Primary teacher and VSO volunteer Cheryl Evans has been supporting literacy in Guyana’s primary schools for nearly two years. Here she describes the transformations she has seen in children’s reading and writing, the “heaps of new skills” she has developed as a volunteer and the sights, smells and sounds of life in Guyana.
What work do you do as an early childhood education adviser?
I’ve been helping with the implementation of the literacy hour in grades one and two, which is a fairly new initiative in Guyana. I’ve worked with parents and teachers to ensure that they’re equipped with the skills to implement the new programmes. My role changes every couple of months as we see progress taking place.
Describe your average day
My average day consists of a lot of travelling! I normally try to visit at least two schools every day. I could be going into school and meeting with the head teacher, liaising with one or more teachers, maybe doing some team teaching or a demonstration lesson. There’s lots of discussion and sharing ideas. It’s very varied.
What would you say has been your greatest achievement to date?
I don’t have one greatest achievement but I see small achievements every day which when combined are enormous. For example I had a grade seven class who couldn’t write their names when I began working with them. They didn’t know the letters of the alphabet. Now, two terms on, these children are reading, they can write sentences and short stories. They are coming back to school where once they didn’t want to attend. I think that’s been a huge achievement.
What new skills will you take back to the UK?
Heaps of new skills! Improved communication skills. You’re always trying to persuade people to do things differently and you have to communicate in a way where you’re not going to offend. You have to make sure that you clearly understand the situation before you advise. I also think I’m more resourceful now. I’m able to build relationships. I don’t think I quite envisaged how much advising I would be doing in terms of working with teachers and trainers and so on. Those skills have been hugely important.
What have you learnt from Guyanese teachers?
I think a greater empathy and a greater understanding of the challenges they face. In Guyana teachers are teaching in hugely difficult circumstances and they do a great job. It’s just about assisting them to make the most of their time in the classroom and the few resources they have here to be able to bring children forward. It’s a two-way process so you learn from them and they learn from you. I think it’s important to listen for a long time when you start your placement with VSO. It’s all about listening.
What are the highs and lows of life as a VSO volunteer?
The travelling can be quite tiring, but it’s necessary in this region because it’s so big. It can also seem a bit lonely at first until you start building up relationships. But there are many more highs than lows. The Guyanese people are wonderful; they are very generous. I have lots of good friends here. I like the hustle and bustle of Guyana - the noises, the smells, the weather and the food. Everything. Just being in a new culture and being accepted by a new community is great.
What would you say to other teachers who are thinking of volunteering with VSO?
I’d say, “Do it”! It’s the best two years that I’ve had. I’ve learnt so much. I think that I’ve made some impact in the job that I’ve been doing. And I’ve never looked back and never regretted it once.