Deaf Education in Guyana

Pre-departure jitters. . .

In approximately nine or so days, I will be in joining two other Peace Corps Response Volunteers in New York to begin my exciting journey to Guyana. It’s pretty crazy to think that later this month, I will be in the city of Georgetown doing something called ‘Community Based Training’. Community Based Training is a critical requirements before being inducted as an official volunteer. As a response volunteer this will last for just two weeks as opposed to the typical two-three month training period for 27 month journey most volunteers endure. A little bird from the group Guy 25 (Guyana’s current PCV) expressed it is not a city at all in size. Georgetown is more like a small town in the countries modest population of 750,000.
My assignment is teaching Sign Language. For those that do not know Guyana’s complex cultural history, Guyana is the only country in South America that speaks a ‘Creole’ English with slight influences from Dutch, West African languages, Arawakan and Caribbean languages (such as Jamaican Patois, and Haitian Creole). They also have people that speak Hindi, Portuguese, and the native languages of Amerindian tribes such as Wai Wai, Warrau, Wapishiana, Arekuna, Carib, and Arawak. 
What does this mean for signed languages? Information is limited on where Guyana Sign Language came from, however,  I did find out that most of its recent influences came from ASL. I am currently in contact with Bill who is the founder of Lifeprint.com. Bill took a trip to Guyana in 2009 and spent time working with Deaf communities and helped founded what is now commonly known as Guyana Association for the Deaf (GAD) and taught from his own curriculum while in the country. Like any community, language is constantly evolving and it comes from a process of communicating with one another on a day to day basis. 
My plan is to go in as if I am learning a new signed language and soak it all in. I firmly believe these communities know what it is that they need and are looking for, more than any foreigner (me) with every intention to. . .what is it they say? “Be the change you wish to see in the world” Now the real question is the wish for change in their world the same as mine?

I do have this phrase stuck in my mind : “Change your thoughts and you’ll change your world”.
To break it down, it is simply listening to each other and exchanging knowledge. I live for the these moments that are new and exciting! Especially if it has anything to do with signed languages, culture, dancing, art, and adventure!

In these last few weeks, I’ve been gathering clothes, my camera, recipes, pictures, & filling up my kindle with books that I plan on bringing to Guyana. They say Guyana is extremely hot and humid! I’ve been told by Peace Corps staff to pack for “Florida”.

I am so excited for the upcoming experiences of life in Guyana will bring. It is comforting to know that I have the continued support of my friends and family through this journey!


Erin loves to intergrate herself in cultures of the world, loves to dance, and go on exciting adventures. Erin enjoys teaching ASL/sign language to anyone who is willing to learn! You can follow Erin via Tumblr and Twitter @esmichele
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