing a boat down a river in the Amazon rainforest, during a 5-day jungle tour. It was a truly inspirational experience which was enhanced by the many different species of endangered animals I saw there including grey and pink river dolphins, 6 species of monkey, a sloth and many more.

On arrival back in the UK, I spent a few weeks at home trying to get used to things like drinking water from a tap and having a fridge complete with dairy products, before heading back to PT headquarters on the Isle of Coll for the final time. This was for my debriefing course which included sessions about reverse culture shock and how to cope with being back home as well as being a chance to meet up with the other 21 volunteers who went to Guyana and a final chance to dance Guyanese style as a country group. It was a great few days and definitely worthwhile as it allowed us all to share experiences of returning home and to find comfort in experiencing the same challenges as everyone else.

I would like to thank you again for your support that helped make my amazing experience possible, and hope you enjoyed reading a little about what you helped me to achieve. I have also attached a few photographs for your benefit, and if you would like any more information about what I did during my gap year please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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