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!
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!