Monday, September 20, 2010

Family Ties: Volunteering in Guyana

The following is a blog post that I wrote for Youth Challenge International's blog. The original can be found here.

Jessica Lockhart has been a long-time member of the YCI family. In addition to being a YCI alumna (Vanuatu, 2006), Jessica worked in the Toronto office as a member of the Volunteer and International Programs Teams for more than two years. Now, Jessica is back travelling the globe- this time in Guyana. 

For over two years at YCI, I‘ve wished countless volunteers good luck as they’ve set off on their international volunteer placements. And for over two years, I’ve often sat at my desk, under the soft glow of my computer screen, wishing that I was in their place instead. Those two years afforded me a lot of time to wonder—if I were a YCI volunteer, and had the chance to do it all over again, where would I go?

For a while, Africa seemed like the obvious choice. The only problem? Urban centres have never appealed to me. Coming from a rural community in northern Alberta, I’m continually drawn to communities that have characteristics in common with my hometown—whether it’s size, isolation or even industry. Guatemala and Costa Rica were both at the top of my list for a while, but at the end of the day, I kept coming back to one place: Guyana. Volunteers would come back raving about their experience, and I would spend hours sorting through photos of the lush jungle scenery and the vast savannah plains.

It seemed only too fortuitous that just as my contract with YCI ended in early August, a job opening was passed my way for a short-term site coordinator position in Guyana. And it also seemed somewhat serendipitous that the hiring manager was friends with a YCI alumnus, who gave me a lovely reference. Everything was somehow falling into place.

So at the end of August, after years of preparing volunteers for their adventures, I was finally setting out on an adventure all of my own. After a hectic three weeks in Alberta and BC visiting family, I flew back to Toronto early one Saturday afternoon. And then, after only four hours of frantic packing, I was back at the airport again later that night, this time to catch my evening flight to Georgetown.

My flight itinerary was the very same one that I’ve sent to volunteers over the years. Overnight to Guyana, a brief stopover in the Port of Spain, and maybe a night at the Hotel Tower before orientation with Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG). Sitting on the plane, I thought about how many YCI volunteers before me had sat in that exact same spot.

I spent the next 10 days travelling through Region 7 and Region 2 of Guyana, meeting community partners and local stakeholders in preparation for an upcoming short-term medical mission in October. And everywhere I went, people’s eyes lit up in recognition whenever I mentioned my connection to YCI. (During one such meeting with a stakeholder, I mentioned my experience in passing. But the conversation soon took a turn, when I found out that the stakeholder in question was the founder of YCG!) It didn’t matter where I was—a YCI volunteer had been before me.

As I prepare to return to Guyana with Ve’ahavta in October, I can’t help but think about what a small world it really is—and how YCI has become, over the last five years, my family. I know that wherever I head next, there will be a network of alumni and supporters there to help me along the way.

To learn more about Ve’ahavta’s work in Guyana, please visit their website at You can read more about my adventures in Guyana, Vanuatu and throughout Canada at

1 comment:

  1. For those who love Guyana check out


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