ABBA on the bus, fresh fish next door

So I was on a bus today, trying to drop off some materials I had borrowed when I found myself humming along to a song. My subconscious had kicked in long before I even consciously recognized it.

Now it is no strange thing for music to be played on the buses here. I was warned before I came that the buses play different styles of music – sometimes really loudly (though it usually isn’t loud unless you are on the bus after dark). Music is really important to people here (which is great for me because I love music).

Now I often hear some of the popular hip hop and rap artists I am used to hearing at home (on weekends Nicki Minaj – played by neighbours – sings me to sleep). I also hear lots of soca (which like Nicki also originated in Trinidad and Tobago but has become popular in many other places). I hear dance hall, reggae, chutney, toasting (deejaying over top of songs) and even from time to time some hard rock music.

But back to my subconscious humming. The problem was that it was so out of context for me that I didn’t recognize it at first. I knew the intro but it wasn’t until I heard the sweet tones of Agnetha Fältskog that I realized I was listening to ABBA’s Thank You For the Music. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride due to my deep (and unashamed) love for ABBA and was glad to find a kindred spirit in the bus driver.

My next goal is to find a bus that will play show tunes!

In totally unrelated business – Canadian mining companies get an EPIC FAILSTAR. I’ve had too many conversations with people: “Oh you’re from Canada. I know a Canadian guy. He works for the mining company. Oh, by the way, they left pits of cyanide that leaked into the water table in the interior and they take resources without properly giving back to the country.” I wish it was all hearsay… but it’s not. If you check it out the verdict is — we officially suck when it comes to our mining companies. But don’t take my word for it…. look into it… and then do something about it.

But an EPIC GOLD STAR goes to my neighbour Tyrone. I just had an hour long conversation with him about everything from political economy to culture, to gender, to crime and to development context. (I say conversation but really it was my privilege to just listen to him give his ideas). He is a very down to earth man who observes the world around him. He outlined a three pronged approach for Guyana as it moves forward (very well thought out) and had a real life understanding of how to make the economy work for the poor. His supply and demand analysis was very sophisticated (far better than some economists) and the best part is that he didn’t even realize what he was doing. A very brilliant man … and he also knows how to cook! On Saturday he is going to take me to get some VERY fresh fish and teach me how to prepare it: TOTAL SCORE!

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana.

Posted in Environmental Science | Leave a comment


I was biking home from work today when I happened to take a glance upwards.

I saw for a brief moment one of the most spectacular skies I have ever seen. One of those displays that fills you with wonder. Different types of clouds, layered into fantastic shapes, with the sunset causing a blast of light out of one corner of the sky.

Just a few moments later my position had changed enough and the clouds had moved so that it was still beautiful but not the sky that I had seen for that one perfect moment.

This was today’s gift.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana.

Posted in Environmental Science | Leave a comment

A flat tire, a lost foot race — and a good day

The last couple of days at work have been pretty stressful. I’ve found myself with a couple of large tasks that I need to juggle and though all of them are worthwhile and can get done it will take a fair bit of work. At the same time there are some temporary leadership changes at the center I work at that have resulted in some changes and challenges.

But today I was able to unwind a bit from the week. I went to the center to open up for a group that uses the building on Saturdays and enjoyed just puttering around on my bike for a bit. Then I got a flat tire (third this week) and I ditched the bike at home so that I could enjoy walking around for a bit.

I’ve had a few moments when I’ve been out walking – either on my way home at the end of the day or just when I am wandering for the sake of wandering – when I have realized that it feels like I have been here for a long time. It has been a month and a half but it seems like a lot longer – in a good sort of way. The rhythm of life is familiar now. Shopping, laundry and going to work have all hit that point where they just happen without much thought. Having to deal with bike issues hardly even throws me anymore. I even respond to ‘white boy’ quite comfortably seeing as that is how I am referred to by the greater part of the population.

So I enjoyed some walking (and some beautiful cloud shows) as I worked my way over to a sports day that was being put on for all of the Salvation Army corps (churches) in Guyana. I enjoyed watching the events and I even ran in a couple of races. I didn’t do too well but it was all in good fun and I got lots of encouraging (Nice try white boy. We enjoyed watching you run.) comments.

The day ended by checking out an exhibition that is on right now. By chance I ran into a few of the youth that I work with and they had a good time carting me around and showing me everything.

All in all a good wind down from the craziness of the week.

Posted in Environmental Science, International Development Studies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Return of Drew’s star system

This is going to be another rapid highlight section. Bringing back the Gold/Fail Stars!

Gold Star goes out to some of my fellow VSO volunteers in Georgetown who arrived here at the same time as me – they have allowed me to network my organization with some other programs in the city that will significantly boost what we will be able to do here. Thanks guys!!!!

Gold Star to the groups that organized the Deaf Awareness Week that is on right now – got to participate in a march on Sunday and there are some workshops on all week.

Fail Star goes to my cooking ability – I have been practicing a bunch of local dishes (roti, some curries and cook-up rice). I invited a neighbour over for dinner a couple of nights ago and I managed to massacre the food even though I can make it pretty good most other days… thankfully he was very gracious – gave me some good tips!

Fail Star goes to the volunteer meeting/training that I had planned for last week – I had a couple of key things that I wanted to cover….but I only had one volunteer show up so it pretty much failed… back to the drawing board

Gold Star goes to the existing volunteers that I have been working with at the center who have shown significant dedication – one in particular has been a life saver

Gold Star goes to the director of my organization who is always trying to do more and more to meet the needs of our youth and is willing to go the extra mile. Got to see her try and take on the school system the other day as she tried to convince a school to let some of their students write the large final exams that they need … we were not able to get as much accomplished as we would have liked but I learned a lot about what can be done within the current system. Now I just need to make some calls to the Ministry of Education to see if I can get my hands on some resources…….

Gold Star goes to my friends who like to go fishing on Sunday afternoons. They are determined that I should eat as much local food (of every variety) as possible – and they are convinced that they can teach me how to cook properly… wish them luck!!!

Extra Big Gold Star

As a late addition to my post from earlier today I would like to add an extra big gold star.

Someone came to the centre I’m working at from the large organization that we’re going to partner with. They offer sessions for youth for free all over the city and in the regions. It will seriously increase what programs our youth can get involved with and we’ll be able to draw more youth into our centre to get involved in what we’re already doing. They’re excited because they don’t offer many programs in the neighbourhoods where our kids come from. Win-Win for everybody and a great partnership to develop. They also do some pretty serious hiking/camping trips every year in the regions. Maybe (fingers crossed) I’lll get to go on some of their expeditions too!!

Gold Star for successful networking.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana.

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Working beyond the work plan

Today was a very productive day. But I’ve also reached a point where some of the really difficult work begins.

For example, I have been setting up meetings, going to meetings, networking, sorting files, creating lesson plans, calling volunteers, doing sessions with youth, organizing volunteering events and meeting with schools. This type of work has definitely kept me busy! I’m actually shocked when I sit down and think about how much work there is that needs to be done. I’ve some friends (other CUSO-VSO volunteers or other students in my university program) who have arrived at jobs where their organizations have found it difficult to find work for them to do.

Others, like me, have arrived in organizations that have a ton of things on the go and we have found ourselves in little whirlwinds. From the first day, I realized that there was a lot to do and though I’ve not yet been working with this organization for a month, with the amount of responsibility that has been given to me, it feels like I’ve been working there for years.

Finally, I think I’m getting my feet beneath me and I’m coming out of survival mode and into a place where I can start to think big picture.

And so there is another kind of work that I need to do as well. Managing programs and networking organizations and creating training manuals is all very foreign to me. I’m much more used to doing frontline work, building relationships and offering advice from time to time. And after being here for almost a month, I’m starting to get a glimpse into some of the deeper issues that some of the youth are struggling with.

I would love to figure out who can really support these youth (some of whom have significant struggles to overcome and could use a lot of good care). I’m only here for a year (and one month is already gone) and there is a shortage of really good volunteers. Sessions can give them a lot of good information but if volunteers are only there once a week or every two weeks for one hour, there is little ability for them to really get to know the youth.

There are no easy answers for the big picture questions (and more and more are starting to crop up all the time), but they are useful to keep in front of me as I’m doing all of my other work. The most difficult work is also, perhaps, the most difficult to define but that also makes it all the more worthwhile to try and figure out.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Drew’s big adventure

One of my jobs is recruitment of both youth and volunteers. So I’ve been making appointments with schools so I can go speak at their weekly assemblies to let them know about the program I’m working on.

My first appointment was yesterday at 9am. I had never been to the school but a couple of the youth from the program who used to go to that school said they would meet me at 8:30am so we could take the bus. But 8:45 rolled around… then 8:50… and there was no sign of them.

That was decision time. Do I a) call for a cab, wait for a cab and then get taken exactly where I need to go OR b) do I hop on the bus which I am (reasonably) sure will take me where I need to go and hope for the best.

So… on the bus I got and said a little prayer hoping that it would take me where I needed to go. There was a boy dressed in a school uniform so I asked him if this would take me to the school I needed. He said it would (first success) but from the way he described its location, I found out that it was somewhere near the end of the bus route…. and that he wasn’t going there.

Thankfully after a few more stops, a boy got on and I noticed that his uniform had a tag on it with the name of the sought after school! From then on I just sat on the bus, waited for him to get off and followed him to the school.

I’m very glad he was there because the school wasn’t at all visible from the bus stop. We still had to walk up the street and around the corner and then around a rather large puddle that blocked a good sized section of the road. Even if he wasn’t there, it would have been alright though. Most people are willing to give directions and I’m sure the bus driver would have pointed me in the right direction if I asked him.

Being a few minutes late, the students were already lined up in their rows in the yard. Seeing the students all lined up in their uniforms, I had one of those moments where the surroundings are general enough that you could very reasonably be somewhere different (like when you go to a Wal-Mart and you really could be at any other Wal-Mart and never know the difference). From the pictures I’ve seen, I very easily could have been at a high school in some parts of Africa (recognizing that Africa is an incredibly diverse continent – I’m not trying to suggest that it all looks the same).

A teacher brought me to the front were I had a brief conversation with who I assume was the principle. She then made a few comments to the students, introduced me, I said my piece, they sang the national anthem and within a couple of minutes the whole assembly was over.

Then I just had to take the bus back to the office. Piece of cake. The whole adventure took about 40 minutes. Now I will just have to repeat it a few more times with other schools over the next couple of weeks.

P.S. I don’t think that I will ever get used to being called ‘sir’. Some of the youth I have convinced to call me Drew but because students address their teachers very formally most of them will just shout ‘sir’ (or if I am lucky ‘Sir Drew’) across the room and expect me to respond. EVEN ADULTS that I meet call me sir because they think I am a teacher.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A tough day at the orphanage

I’m not really sure how I am feeling right now.

So I just went over to the orphanage with three of the youth from our centre. I don’t want to suggest that it is all terrible. It is clean and it you can tell that the kids are being fed well… but it definitely wasn’t good.

There were some kids who very clearly needed special care and were not receiving it; signs of neglect were significant. I saw a number of sores and skin problems that were not being treated. The one who was the clingiest didn’t speak (though he was probably about four years old) and instead communicated through a series of affectionate grunts. Probably the most difficult was that there was only one who responded when I asked his name. All of the others either were too young to respond or simply avoided the question.

I’ve been to Tijuana, Mexico and helped out with a day care centre there. This was nothing like that. In Tijuana, the woman who runs the centre is so caring and dedicated. Her entire family ensures that all of the kids there are well loved. Though there were some kids who you could tell needed a bit of extra care, they all had families to go home to. In Mexico, I also got a chance to interact with some kids who were literally living in a slum in a canyon. The kids in the canyon (that I saw at least) still had caring adults who were looking out for them – some of them (including one of the women whom I respect most in this world) going to great lengths to make sure that the kids knew they were loved.

Today what struck me most was the absolute lack of care.

The three teenage boys I went with were great though! They helped bring the kids outside and they would push them on swings, help them on the monkey bars and offered them comfort when they cried. They had been there many times before and I am incredibly glad that they have done this for a while and are still willing to help out. Many more will be available to help out over the next few weeks. They all talk about how much the kids just need people to play with them.

We will definitely be going back again.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Drew gets soaked… and gets hugged

So this morning was the first morning it has rained since I’ve been here. Well…. that’s not exactly true. We’ve have sprinkles and little showers every once in a while but because this is the hottest time of the year it has been pretty light. But today, it RAINED!

Now I’m sure any local person would laugh at my description of this morning. I’m sure once the rainy season gets here it will be a lot heavier than it was today. But for me it was a fair bit of rain.

Normally I would bike to work and I saw people who were biking with umbrellas, but I definitely am not ready to attempt such a feat. But I had a great time walking down to the bus stop that can get me to work. The way the bus lines run, there is no direct route that I can take but if I walk for ten minutes I can catch a bus that gets me pretty close. So off I went armed with my umbrella, thoroughly enjoying watching the water run through cracks in the pavement and into the canals. Most people were taking shelter and waiting for the rain to let up but with my North American (must be at work on time) sensibilities, I was determined not to let a simple thing like rain hold me back.

The long and the short of it is that I got soaked. Had a great time (and will definitely go out walking in the rain again) but I’m still a little wet.

And the rain that I though must continue strong for hours on end… passed in about half an hour.

But the reason why I am typing right now is because I just did a visit to an orphanage that is right around the corner from my work place. The organization that I am working with, Volunteer Youth Corps, was started by a group of high school students who started volunteering in local hospitals. It still has a strong focus on youth volunteering. So today I went to the orphanage that is one of their strongest partners.

The youth had warned me that things would be a little rough there. They say that the reason they like to go there is because they know that the kids really need people to spend time with them. While I was waiting to meet a staff member I had about 30 different hugs from about 12 kids who were mostly around the age of 4. One of them ran down the hall and jumped into my lap. I have never in my life seen kids who craved attention so much. I am going back tomorrow with a small group of the youth. I’ll definitely have some more to update after that.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Time to talk about work

So I realize I haven’t talked much about the work that I’m doing. I’ve talked about strange circumstances, food (by the way I’ve been practicing my roti and curries – a local woman gave a three-hour tutorial the other day… yum!), my bike (we’re speaking again – I replaced her pedals and S crank so she’s good to go) and various other things BUT I haven’t talked the reason for me being here.

The youth organization is called the Volunteer Youth Corps. They have done a lot of amazing work to do with health, mentoring and job preparation. Right now their biggest focus is their after-school program and community engagement.

My job is to help with the general running of the place. That includes making sure that there are volunteers available to run sessions and running some myself. The most exciting part is that I’ve been able to pick out a core group of six youth who I’m working with directly so they can take some ownership over the centre. They’re a really good group and I’m excited to get to know them better over the next little while.

The director is definitely a great person to work with. She has a lot of passion and is always looking for new partnerships and ways to expand what the organization is doing. She is very busy, though, and is often in meetings with board members or community partnerships which means I often work by myself in the office. It’s nice to have a quiet place to make phone calls and work on lesson plans, though, because once the youth, arrive things really pick up and it becomes a bit of a whirlwind. That reminds me a lot of home.

There is lots of work to be done and I’m enjoying it. There are always new opportunities to expand and try new things too.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Learning to slow down

I love biking. I love having the freedom to go different places. Biking is efficient and quick and can be relaxing at the end of a hard day. I have a bike at home that was solidly built for me by a really good man. I could always count on it to get me everywhere I needed to go.

I do NOT love this bike.


The bike

We are currently not speaking to each other due to differences of opinion.

My opinion is that a bike I bought less than 2 weeks ago should hold together – it is not… living up to that opinion.

I’ve had to rework the handle bars, buy a new seat post, adjust the gears and for the last two days I have biked to work without one of the pedals (don’t ask me how – purely done on stubbornness).

The major advantage to this bike though is that I am definitely moving at more of a Guyanese pace. It has been impossible to just fly around town. I spend more time moseying along, chatting to people as I go by. A complete stranger at a mechanics shop temporarily attached the offending pedal for me when he saw my predicament.

Everything in Guyana says SLOW DOWN (except for the mini buses). The heat definitely suggests that you should sit in the shade for a while, walk slower, stop and sip a drink.

This is not always the easiest for me. People in Canada are usually appalled by my walking pace. Here it is unfathomable.

But slowing down is a good thing. People here are of the opinion that there is always time to stop and have a conversation. Spending some time with a friend trumps being on time any day. This I enjoy because it reminds me of my neighborhood in Toronto. That is one place that I love to walk through slowly and enjoy.

All of Guyana, it seems, is determined to become a similar place by teaching me in more ways than I can count to just go with the flow and forget about the time.

Drew Badgley is a student at the University of Toronto Scarborough, studying International Development Studies, currently on Co-op placement in Guyana. 

Posted in International Development Studies | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment