The last week has been a whirlwind. I got back to site Saturday night, slept, and then headed to town for our Reconnect Conference. We spent the last week staying in town @ the Grand Coastal Hotel (I highly recommend it if you’re visiting Guyana and not venturing outside of town). This time some of us stayed in the annex of the hotel (about a 10 min drive from the main hotel) and those are set up like an embassy suites. Definitely one of the nicest hotels in Guyana, along with the Marriott and Hampton- we have not stayed at either just per locals.
Reconnect is wonderful because it’s like a Peace Corps family reunion. Our whole group comes in from around the country for the conference, and volunteers from the earlier groups come in to speak. The first couple of days are just Peace Corps staff and volunteers and we review what we’ve been doing for the last 4 months. It’s funny how much we cling to each other, even though we’ve only known each other for a short time. But there’s a sense of familiarity, where we don’t have to be on – where we aren’t representing the US constantly.
On Tuesday our counterparts joined us, we did our CDS (Community Diagnostic Survey) presentation to finish our review of site. Then we started shifting focus to our work plan for the next 8 months or so, when we will have our MST (Midservice Training) Conference.
Our sessions revolved around PACA (Participatory Analysis Community Action), the toolset we are supposed to use to help us through the stages stated in PACA. The stages include developing relationships, discovery, dream, design, and deliver. Some of the tools it advises are community walks, community mapping, seasonal calendars, informal and formal interviews, people shadowing, etc. Most of our group is in between the discovery and dreaming stage with a little bit of designing beginning. Which is right where Peace Corps recommended for this timeframe. Building relationships enough for the community to trust us was a large part of the last 4 months and will be a continuing priority.
They reviewed the Peace Corps process of humanitarian efforts which includes people to people focus (working with the locals), process=product (the process by which we do things is also something we can leave behind to help the community), the bottom up approach (working at them lower level/within the community to make a broader scope change), long term vision (focus on lasting change rather than immediate), participatory and inclusive (including wide cross section of community members, varying by age, gender, job,etc), capacity building (help the people to help themselves), and Peace Corps Guyana’s buzzword: sustainability. I’m working on a whole post just talking about sustainability, but as what we are picturing about sustainable change seems to be in constant flux who knows when I’ll feel like it’s complete enough to post. 🙂 Learner, change agent, Co trainer, and co facilitator were all discussed as roles of the volunteer.
We watched a Ted Talk to start off the session, called The Happiness Advantage which really stayed with some of us.
We had a housing session and found out the requirements for independent housing, got the paperwork we’ll need to submit, and found out that the first group approved will be able to move Sept 15! (16 days early may not seem like a lot but we’re really excited.) I submitted all my paperwork Sunday so I’m hoping to be in the first group. Our housing coordinator is at a conference til next Wednesday so it’ll be a little while before we hear anything. The categories that have to be approved for independent housing include location, building, windows, doors, lightinf, water, and bedroom. There are about 10 checkpoints under each section, but basically bars on the windows and doors, locks, access to clean water within a certain distance from your house, basic furnishings required, on the coast we have to have street lamps somewhere near by, and we can’t be so isolated that we can’t see a neighboring house, etc.
We had a safety and security session updating us on crime stats for each volunteer group and do refreshing us on various mitigation strategies. We also had a health session covering the most common illnesses in Guyana and what we can treat from our med kit without calling a PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer).
So now I’m finally back at site. There is a slight readjustment after being home for a week and reconnect wasn’t really like being in Guyana. I’m starting to get my projects set up ready to start, probably as the school year starts next month. We are finishing up our GAFF newsletter publication this week so I’ve been in town twice this week. Once we are done it will go through staff for the approval process and should come out around September 1st.