It is safe to say that I have officially survived my first month and a half here in Georgetown Guyana. With the previous international travel under my belt and stamped in my passport of course, I believe that there are challenges faced anywhere one travels abroad. I believe that it does take a certain individual to be able to adapt to a new culture and a new lifestyle whether it be in a developing or developed country. The fear of losing one’s passport, being pick pocketed, language barriers and even the dreaded upset stomach exist everywhere you travel and I can honestly say that I have had every single one of those “problems” happen to myself whether it be travelling in a developed or developing country. In my opinion the greatest reward to travelling abroad is overcoming the fears you have and the challenges you were once afraid to overcome.
Over the past month and a half I have been really grateful to have met some amazing volunteers from all over the world working for different development agencies focusing on different streams of development, whether it be capacity building, youth development, HIV awareness and gender inequality. We are referred to as “expats” by the community here in Guyana, I have had the pleasure to sit down with “expats” from Canada, Australia, South Africa, Holland, The United States and The United Kingdom. I have found myself caught up in some amazing discussions with these wonderful people regarding culture differences, adapting to new lifestyles, feeling isolated and how to handle oneself in the obstacles faced every day. ” You’re not here to save the country, if you try and save the country you will crash and burn out, take it a day at a time” were the words of advice from a South African Economist who has been here for 7 months. These words had me thinking did I really come here expecting to save the country? Save female entrepreneurs in Georgetown? I began to move forward with the concept of taking things one day at a time.
One Day at a Time with 75 Amazing Women
I have spent the past 5 weeks in and out of the office at Youth Challenge Guyana meeting with many women as part of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Project. So far I have met with around 35 amazing women, some I have visited their businesses, while others have come into the Youth Challenge Office or met me at local cafes and restaurants. During our meetings I have a one-on-one discussion, where I ask about their business, and the history of their business and get to know them on a personal level. Sometimes I will meet with 5 or 6 women a day for around an hour or an hour and half; the most rewarding part of my day is leaving these one-on-ones with a sense of fulfillment and gratification. They may believe that they are learning from me, however, they have no clue the amount of knowledge, independence and mentorship I am learning from them through the development of their businesses and support they are providing to their families. Some of the women I have met with are single mothers, working full-time jobs and running successful businesses on the side to provide support for their families (makes me regret all the complaining I did about working a side job during my studies at college). All of these women have begun to influence me in different ways; the strange thing is that I am here to help provide them and their network with support however after talking to some of these women they prove to be the most successful women I know when it comes to support.
Just yesterday I met with a woman who is 65 years old, a retired nurse from St. Vincent, now working in her spare time as a seamstress teaching sewing lessons. When asked about the long-term goal for her business, she responded with, ” I have set 3 goals in my life, the first to be a nurse, the second was to open my own successful sewing business, the third is to open sewing schools for underprivileged children in 3 regions of Guyana, this will help them open their own businesses.” She has already accomplished the first two goals in her life and is currently working on the third. It is hearing stories and goals such as these during my one-on-ones with the women that make me so grateful to be a part of this amazing project and be able to meet such influential women. The goals and stories I hear from the women also apply to the concept of taking things one day at the time, achievement of ones goals does not come overnight it takes time and I believe one day at a time. Right now I have met with around 35 passionate, motivated, remarkable women sharing the same views about women’s entrepreneurship and I cannot wait to meet with the other 40!
Taking the Network A Day at a Time
When I am not meeting the women for one-on-ones I am working with the network committee and providing them with support for filling their roles as the committee members. For the past 4 weeks I have spent some time getting to know these 7 women who all hold different positions on the committee. All women have different personalities, making a passionate team who are committed to seeing success, support, and empowerment for the women of the network in Georgetown. The women of the committee all have different strengths and weaknesses and I can already see how they use one another’s strengths to help with the weaknesses through mentorship and support. I am working alongside the committee right now with the writing and development of a constitution for WENET. When this constitution is finished we will be submitting it for approval to the Ministry of Human Services and upon approval, WENET will become the first Women’s Entrepreneurship Friendly Society in Guyana. This goal was set out by WENET before my arrival as an idea for an area where they would like my support. By WENET becoming a Guyanese Friendly Association WENET will have access to Government Funding, networking events in Guyana, Special Entrepreneurship Workshops and community events held by the Guyana Chamber of Commerce. I am beyond excited to be working with the committee and the network in achieving this goal!!
As I sit here and reflect on the past month I have spent in Georgetown, I think about the challenges I have faced with travelling abroad and adapting to a new lifestyle and a new culture. I also reflect on the challenges my expat friends have experienced during their time here in Georgetown as well. The one conclusion I have been able to draw from these experiences is that throughout life you will always be tested and it comes down to what you make of these tests. You can sit back and allow challenges to affect you negatively and deter you from continuing on, or you can take the proactive step forward and overcome that challenge. I look at the women in the network and see the obstacles that they are faced with every day whether it is with their businesses, their families or life in general and let me tell you it doesn’t stop them or set them back. This lesson is one I have learned early on during my internship and is attributed to the amazing women of WENET and friends that I made so far. I am excited to see the challenges and lessons to be learned over the next 6 and half months here in Georgetown!