Celebrating Youth Health

In the weeks leading up to my evacuation from Guyana, I had been working on one of the last projects I would do in my community – assisting my local health center with starting clinic day for adolescents. The Youth Health Clinic, as we named it, would allow in-school and out of school youth ages 10-19 to seek medical care and counseling without judgement so that they can live happy and healthy lives.

During the planning process, the health center was able to allocate a room for the Youth Health Clinic. The room would ensure privacy and confidentiality so adolescents feel more comfortable sharing their questions or concerns. However, the room was pretty blank. The four walls were empty and just painted the iconic color of all government, school and medical buildings in Guyana – New Wheat. My whole service I had been wanting to paint a mural, but within my school there wasn’t enough space to do so. Once I saw the empty walls, ideas for a mural started flowing.

For the mural I knew I wanted to include cartoons of various aspect of youth health, such as physical activity, substance use, reproductive organs, mental health, birth control, STIs, etc., but the ideas I had didn’t really mesh together. Thus how I came up with the design to put all the aspects of health in a honeycomb layout. Using the hexagons would allow each image to have its own story to tell but at the same time bringing it together like pieces to an adolescent health puzzle. However there is a missing piece to this puzzle. In the center of the second wall, there is a blank hexagon where I was one day away from painting the nutrition portion of the mural.

Aside from the cartoons, the mural was to also include equal parts inspiring quotes and affirmation statements, which sadly I also didn’t get to. For every hexagon with a color background, there were going to be statements such as “You are kind, you are smart, you are important” and “You matter and what you do in this world matters.” Similar to other parts of the world, youth are struggling with their mental health. These sayings were going to be a gentle reminder to the youth in my community that they are not alone and that they are loved.

Other than the affirmation statements, the only things left to be done were to give the hexagon boarders, write “World AIDS Day December 1” with the red ribbon hexagon, clean up any mistakes, and write my name and those who helped me paint under the Peace Corps logo.

I’m sad I had to leave the mural unfinished but I am confident that in my absence my health center can still carry out our project. The youth in my community deserve the best and that include the best health services too. I truly miss my students and community, but I hope our paths cross again some day!

xoxo, Mere

Elections & Evacuation

One week ago today all plans for my Peace Corps service were changed, but this story starts weeks prior.

On March 3, there was a national election in Guyana. Since this was a special election (outside of the normal election times), there were concerns about the political atmosphere following the results. Historically there have been certain areas of Guyana that have participated in turbulent protests. Because of this, Peace Corps Guyana staff had been preparing all volunteers on our emergency action plan for months.

On February 28, all volunteers in the country were put on standfast. During standfast, we are required to stay in our communities so that we are prepared for consolidation and potential evacuation. Luckily during the time of elections, I was living in one of the safest coastal regions. It was so quiet during election times that when 4 out of the 8 regions were consolidated, they were brought to my region. So that was a positive!


Side note: To this day, the results of the election are still being disputed. Part of this dispute is coming from international leaders, including the US Ambassador to Guyana, who was granted permission by both competing political parties to oversee the voting process to ensure a fair democratic process. However, the process has become more complicated than that. Check out articles from NYTimes, BBC, Stabroek News, and Guyana Chronicle to understand the elections some more.


On March 11 Guyana confirmed their first case of COVID-19.

So with half of our volunteers on standfast and the other half consolidated, we all waited until we could get our lives back to normal. However, normalcy would not come to happen anytime soon. On March 11 Guyana confirmed their first case of COVID-19. In the following days, there would be three more confirmed cases (all persons related to the first case). Being such a small country, Guyana immediately started taking the precautions needed to keep people safe. One of those precautions included closing all schools in Guyana for 2 weeks starting March 16.

Aside from what the Government of Guyana was doing, this now meant our post was not only dealing with safety concerns from the election but also safety concerns from the virus. To say this was a stressful time for everyone would be an understatement. My stress and anxieties started to grow faster when I was given word that American Airlines would soon announce they were suspending their flights to and from Guyana due COVID-19. Knowing this information before the other volunteers and potentially PC staff, I started gathering all my important documents, personal items and things I would leave to be donated to the community.

I had an hour to pack up my belongings, house, and life in Region 2.

At 1:21 pm Sunday, March 15, the official email from our acting Country Director came through. All PCVs in Guyana were being evacuated, and we had to get Cheddi Jagan International Airport ASAP to catch the last American Airlines flight out on March 16 at 12:30 am. That meant that when the evacuation email was sent, PC staff had less than 12 hours to get all 54 of us plane tickets home, to the airport and on the last flight out. Again, a very stressful time for us all.

Once the evacuation notice came through, I had an hour to pack up my belongings, house, and life in Region 2. However, I was one of the lucky volunteers. Like I said previously, half of our volunteers had been consolidated to my region. At the time they were consolidated, staff reassured the volunteers they would only be consolidated for a couple of days. However, a couple of days turned to a week and then being sent home to the states. The volunteers consolidated did not have the opportunity to properly pack up their houses and get all the belongings they needed to take home with them.


Every PCV’s experience is different.

Upon reaching the airport, we found out that our post is not the only one being affected. Due to COVID-19, Peace Corps HQ has decided to suspend all volunteer activities and is evacuating all posts throughout the world. However, upon seeing what other posts are experiencing, PC Guyana was ahead of the game.

Below is the announcement made by Jody Olsen, Director of Peace Corps. And this is where I will share my unedited opinion of this news, and I would like to remind my readers that my blog is my content and does not reflect the opinions of any organizations I am attached to.

During this time of uncertainty with the coronavirus, every post has experienced something different. All 7,300 PCVs have been experiencing something different. However, we all experienced the same thing. In the end, all PCVs were fired and done so by an announcement made on the Peace Corps website. The news of losing our jobs wasn’t even sent to our emails before it went on the internet. However, I am thankful that my post did tell us this information before we boarded our flights.

It is uncertain at this time if or when Peace Corps programs will resume. Although Peace Corps Guyana is hopeful, only time will tell if I can return to Guyana to finish out my projects.


I am sure you can imagine that this abrupt departure has been the hardest to absorb. I did not have a chance to say goodbye to those at my site who made a difference in my service. Being evacuated also means I have left projects, including a mural at my health center, unfinished. The next blog post I will share about this mural!

To my host family, teachers at my school, my students, midwives at my health center, and community members, words cannot express how grateful I am for you all and how sad I am to have to say goodbye. I hope one day I can return to Guyana so that we can finish the work we started!

Until we meet again!

xoxo, Mere

Help recently evacuated PCVs, such as myself, get proper benefits during these uncertain times.

Please click the petition link below!

We need 100,000 signatures by April 22, 2020!

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/benefits-peace-corps-volunteers-who-were-recently-evacuated-their-posts-due-coronavirus

The Music That Fuels Me

Music is everything to me. If I’m not binge-watching TV shows, I’m probably playing music. Spotify has become my BFF while in my service. There isn’t a day that I don’t play music because it offers a great outlet for whatever mood you’re in.

When I have access to good wifi, I like to create and add on to playlists. I’ve decided to share with you all my top 4 playlists I have made during my service. Each one is unique and pretty much gets played at certain times. So what’s in my playlist rotation right now?

Mere’s Morning Mix

Reason: Sometimes you just need those feel good songs that you can sing at the top of your lungs while getting ready in the morning.

When is it played: Most mornings, but really at any time of day.

Top 5 songs:

  1. Sunday Candy – Donnie Trumpet
  2. I Believe – Jonas Brothers
  3. The Bones – Maren Morris & Hozier
  4. American Teen – Khalid
  5. Weekend – Mac Miller & Miguel

Soul Southing Sounds

Reason: Whenever I feel like I need to de-stress or unwind, I play this playlist to sooth my soul.

When is it played: While cooking or getting ready for school.

Top 5 songs:

  1. Work Song – Hozier
  2. Ophelia – Lumineers
  3. Woman – Mumford & Sons
  4. Landslide – Fleetwood Mac
  5. Georgia – Vance Joy

DJ Mere 2.0

Reason: I wanted to mix previous party playlists I made in college with Guyanese music so my friends and I could enjoy the best of both worlds!

When is it played: Usually when I am hanging out with other PCVs, but I also play it when I am cleaning my house.

Top 5 songs:

  1. Blessed – Shenseea & Tyga
  2. Closer – Chainsmokers
  3. Rock and Come In – Linky First
  4. Mr. Brightside – The Killers
  5. Bruk Off Yuh Bak – Konshens

Classroom Jams

Reason: Even if we don’t have time to play a fun game, I still like to give my students a chance to enjoy themselves in my class.

When is it played: During class, typically when the students are doing an individual assignment.

Top 5 songs:

  1. Sunflower – Post Malone
  2. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
  3. Happier – Marshmello
  4. Hello – Kes
  5. Havana – Camila Cabello

Feel free to check out my playlists!

xoxo, Mere

20 Goals for 2020

Peace Corps service is a great time for intentional (or unintentional) self-reflection, which is how I have come to writing this post. Before leaving for my New Year’s trip to Barbados, I spent a good amount of time reflecting on my 2019 and the things I hope for 2020. Like most people, there are highs and lows to my 2019, but I am hopeful for more highs than lows for my 2020.

To keep the momentum of self-reflection going, I have come up with 20 goals for 2020! This year I want to focus on improving different areas of my life such as personal, health, professional, relationships, and fun. The majority of the items on my list are things I don’t do or don’t do enough of, so I tried to set the goals in a realistic and obtainable manner for myself.

So here we go, 20 things to achieve for the new year!

My top 5 goals that I am most excited about are:

  1. Write at least 2 pages in the morning journal every day. I missed the first 3 days of the new year, but today I started journaling and it was great.
  2. Focus on creating & implementing one more meaningful project at site. Our regional HFLE workshop was a success but I am ready for one more successful project.
  3. Finish service feeling fulfilled. This is pretty ambiguous because at the moment I am not completely sure what this will mean but I’ll figure it out.
  4. Read a minimum of 12 books this year. The first book I am reading is Educated by Tara Westover
  5. Write a blog post at least once a month. This will qualify for my January blog and I have more ideas prepared for the coming months.

Here’s to 2020! What are some of your goals for the new year?

Xoxo, Mere

Ambitions for Peace Corps

During college and my AmeriCorps services, I learned that goal-setting can be really important for holding onto your purpose for doing something. Goals can give you things to look forward to and a gentle reminder for why you decided to do something in the first place.

I knew that if I wanted to be able to survive and thrive in my 27 months abroad, I would have to come up with some goals for my Peace Corps service. Starting wayyy back in June 2018, when I first got to Guyana, I started to think about the things I wanted to achieve and the things I wanted to do. My initial lists have grown since then, but I thought I would share with you all my ambitions I set for my Peace Corps service!

First, I came up with a bucket list of all the things I wanted to see and/or do while in Guyana for 2 years. Then as my Pre-Service Training progressed, I swore in as a Peace Corps Volunteers and spent some time at my new site, I decided to come up with a list of goals for my service. My goals are not necessarily specific to my position in Guyana but rather a general reminder of things I can achieve regardless of my job title.

Guyana Bucket List

  • Visit 8 out of 10 regions.
  • Go to Rodeo in Lethem, Region 9.
  • Fly kites on Easter Monday.
  • Successfully make roti.
  • Color it up at Phagwah (known as Holi in other countries).
  • Participate in the different Mashramani (Republic Day) activities.
  • Visit Kaieteur falls in Region 8.
  • Explore Sloth island in Region 7.
  • Experience the different religions
  • Celebrate Amerindian culture during indigenous heritage month.
  • Go to the Guyana zoo.
  • Feed the manatees at the National Park.
  • Party at Guyana’s Carnival.
  • Spend Christmas with my host family.

Goals for Peace Corps Service

  • Improve my health and achieve a healthy weight.
  • Read more and keep my brain challenged.
  • Focus on myself and personal growth.
  • Have at least one project that I define as successful.
  • Stay open-minded – try new foods, experience new things.
  • Start doing yoga to slow down my mind and actions.
  • Improve on my writing/blogging skills.
  • Be more emotionally open.
  • Make new friends – take my time to create meaningful, productive and lasting relationships.
  • Network more – growth professionally.
  • Take chances but stay safe.
  • Leave a positive legacy both at my site and within PC Guyana.
  • Appreciate and celebrate the little successes.

A poster I created for the Resource Book that was distributed at my Region #2 HFLE Workshop in August 2019.

Throughout my service, goals have been an important part of what I do. Goal setting is one topic that I teach in HFLE and I do so by using the acronym SMART. SMART goals are used to help guide goal setting. Its stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

When you look at my goals I set above, you will see that they don’t follow the SMART acronym entirely, and honestly that is because I didn’t know about SMART goals until I had to teach it in my classes.

When I am teaching my students, I like to provide examples for them, so I often talk about the goals I have set for my service. Since my goals are more broad, I have to develop the goal more to meet the SMART acronym to provide a more accurate example.

After that, I work with the student to develop their own goals by going step by step through the acronym. This allows them to fully understand their goal they want to achieve and to commit to their goal rather than just creating one to get a good grade.

Some students set goals for school, for future careers, for improving relationships with family members, etc. It’s really exciting as a teacher to see my students think past their current situation and aspire for things in the future.

I’ve already been able to check off some items on both lists above, so let’s see how many more I can accomplish with 7 months I have left of service!

Look out for my next post which will be about my new goals I have set for 2020!

xoxo, Mere

You Asked, I Answered

Sometimes I need a little motivation to write about life in Guyana, so after my last post, I took to social media (Instagram and Facebook to be exact) to see what people want to know about my service. In response, I got the following questions. Here are my answers!

How did your AmeriCorps experience and your experience at [Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps] become relevant in your Peace Corps service?

I think one of the biggest things my AmeriCorps service at camp taught me was adaptability. I learned that adaptation takes on many forms – physically, mentally, and socially. At camp, adaptation was needed both for others and myself. Without truly knowing how and when to adapt, I don’t know if my transition from being a college student to a Peace Corps Volunteer would have gone as well as it did. Whether its language, lesson plans, food recipes, and/or the way I dress, I am constantly having to adapt to do well in my service.

How do you think this experience has changed you?

I think my Peace Corps service has encouraged me to get more in touch with my emotions. As many would attest, feelings were not my thing and I always made jokes about my resistance to empathy. I think back in the states it was really easy for me to ignore my emotions or distract myself with life. However, I don’t have that option here in Guyana. Life does not move at the same pace here. My service/project is unique to me, and I think the realization of that has allowed time for more self-reflection and, in turn, brought more emotional awareness.

How has this experience changed your perspective on America and also the world?

My service has allowed me to reflect more on what American culture consists of and how that compares to Guyanese culture. Knowing the similarities and differences between the two is eye-opening, especially when you think about how we both speak a form of English but use very different terminology.

[Reminder: this is just my very broad opinion.] I think we are taught at a young age that the “world revolves around America.” Therefore, as Americans, we don’t need to put in as much effort into understanding the world around us and how impactful our actions are. For me, it took committing and living 27 months of my life in another country to see this. It also has made me feel grateful for the things I have, the opportunities I have available to me as an American. Even after I return to the states, I hope I never take for granted running water, electricity, hot showers, and washing machines – amenities not consistently found throughout Guyana.

The One with the Big Project

All Peace Corps Volunteers have a primary project. It’s the thing we sign on to do for 27 months when we hit the ‘Apply’ button on the Peace Corps website. On top of our primary projects, some volunteers do secondary projects. Those projects have the potential to be large or small, inside or outside of your community and to have any focus the volunteer and community members choose. From March to September, myself, health volunteers in my region, Preethi & Connor, and our 3 counterparts were working hard to plan, prepare, implement, evaluate, and report on a regional training for HFLE teachers – aka our secondary project.

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“Why limit the development of HFLE?”

If you recall from a previous post, health volunteers here in Guyana work within the secondary schools to strengthen the Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) curriculum. One of the ways we do this is co-facilitating classes with our teachers so new strategies can be introduced to enhance the lessons.

A little over a year ago Preethi and I got an idea. We thought, “Why limit the development of the HFLE program to just 3 out of the 8 schools in our region? Why not provide the opportunity enhance HFLE for all schools and not just the ones with a PCV?”

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-28 at 2.50.48 PMAfter spending some time in our schools and working with our staff, we came to realize that the current curriculums for the subject fell short in the amount of content for majority of the topics. Unlike other subjects, HFLE doesn’t have associated textbooks. Aside from doing their own research, HFLE teachers only have the curriculum guides as a resource. This was a challenge me, Preethi and Connor came to understand, but the three of us needed to know whether local teachers across the region felt the same. So after a month of informal interviews with local HFLE teachers, Head Teachers and Heads of Departments,  we started brainstorming what we could do.

In our minds, it was simple. The best way to reach all 8 schools was to conduct a large-scale, regional HFLE workshop for teachers. At the workshop we would present an additional resource book we [the volunteers] created to supplement the curriculums. With 3 local counterparts on board with the solutions, we started the process to receive funding from Peace Corps’ Small Grants Program.

While preparing for the workshop, we sought out support from important partners in the region such as the Department of Education. With the department’s help, we were able to make the workshop mandatory for all 8 schools and have snacks, lunches, and drinks provided every day of the workshop.

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-29 at 3.47.46 PM (2)As our first school year started to come to a close, Preethi, Connor and I began diving deep in our preparations for the workshop. Along with our counterparts, we needed tostay on top of the logistical things –  define a schedule, plan sessions, create teaching aids, get supplies and materials, and continuously keep in contact with our local supporters. But out of all of those tasks, one was the most painstakingly difficult and yet the most rewarding . . .  our Health & Family Life Education Resource Book. There were many long nights of researching, writing, creating, editing, and producing the content for our book, but all the time and effort was worth it after receiving so much positive feedback both during and after the workshop.

“One of my favorite moments was seeing the participants break down that wall of reservation.”

After 7 months of preparation, it was finally time to facilitate our workshop. From August 28-30, 2019, 9 teachers from 7 out of the 8 secondary schools in the region attended our workshop and were trained on HFLE. The workshop covered various topics such as the history of HFLE, types of life skills incorporated in the subject, the four overarching themes, content for some of the difficult topics to teach under each theme, and new student-centered activities teachers can use in the classroom with their students.

whatsapp-image-2019-08-30-at-3.18.00-pm.jpegFor every session, there were 2 facilitators, one PCV and one counterpart. Those facilitators would model their sessions off of Peace Corps’ approach to lessons, which is to focus on student-centered activities to encourage the most amount of learning. There were a lot of sessions presented throughout the three days; however, my counterpart, Miss Carlana, and I were responsible for facilitating the following sessions: creating HFLE-friendly classrooms, creative lesson planning, and covering topic under the 2nd theme of HFLE, such as sexuality and contraceptives.

whatsapp-image-2019-08-29-at-3.40.50-pm-e1574280987335.jpegMy favorite memory of the workshop was when Carlana and I were discussing contraceptives. At the end of the session, the participants had to do a condom demonstration . . . but with a twist. Participants were grouped in pairs, one partner was blindfolded and tasked with putting the condom correctly. The other partner had to orally guide the blindfolded person to put the condom on with all the correct steps. The group to finish first and do the step properly, won. This was one of my favorite moments because you could see the participants break down that wall of reservation and start to have fun with a topic that typically gets thrown out because teachers are not comfortable with it. Participants were able to see that there can be fun to teaching sensitive material.

“We are still feeling the pay off!”

Obviously more could be said about our project, but in the end it’s not about boring you with the details – its about sharing the experience. So . . . what did I gain from this experience?

  1. I strengthened my leadership skills but I also felt like regressed on my delegation skills. There were many moments where I was stressed from taking on too much when I could’ve delegated it out.
  2. I confirmed that I do enjoy health education but would rather not do it in a school setting post-Peace Corps.
  3. I realized that it’s not worth sweating the small stuff and that sometimes there’s nothing I can do to bridge the cultural gap in professional standards.
  4. I learned how to do things that can be transferred to a future career such as grant writing and project planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating.

WhatsApp Image 2019-08-30 at 3.20.45 PMThis workshop has really given me and my service a sense of validity. It has been something I could dedicate my time, knowledge and skills to on a large-scale, and I feel like it was a success! It’s been months since we concluded this big project, but Preethi, Connor and I are still feeling the pay off. It’s been rewarding to see participants using what they learned in their classrooms, getting publicly recognized by both Peace Corps Guyana staff and Peace Corps headquarters, sharing our experience with the Ministry of Education in Guyana, and furthering discussions with nationwide stakeholders to standardize this workshop in the future.

I don’t think I’ll do another project as big as this one, but I am excited to see what other small things I can do at my site before my time ends here in Guyana! Stay tuned for more!

xoxo, Mere

 

(p.s. Here’s a short slide show of some of the photos taken at the workshop. Enjoy!)

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Life Update

So here I am . . . finally writing a new blog post after almost 6 months of radio silence. I guess maybe I should apologize for that leave of absence huh? . . . Nahh. You guys are fine. My family and immediate friends have heard from me in the last couple of months, so that counts! lol

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Placing the diyas outside for Diwali.

Honestly, I’ve been wanting to update my blog, but I find myself not doing it because (1) I am still not confident in my writing abilities (I hate proofreading and have grammar skills of 2nd grader); (2) I don’t really know what to share (I need inspiration from you guys, my readers, for what to write about); and (3) I am usually too tired after school to use my brain for blog writing (the heat in Guyana really wears on me).

But from this point forward I am going to try to post more. I know people are curious about what I am doing, and I know if I was in your shoes, I would be too. So here is a life update!

As I write this post I am sitting on a plane. Or maybe I’ll be on a ferry by the time I post this? Haha. You might be thinking, “Where are you going?”. Well actually, I am returning back to Guyana from a 2-week vacation where I made a surprise trip home!

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Surprising my dad!

Seven months ago I got a hold of a select few family members to see if a surprise trip could be possible and asked for help to buy plane tickets – you know because I live on a Peace Corps stipend which is about $250 a month. To say I am broke would be an understatement. But hey! That’s what I signed up for and my family also understands that.

In Guyana, schools break for 2 weeks around Easter time – the week prior to Easter and the week following. This year, that 2-week break fell over my birthday, my brother’s birthday, and my dad’s birthday, so I took advantage of this to surprise them, the rest of my family and my friends. After plane tickets were purchased last October I slowly started to withdrawal in conversations with friends and family so I wouldn’t accidently let this surprise slip.

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23rd birthday celebrations!

I gotta say, this trip was easy to keep secret up until Christmas. Although I was surrounded by my amazing host family and Peace Corps friends for the holidays, I still felt very lonely during that time. Christmas in Guyana is just not the same as it is at home. It was a time of firsts – first time I had every spent Christmas away from my family, the first time I had felt homesick while in Guyana and the first time I cried during my service. Meredith crying? I know! What a weird concept! But it happened and I want to be honest about it because I don’t want people to think I don’t miss home or that I am so incapable of expressing emotions that my tear ducts have dried up. (that was a joke if you didn’t laugh)

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Weekend at Adam’s site.

Anyways, it wasn’t until the last couple of months before my trip home that I started to include others on my plans so they could help me surprise various people. Honestly that was easy part! It was the traveling from my site to Illinois that was the most tiring and time consuming. From when I left my house to when I finally touched down in Chicago, I had been traveling for 36 hours – partly due to flight times – but still! That is a crazy amount of traveling. Just to get to the airport, which is located south of Georgetown (the capital), I had to take a car (1.5 hours), speed boat (45mins ), bus (1 hour), speed boat again (10 mins), and another car (1.5 hrs). At 1:30am I had a 4.5 hour flight to Miami, then a second flight to Houston, and then a third flight to Chicago. By the time my brother and sister-in-law picked me up, I was just a shell of person running on fumes. I was pretty much like your phone having 5% left on low battery mode.

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Going net fishing on the Atlantic with my host family.

That wouldn’t be the last of my travels, but that’s boring to talk about. Aside from traveling, my trip home pretty much went like this. I spent the next 2 weeks going around Chicago and central Illinois saying, “Surprise, I’m home!” Some cried happy tears, some were mad I had kept the secret so long, some became frozen when they saw me, some nearly tackled me with excitement. Overall, I would say I did a pretty good job with this trip! Haha I tried to see as many people I possibly could, without making what is supposed to be my vacation, too overwhelming. I also want to give a huge shout out to everyone who help make this trip possible at any stage of it – you know who you are!IMG_5989

 

While home I got to see so many people and eat so much food! I’m surprised I didn’t gain a lot of weight from all the food I ate! But really though, coming home was just what I needed as a little break from my service. I got to celebrate my birthday, my dad’s birthday, my brother’s birthday and Easter. I also presented a few Third Goal activities to different student groups/classes on Bradley University’s campus. The third goal of Peace Corps is to share the experiences you have in your country of service to other Americans. This blog is a Third Goal!

IMG_5993I am very happy I had the opportunity to come home. I didn’t know whether I would be able to during my service, and clearly my friends and family didn’t know either! I don’t know if I will have the chance to come home again, but you never know what the future holds. After this big trip, I really want to focus on traveling around Guyana. Plus, once  my service is done, I’ll have the rest of my life to visit or be home. I want to experience things in Guyana while I can and while I am here.

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First donut in 10 months!

So what else has been going on? Well, lets see . . .

I am still teaching health classes to grades 7 & 8. It’s still challenging, but I am trying to work with the obstacles I am presented with in my school. In August, myself, the two other health volunteers in my region, and three local secondary teachers are conducting a teachers’ workshop to increase the capacity and development of Health & Family Life Education (HFLE) courses throughout our region’s secondary schools. I am also hoping to finally get smaller projects started that my community has approached me about earlier on. Details to follow!

Thanksgiving, as Americans know it, is not a holiday in Guyana. Peace Corps volunteers don’t even get the day off, so my Peace Corps friends and I decided we would all get together the weekend following so we could (1) spend time together to combat homesickness, (2) take a break from our host family and school responsibilities, and (3) try to recreate traditional American holiday food with Guyanese ingredients. With minimal setbacks, the weekend was a success! We ate a fresh turkey (bought, killed, plucked and gutted the night before), had stuffing, apple pie, mash potatoes, biscuits, and so much more!

I have been celebrating new holidays, such as Diwali (Hindu festival of lights), Youman Nabi (Muslim celebration of the Prophet’s birth), Mashramani (Guyana’s Republic Day), and Phagwah (or Holi – Hindu festival of colors). Each celebration has its own history, traditions, teachings and festivities. Every holiday we had our incredibly welcoming Peace Corps host families were there to help guide us, explain to us and celebrate with us.

In January, I moved out of my host family’s house and into independent housing near my school and within my community. I loved living with my host family, but the opportunity presented itself and I didn’t know if it would be available again if I turned it down. I have two roommates – Violet and Onyx (aka my cats I acquired from my host family’s house). They are indoor and outdoor cats, so they come and go as they please and do as they please, but really they keep me company. Without my siblings to entertain me now that I am on my own, these two kitties fill that gap.

I have lost 40 pounds in the 10 months I have been in Guyana. No big deal. I’m happy and staying aware of it. I came into Peace Corps with an unhealthy weight that put me into the obese category of BMI. After the constant food issues I had with training host family, my appetite greatly decreased and I became a pickier eater. Couple those two things with walking more and sweating more from living in a hot climate, and I am expending more calories than I am taking in.

I am sure more things have been going on in my life, but like I said earlier in this post, I need your help for inspiration. Comment below what you’re interested in hearing about or if you have questions about Guyana or Peace Corps or my Peace Corps service in Guyana! I would honestly appreciate it!

‘Til next time!

Xoxo, Mere

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Miss Meredith! Miss Meredith!

Hello family, friends, and other readers,

I apologize for taking so long to create my next blog post. I am sure you’re curious about how I am doing and what I am doing. You see, every time I go to write about my experiences thus far, I keep finding myself in a dilemma with whether or not to share some things. I want to make sure I am being authentic to myself and my service, but I also do not want to portray one story of Guyana in that my words are the only words you hear. So, this will be a reminder that my blog is my story of my service with the intent to share my experiences with you.

“24 months seemed like an eternity . . . ”

I have been at my site and living with my host family for almost three months. Details to come, but I am doing great and better than my last homestay. It’s honestly crazy how fast time goes by. 24 months at my site seemed like an eternity when I first got to Guyana, but now that I only have 21 months left, I’m worried I wont have enough time. I’m five weeks away from my first term at school being over, and seven months from my first [out two] school year being done. Is the glass half full or half empty? I guess it just depends on how you look at it.

“. . . eye-opening, chaotic, and enriching.”

So far, my time at school has been nothing short of eye-opening, chaotic, and enriching.

IMG_3655My school opened my eyes to the ability to provide education in any circumstance. Classrooms vary by region, school, and grade. I teach all of grade eight and all of grade seven. That is a total of eleven classes all an hour each. Both grades that I teach have their classes in the same building but on different floors or what they call flats. The grade seven flat has five out of the six classes with around 30 students in each all separated by chalkboards. The grade eight flat is similar with four out of the five classes in one space. The noise level gets loud and the attention of the students can be lost easily, but my students still have desks and benches and the ability to learn. In the secondary schools, teachers move from class to class rather than the kids. I do not have my own classroom, so I move myself, my belongings, and teaching materials from class to class all day. Not only do I find this an inconvenience for myself, but also for the students. The kids are forced to sit in the same seats all day, everyday with no room, time, or opportunity to get the blood flowing through their body and brain. So, in order to make the best of both my students and my situation, I more often than not take my kids out of the classroom. I have learned that I don’t always need desks or a chalkboard to teach class and getting my students out of the classroom gives them the break they need from a typical class they during the day.

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My school has been chaotic. Things go at their own pace but can change without notice. Coming into my school I was immediately told that my counterpart (primary teacher I work with) and my Head Mistress (principle) would be transferring to new schools. My timetable (or schedule) has changed three times. I am supposed to be co-teaching for 11 HFLE classes, that is all of grade seven and all of grade eight. The first timetable had three teachers working with me for four out of eleven classes. The second timetable had me working with nine teachers for my eleven classes; however, nine of those teachers have had formal training on the subject matter. The third and current timetable allows me to co-teach with four teachers for five out of eleven classes. This still leaves me teaching majority of my classes solo and being in the class room alone. This is neither ideal nor how my framework describes what I am supposed to be doing in the schools, but it’s my situation right now. Challenges will come and go, and this just happens to be one I am encountering at school.

IMG_4039My school has been culturally enriching. Although I learned a lot about Guyana’s culture during training, I would say that my greatest education in this department has been during school hours. From the condition of classrooms to the importance of uniforms, I have begun to understand Guyana more. However, I find myself questioning things within the school. Is it more important to suspend a child for a week for not having the proper hem width on their pants than to suspend a child who fighting for three days? Is it more important to have a perfect looking attendance book than to provide quality education to the students? No education system in any part of the world is perfect, but when do you stop and ask “Is what we are doing providing tangible results?” When I ask the students why something is done a certain way here in Guyana, they either do not know the answer or they are really excited to explain the answer. My students  also proceed to ask me if what they do is what kids in America do too. They are as excited to share their cultures as they are to ask me about mine.

“Don’t be a superhero, be a resource.”

My time at school has brought mixed feelings. Literally. Some days I love it, but other days I feel defeated that my time in Guyana won’t be long enough. On days that I am feeling doubtful, I always remind myself of this – in the end, its not about solving all the health issues in Guyana, let alone my site. Its about making connections and leaving a positive impact on one person. Don’t be a superhero, be a resource.

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Lesson on emotions – my students came up with 33!

I know this post was brief, but I hope it provided a glimpse into what my experiences at school have been like the last three months. I’ll write another blog with more experiences once the term is up.

I miss you all at home. Stay golden!

Xoxo, Mere

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Dear GUY 31

Congratulations! We did it!

We made it through the application, interview, invitation, medical and legal clearance, staging, training, and swearing-in. We started off as 38, which quickly turned to 37, and sadly ended with only 33 of us official gaining the title of Peace Corps Volunteer.

. . . the question we didn’t have to ask each other is, “Why did you want to join Peace Corps?”

But regardless of the numbers, we all formed our own special bond no other cohort can replicate. At staging, we ran through the streets of downtown Philadelphia in the pouring rain, racing to see who can get back to the hotel the fastest. On the bus ride to JFK, we learned that some parents were really nervous about their kids leaving and messaged someone else on the bus if he is doing okay. Our travels consisted buses, planes, ferries and more buses and many more defining get to know you questions like,Where are you from?” What school did you go to?” Do you think a hot dog is a sandwich?

But the funny thing is, is the question we didn’t have to ask each other is, “Why did you want to join Peace Corps?” It was refreshing to be in the same space as like-minded but just as individually driven people, in which we did not feel obligated to justify this next journey in our lives. It was in those spaces that we all understood why we were here.Our continuum of getting to know each other pursued on as we spent our first couple of days at Mainstay Resort. A place of where we got our first taste of Guyana and wifi access. We bonded over the new (and some not so enticing) foods, swimming in the black water, fear of getting malaria, conquering the water safety test everyone dreaded so much, and hanging out around the only area of the resort that had a good wifi connection.

 The only cold beverages in country . . . Stag and Banks beer

After being sheltered by secluded Mainstay, we were taken to our new training grounds, Bacchus Library, to meet our training host families. We sat there anxious and sweating awaiting to see who will be our guidance these couple of months as we navigate through the Essequibo Coast and training. We gossiped among ourselves trying to ease the nervousness. After a hectic game of “Who’s my new mommy,” we were finally on our way to our new homes along the coast for the next 2 month. Some of us had beautiful views, delicious meals and loving families, while others faced challenges either immediately or later on, but we all gained so much experience from those families. They taught us how to make roti, boulanji choka (idk if I’ll ever know how to spell it), take bucket showers, hand wash clothes, and go without simple amenities we took for granted in the states.

Training brought forth new memories among our cohort. From not being able to understand staff due to their accents or the loudness of the rain hitting the roof above us to playing a daily game of musical chairs to see who would get a spot next to the fan. When the week was up, we would enjoy one of the only cold beverages in country . . . Stag and Banks beer at our favorite [local] watering hole. Even after being told [not by staff] that we need to stop going there, we continued on because for us, it was not about drinking. It was about getting to sit down with friends, catch up on the week, and make more memories. It was places like Gus’, Suddie Beach, Capoey, and Red Bud that helped bring us together, to be weirdos, and to ask more important questions and revisit old ones like “Is ravioli a sandwich too?

Every moment was bittersweet. Even the ones down to the last second . . .

We danced our way through the hot days and nights to Hindi, Soca, Chutney, and Spanish music (with the occasional American artist thrown in there) at weddings, birthdays parties, wakes, nine days, and impromptu family gatherings. We learned how to screw in the light bulb and fast wine, and play local games, like dog & bone and sault, with the kids. Some of us even tried playing football [soccer] and cricket but quickly realized we could never be as good as our host siblings.

Our weekly gatherings started becoming habitual and much-needed as model school consumed our lives for 2 weeks, and we realized training was ending soon. We started to realize the importance of family and specifically that our government-chosen group could handle both the ups and the downs. We celebrated birthdays and small [large] accomplishments, but also stuck by each other’s sides when we learned that not everyone would be swearing-in. The news hit some harder more than others (aka me). But fear not! We took this new challenge and information and did what we know how to do best . . . THROW A BOMB ASS GOING AWAY PARTY FOR EVERYONE. It just goes to show that even defining moments such as that one, can only make a family stronger. Before, during and now after the departure of our “fallen comrades” (I like to say) we support them and they support us. Guy 31 forever!

After training came to a close and we said our goodbyes to our first host families, we were shipped off to the capital, Georgetown, to swear-in. We knew that these were going to be our last 24 hours together as a cohort before all have to leave for our new homes all across Guyana. We spent the night enjoying our first American cheese burgers and Pizza Hut pizza in 2 and a half months and gaffed until we couldn’t anymore. Every moment was bittersweet. Even the ones down to the last second where I was still the unofficial secretary and liaison between training staff and our cohort.

(P.S. thank you for dealing with me with that. I did not choose that job, the job chose me.)

It was sad to leave you all behind, but I know I’ll see you guys again at IST, MST and many mini-vacations in-between. I can’t wait to see the things you all will accomplish during your service! But before I end this sappy story, I’d thought I leave you with a memory I have with all of you.   


Preethi – Dancing to “Lip Gloss” and you admiring my fried chicken even though you are vegetarian.

Owen – You always being broke but at the same time the first person to ask if Pamona crew wanted to get beers. The answer was always YES!

Martin – Always down for a good time and can afford it too! (*cough, cough Owen)

Morgan – Asking us ladies from health if you could refer to us as “your bitchez.”

Tam – Hearing you sing those amazing lullabies! Every time it gives me chills.

Monica – Discussions after training so we can try to navigate the challenges we were facing.

Akeesha – Helping me voice my frustrations when my training host family made comments about my acne many times a day.

Ella – Watching you and Akeesha rip on Jesse for forgetting Kelci at our Mainstay Party Day.

Jesse – You still to this day can never properly play Drive during Kings Cup!

Kelci – I am sorry they made you go to the slaughtering of a cow. I would’ve also cried!

Pearla – We were supposed to be roommates in Philly but didn’t find out until 2 days later when we were both telling our stories.

Emma – Discovering at our Mainstay Party Day that despite our differences, we actually have a lot in common!

Leah – Saving everyone’s ass during training sessions when no one wanted to answer questions (or ask hard questions).

Gina – Being frozen in our rooms at Mainstay because we didn’t know how to change the temperature to not be at 16 degree Celsius.

Connor – Every time you’re talking too much and I have to say, “Connor, shut the f*** up!” 

Frances – Helping you port your phone number 2 hours before our flight out of the country. Man was that an experience! Sorry Mr. and Mrs. Christianson for waking you guys!

Kelsey – Ain’t no party if it’s not a booty-poppin dance party. Bitch, right?

Jean – Referring to your host mom as “hostess” every time you talked about her and understanding that were both facing similar challenges.

Brandon – Your acting skills during L&C sessions were phenomenal! You should pursue a career in acting.

Hana – During that first dinner in Philly, you were telling us how to scam people into giving VIP and bottle service in Las Vegas. I can’t wait to use your expertise!

Kori – We talked about yoga on one of the first nights at Mainstay. We didn’t know anything about it but knew we wanted to try it.

Rachel – You always keep a level head, even when I don’t. Thanks for balancing me out!

Liz – Every time you get the captain d**khead card for Kings Cup. . . RIP everyone playing.

Kasey – So educated on Avatar the Last Airbender that I don’t even need to watch it.

Amber – Always willing to lend a hand and positive word. 

Clare – I beat you once in Spit, and I’ll never live that down. That one win I will hold onto forever.

Katie – Hearing about the different ways in which your host family shared their personal information with you!

J.T. – Always has some inappropriate joke to tell that we either hate or love.

Tristian – You were one of the first friends I made at staging. Thank you for talking Westworld with me on the bus ride the JFK!

Adam – You speak the real and provided a great version of Steve Harvey and [Host] Family Feud.

Grayson – It’s possible you still don’t know everyone’s name in the cohort or even mine.

Zack – I still don’t know where you’re from. Is it Virginia, Tennessee, Mars? Mii na know!


For my 4 who I miss dearly:

Madi & Ryan – Thank you for always sitting with me at the front table and teaching me about chickie!

Lumesh – Thank you for showing me how to connect with the students when teaching uncomfortable and difficult topics.

Lauren – Thank you for being so technologically incompetent, a hot mess 24/7, and great pal to have in my corner.


I can’t wait until all 33 (and maybe more) of us can be together again to create many more memories. GUY 31 FOREVER! #AllTheseFlavors

Xoxo, Mere

 

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