There is nothing easy about living in Guyana. Navigating the city streets of Georgetown is difficult, household chores need to be done more mindfully than in the United States, and even simple tasks like taking a shower or prepping to go to bed require more effort than I’m used to. Everything is just a little bit more difficult. Thankfully, as I’ve been adjusting to this new culture, country, and way of life over the past month and a half, I have had two saving graces that have kept everything in perspective. The first is my community of MVC volunteers who are experiencing the ups and downs of living in South America with me on a daily basis. The second is my job. No matter how difficult a single day may be, I’m always grateful to head to work. It serves as a constant reminder of why I’m in Guyana in the first place.
I’ve been working for just over six weeks now at an orphanage for boys about fifteen minutes outside of the city of Georgetown in a small village called Plaisance. There are over fifty boys that live at the orphanage and about half of them attend the K-6 school on the grounds of the orphanage. Once the boys reach grade 7, they go to school at a secondary school in the next town over. I’ve been teaching the fifth grade class since my arrival and it has been…quite an experience. There are just a handful of boys in each grade. So, I spend my mornings and afternoons with three nine year olds and a thirteen year old who is repeating 5th grade for the second (or third?) time. They’re great kids, always keeping me on my toes. As the days have worn on, I’ve realized just how important the role I play in their lives is. Not to sound like a conceited fool, but the information that a fifth grade teacher dishes out to his/her students is essential stuff for life. For example, in the first few days of school, I’ve already taught the boys how to use quotations marks in Grammar class and how to do long division in Math class. When it comes to teaching vital lessons like these, I take the job very seriously. It’s fun to be able to teach something fundamental to little human beings, and it’s exhilarating to see them begin to understand it. On the flip side though, it’s slightly terrifying when you correct their homework and realize that they are still missing some of the basics. Alas, all part of the ups and downs of teaching. I’m learning really fast, I love being able to learn on the job.
My classroom is a simple room with no walls between my room and the other classrooms in the school. All that separates each “classroom” from the next one over is a blackboard. I would have thought that it would take quite some time to get used to this way of teaching and learning, but I quickly grew used to staying focused on my classroom and the kids have been learning like this their whole lives, so they don’t even notice that there are five other lessons going on simultaneously with their lesson. The only time I have any issue with my four boys losing their focus is when the first graders are singing along with a cassette tape to an “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song that they all learned when they were in first grade. No matter how many times I try to coral them back into our lesson, they always feel the need to sing along with their six-year-old friends in the next classroom over.
I have no materials to speak of to teach my students with, other than a few pieces of chalk and some outdated, tattered textbooks. Somehow though, it’s enough. Yes, it would be greatly beneficial to have a copier, pencils, crayons, notebooks or loose-leaf paper, but we make do with what we have. It takes a lot more creativity to teach a group of boys with nothing but chalk and my imagination than it would if I had a “Smart Board” and access to the Internet. I do find it humorous; however, that at the end of each day all four boys and I are always covered in chalk –our clothes, our faces, there’s no escaping it!
At the end of each day I’m tired and I welcome the fact that Guyana’s close proximity to the equator means that the sun sets right around six o'clock each night. I think of it as the earth giving me permission to wind down and head to bed early. No matter the day, whether it’s Monday or Friday, I’m always exhausted by the time I’m arriving home. Thankfully, the tired feelings I experience are all just remnants of a good day’s work, in which I did a little teaching and, ironically, ended up learning so much more about life, love, and how the world works in the process.
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Matthew Guiffre is a Mercy Volunteer Corps serving in Guyana South America.
This post was originally written and posted on the Catholic Volunteer Network Blog.
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