Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reflecting Back on 2010

I have been home now for some time:  visited the family and some friends in Ontario over Christmas and New Year; printed and mailed close to 1,000 photographs back to the girls at St. Ann’s and the students.  I’m recognizing the flakes flying through the air as snow and not ash from the cane fields, and I’ve begun to tolerate cooking with chicken and rice.   I take some time “pondering” my life, contribution, experience and frustrations of volunteering at Mercy and Guyana.   It sets the stage for me to decide about doing it one more time in 2011.  

Those of you who have been with me in the previous seven times will have found, like me, that much of what happened in Guyana happened almost all the other years.  There is some comforting familiarity with repetition of both successes and frustrations.    My time in Guyana has become part of the rhythm of my retirement.   My ever-helpful wife, Anne, just passed and commented, “You know, people who think that you go to Guyana for three months are wrong.  You are actually there at least half the year.”  Probably true.

This year I had some new experiences:

The most different and exciting development was the introduction of a problem-based learning approach to the first year students at the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing.    This was made possible by my esteemed colleague, Tony.   To tell you the truth, before we left I couldn’t decide whether I was more worried about introducing PBL or working with Tony.   However, neither worry ever came to fruition.   Tony and I worked extremely well together.   [The students would listen to one of us and then immediately look to the other for a dissenting opinion.]  I know that I could not have achieved the same richness, depth and comprehensiveness without him.   We had some interesting skirmishes, but no one drew blood or got a knockdown.  We were amazingly compatible on our learning objectives and assessments of the day’s work.    I hate to admit this but it would be hard for me to go back without him.   I think that this “odd couple” did a good job.   

Our students had been educated through high school with the main pedagogical intervention being a teacher [or often another student because the teacher wasn’t there] reading from the one textbook for the course and the students writing down verbatim what the teacher re-read slowly.    They are criticized for wrong answers; they are not looked-to for opinions or previous knowledge; they sit and write.   So the introduction of an adult and PBL approach was going to be risky.  However, it was risky only in our minds.   They jumped on it, right from our introductory problem, in which we decided to “do” a case rather than talk about the differences of PBL.   We played with a “Contract Pregnancy” one, in which some rich couple wanted to pay for their schooling in exchange for the conception of a light-skinned girl for them.  Some genetics, some anatomy, some ethics, some psychology, a little of everything.  They had so many questions and problems and ideas and quandaries, it was wonderful.  They wanted to learn and were eager to read, to get resources on the net, to find local consultants on staff to bother with their questions…   
This made leaving harder this year, as there were no faculty that seemed to have even the tiniest interest in our project.   The students would return from our classes to the tutor reading from a lone text, pouring in the truth via their sitting butts and their writing hands, through some unknown neuro pathway to their awaiting memory receptors…   Ugh.   Our inability to get any interest in PBL from others was a major failure and disappointment of this tour.   It didn’t outweigh the positive student reactions, though it did interfere with our fantasies of leaving an enduring legacy.    It was my biggest disappointment.

Speaking of disappointments, another big one was with my country, Canada.   Some anonymous visa official who was probably overworked and probably had been watching bad detective movies for too long and probably liked reading even less than my students, refused a short visa for my friend, Taju.  He wanted to attend an ice-cream-making course at University of Guelph in Ontario.  [He had paid the tuition and the airfare; a friend of Anne’s was putting him up in his home near the university; someone else was picking him up at the airport and was going to return him after a trip to Niagara Falls.]   Well, he was rejected basically because the reviewer could not see any connection between ice cream and Taju’s previous life as a student nurse.   Therefore, they “had no choice” but to refuse the request because Taju might not return to Guyana – to his wife, two kids, his own restaurant, internet store, home, truck and car, his plans to finish his degree in Nursing and improve his ice-cream-making business.    [An email from Taju in January read in part:

....... I've signed a contract with the Government Of Guyana through GOINVEST Guyana that will give us duty free concessions to bring in Ice Cream equipment and vehicles based on the business proposal that I submitted to them.  Hopefully that will keep some dollars in our pocket when the operation eventually commences.   The struggle continues. ....”    ]
It is too bad that the reviewer did not read the documentation submitted, including a supporting letter from Tony and myself.   The officer did not even ask for clarification or make a long distance phone call.  [There are no visa services in Guyana; all visa requests are sent to Trinidad.].    

I was upset with the refusal, but much more upset with the fact that it is impossible to appeal a decision.   I have recently received an official letter from the Minister responsible, Jason Kenny, who just reiterated the words of the original reviewer.   To say the least – not helpful.     It is way too late for Taju to attend the course, but it is not too late for others to be treated with respect when applying to visit Canada.    This process is surely not the “Canadian way”.

As with professional articles, authors must declare benefits received that might influence their decision.   Therefore, I declare that Tony and I are recipients of Free Ice Cream for Life at the Princess Restaurant on Durban Street in Georgetown.  Taju and his wife Alison are the owners.

My other “new” was living away from the Mercy Compound and occupying the parsonage at Calvary Lutheran Church on the outskirts of the Bourda Market.   It wasn’t until the end of my time that I realized that the congregation at Calvary were my biggest financial supporters in that they gifted me with the lodging.   I did reimburse them by providing “security” and also delivering two sermons ..…  I think I easily got the best part of that deal.   Of course, there are many others who support me in various ways; it is just that Calvary’s support seemed pretty amazing.  [Living “off campus” had some small drawbacks, in that I had to provide more of my own meals and there was commuting time involved.]
My next other “new” was the realization that everything changes ..…  Yes, I knew that before and remembered it again as my colleague, Pastor Dick Young, announced that he would be leaving before I might return in 2011.   He has always been there for me since I started going to Guyana.   He has been an inspiration to me, especially as I struggled with the frustrations of doing anything in Guyana.     He has arrived back home at his farm in Oregon where the growing season will be a little shorter.     I’ll wait till next year -- until he misses Guyana -- to see if he wants to come and join us at Mercy!

My last “new” probably wasn’t really new to anyone but me; however, I did seem to notice a much larger number of old students who were still in Guyana.   This was pure joy for me as I have given my “Think About Staying In Guyana” speech every year.     I would like to think that some of them actually listened to me.   Maybe, it also has to do with a degree programme in nursing at the University of Guyana and a few better opportunities for employment, like the Caribbean Heart Institute.    Their working presence, along with the establishing of families, was one of the most encouraging aspects of my time there.    These are bright women [and a few guys] and as they gather experience they will increase the competency of nursing everywhere in Guyana’s health system. 

My biggest worry was and is about the future of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.   The fire has had an ongoing impact in almost every area of operations.    For the first time in their history they laid off “family”; the level of acute patient cases has decreased and the majority are chronic; staff optimism is pretty low; the new graduates were told that none of them were to be hired at Mercy; the redevelopment hasn’t begun, so the emptiness is there every day…  When I combine all this with several other “up and coming” hospitals and health services – with better pay and working conditions for nurses -- it is hard to feel optimistic.  I do know that CEO Helen and the Board are working hard to improve the hospital and get the rebuilding under way and I am still worried.    What does provide a never-ending source of optimism is the energy and dedication of the “old girls,”  Sisters Kenneth, Judith, and Noel, who are out there every day trying to raise funds for the new hospital; they continue to amaze me.

Speaking of amazing women, this was probably my last time to see Sister Beatrice Fernandes, although .....  I didn’t think she would have lived till I arrived in September 2010, and she was still alive when I left.     So who knows with these old nuns, eh?

I have been attacking this last blog for a month, and will now call it quits.

Take care, and I’ll write again when my plan for Fall 2011 is decided,