Guyana A.R.T.S. Summer Program

 
 

Mica Gaard, a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in Guyana, was a recipient of a FROG Grant earlier in 2010. Serving in the Corentyne, Berbice district of Guyana, Mica pioneered the Guyana A.R.T.S. program designed to build and strengthen the community of youth and teens in the area. The project has been very successful thus far, and a summary report can be found below.

ARTS Students

FROG GRANT FINAL REPORT
for Guyana A.R.T.S. Summer Program
Yakusari, Black Bush Polder
Corentyne, Berbice
submitted by Mica Gaard, PCV

    SUMMARY

Guyana A.R.T.S. is a youth development program that allows teens and pre-teens to Act, Reach, Think, and Shine through the arts. The program idea came about after discussing the lack of activities and allowances for creative outlets for older students in my community. Many students in the “Tops” program at Yakusari Primary School, along with some community members and parents, felt that having a program that would allow students to learn through art would motivate teens to continue with their education.

Ultimately, the Guyana A.R.T.S. program will be implemented in four primary and secondary schools in the Berbice region, and already a week-long camp was held in Bartica, Region 7. In order to see this expansion of the program, however, I wanted to have a pilot program in Yakusari, Black Bush, to test ideas and lessons. Thus, the Headmistress at Yakusari Primary School and I created a four-week summer program where students would come daily for an hour and a half to do visual arts, music, and drama/storytelling.

The daily lessons included the following activities: drawing self-portraits and writing words that describe themselves, along with discussing their future and what they want to be when they grow up; making “flappers” (or cootie catchers) and discussing fortunes; make crayon rubs and discussing pressure and force; finger painting, learning abstract v. concrete, and discussing symmetry; making up conditional sentences and discussing consequences; playing “Telephone Charades” and discussing body language and actions; performing Indian dances and “the Electric Slide” and discussing cultural differences; making drawings cut into thirds and discussing how perception is different than truth; making watercolor paintings and discussing color blending and diluting pigments; making paper mache masks and discussing recycling and reinforcing symmetry; doing an “Originality Test” and discussing what it takes to be an original individual; making play dough beads and discussing science and reinforcing color blending; preparing for the field trip by dying the macaroni for the necklaces and discussing why it is important to volunteer; making portraits of their idols and discussing how they can become someone’s idol by taking what they have learned throughout the program and sharing it with others; and finally, playing lots of games, including relay races, “Duck, Duck, Goose” and “Dog and the Bone” (or “Steal the Bacon”) and singing lots of songs, including “Grand Old Duke of York” and “Alice the Camel.”

Along with the actual arts activities, we wanted to make sure that the program also included activities that would allow for leadership among the older students and participation in community service activities for all. At the end of the third week, a teacher from Yakusari Primary School and I took 13 of the students on a field trip to an orphanage located about an hour away in New Amsterdam. We spent a little over an hour at the orphanage, where the students split up into four groups and led different art projects they had learned to make previously in their lessons. After the orphans had a chance to rotate to complete all the art projects, we said goodbye and took the students to lunch at “Church’s Chicken” before heading back home. At the end of the program, all the students agreed that this was their favorite part of the summer program, and they could not wait to go back again.

Lunch after the orphanage

SUCCESSES AND CHALLENGES

Overall, I think that the Guyana A.R.T.S. summer program was a success.  Although there were definite struggles and rough patches along the way, I came away after every day feeling pleased and excited.  In four weeks, students were able to learn new artistic skills, make new friends, participate in a community service project, and have fun doing something they had never really been able to experience before.

I recently read a quote by the director of a non-profit in the states whose aims are quite similar to Guyana A.R.T.S..  She says the following: “An exchange between at-risk children in different cultures can take a child that society views as a victim [...] and empowers, educates, and encourages them.  If a homeless child creates something for a child refugee who doesn’t just have a hole in his shoe but is shoeless, then the child goes from victim to victorious” (Children Mending Hearts Director Lysa Heslov).  This quote struck home with me, and showed me just how successful we were with the Guyana A.R.T.S. summer program.

Although the students in the Guyana A.R.T.S. program are not as poor-off as those who homeless, they are at-risk in terms of their educational future.  For those who know the Berbice region, almost all say that Black Bush is the area with the least–the least amount of shops and development, the least amount of schools (especially secondary schools), the least amount of trained teachers, and the least amount of students who complete their schooling.  The only thing it is known to have the most of is its number of suicides and suicide attempts.

Some of the students in the Guyana A.R.T.S. program had never been out of Black Bush before.  Of those who have, few had travelled past Rose Hall, the closest town, and very few had ventured as far as New Amsterdam.  Out of all the students, none had ever visited an orphanage before.  Thus, giving these students an opportunity to visit those who have even less than they do, and allowing them to come together to create beautiful works of art, empowered all of them and showed them that they can have a positive effect on the world they live in.  For me, then (and for most all the students), the field trip to the New Amsterdam orphanage was the pinnacle in a successful program.

The biggest challenge I had in the program was getting students to attend the first week.  I had made several announcements at school, made a few home visits, sent letters home, and even had students return signed permission forms, however the first day of the program, I only had two students.  Although that number grew slightly over the first week, it wasn’t until the second week that I started having a regular stream of students.  And, I was very fortunate that the third week of the program was the same week that the Ministry of Culture, Youth, and Sports was having a morning camp at the school, which meant that students could come over together to the program after finishing camp.

If I were to do this program again, I would try a few things differently to try to get kids coming from the start.  First, I would hold the program at the school rather than my house.  Although my house was very nice for the program because I have a big open yard and outside tables that are great for doing crafts, holding the program at the school makes it more “official” and parents are more likely to send their children.  Second, I would hold the program later in the day, as sometimes students failed to come because it had rained the previous night, and therefore was too difficult to come early in the day when there was still plenty of mud. And finally, I would not put an age limit on the program.  When I advertised it, I only spoke to students in Grade 7 and above because I wanted to gear the program towards secondary school students.  What I learned, however, was that it was the younger (Grades 4, 5, and 6) students that were really interested, and I risked losing their interest by not allowing them to come.  In the end, it turned out to be the perfect blend of older and younger students, and it really allowed for more leadership opportunities for those who were in secondary school.

The other main challenge I had in the beginning was getting the students to come onboard with some of my “crazy white lady” ideas. These students come from a background where all they know is the “chalk and talk” method of learning, and so student-centered learning ideas and active participation are not things that they are used to doing.  Even though this was a summer program and therefore was not concentrated on “academic” ideas, many of the students (and students’ parents) came equipped with their exercise books and pencils prepared to write.  So, when I asked them to act out being a cow or told them to color on the floor, some of the students were taken aback and did not know quite how to respond.

What I love about kids, however, is how extremely flexible and willing they can be.  By the third lesson, I was no longer “crazy,” just maybe a little silly.  Within three lessons, the students were able to get out of their comfort zones and try new ways of doing things, which was one of the goals of the program.  In less than three days, the students were able to actively participate in a way that they had not been before, and with any hope, they were able to see how this method of learning could take them far.

PERSONAL STORIES

The final day of the program, many students were having difficulties understanding that things had come to a close.  Although I had told them all that it was only a four-week program, they continuously asked me if we could keep back lessons the following week.    Each reason I gave them for ending the program, they counter-attacked.  When I said “I don’t have any more lessons planned,” Bheemchan said: “We don’t need planned lessons, we can just come and do art.”  When I told them that I was out of supplies, Sherry said they could bring their own. Finally, when I told them the real reason: “I am going out of town on Sunday, so I won’t be here come Monday,” Sarah responded quickly: “We can come tomorrow.”  “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I countered.  “That’s okay, we don’t mind.”

After much more back and forth, I finally convinced them that, although the summer program was over, this would definitely not be the end, because I would be sure we would continue with the arts program in school starting with the August term.  They relented, and as they left my house that final afternoon, I smiled as I thought back on the four weeks of fun we all had.

On of my students, Naiome, had not given up, I soon realized however. Later that evening, as I was preparing to lock up my house, I found a note stuck under my door.  It read: “Miss Mica I want to tell you something.  I want to come back on Monday.  I will come. Thank you. Miss see you.  Naiome.”  I couldn’t help but smile at the guts this little 9-year-old student had.

A painting by Sherry

 

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