Volunteer Stories - Jenn
My first thought when landing at the Karanambu airstrip was "Wow, I am in the middle of nowhere." Little did I know that we were actually in the middle of the most beautiful place I could every hope to work for the summer. We arrived in Yupukari with bags full of camp clothing, biodegradable soap and batteries for flashlights, expecting to be roughing it for the next 10 weeks. What we were not expecting was the Caiman House Field Station, which has fully working bathrooms, a modern kitchen, living room, dining room, and the Yupukari Public Library with its Treehouse classroom in which to work.
Life in Yupukari
I have had a wonderful time both living and working in Yupukari. I enjoyed bathing at the river, playing with the children, and talking with the people here. Probably my worst experience in the village has not been with anyone in the village but has been with the bugs (but deet was able to solve that problem). I never expected that the people here would be so welcoming and friendly, and it has been a joy to work in the village and be part of their life for a small time.
Although so much of the program was about literacy, it was ultimately about learning. I worked alongside two other QPID volunteers, Maia and Kate, and Suzanne, an ESL teacher from Florida. We were each able to add a different element to the program, and ended up designing an afterschool literacy class that used computers, the Internet, and English language texts.
One of the first things we did when we arrived was go into the schools to understand the kind of education the children were receiving. I immediately noticed that the children were shy, rigid, and mostly silent in the classroom (unless told to repeat words from the board).
Because the school is not fun, engaging, or challenging, we designed the program to be all of those things. I wanted to give the children a place they could come to laugh, to express themselves, to be creative and feel safe to do so. In the Treehouse we saw children laugh, ask questions and play together while learning. Making books, taking photographs, using the Internet, were all new skills learned while they were having fun.
Alice mentioned that the attraction many villagers have to Caiman House is that it is a "clean well-lighted place:" a positive alternative to the stressful aspects of village life. I feel that this notion transfers to the Treehouse, because it is a positive alternative to education in the village. For more information about the project, please see the Treehouse part of the website.
If we made a program that depended on us to run the classroom, teach the materials, and stimulate the students, then when we left Yupukari, the program would leave as well. This is part of why using computers, the Internet, and training the librarians was so important to our program. We were able to start an after-school, alternative education program, and since it grew to depend on the use of online teaching materials and computer programs, the students can access this information, with the assistance of a librarian, and continute to learn after we leave. There will be more volunteers in the future to assist with the development of this program, but the model is sustainable for a long period of time without foreign volunteers. I am so glad I have been a part of this, and was not just teaching English in a foreign country, only to know that when I left, the students would no longer learn.
The librarians have made most of this possible and I am so grateful and proud of them. Although we designed the program, they have really taken it on as their own. Working with them has been one of the highlights of my summer because I can see endless possibilities for them and I think they can see it in themselves as well.
There are so many things that the Rupununi Learners Foundation is doing in Yupukari, but I think that the most important is that this organization is enabling people to empower themselves. This is going to be a long road to go down, but I can see that at some point, with the use of this program, and new ones in the future, the people of this region will be able to learn, grow, and unlock the doors to get to a better standard of living. I have learned that development is as much about empowering people to stand on their own feet within the modern world as it about providing the necessities of life.