Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Onwards and upwards!

Well, this really is the last post of

Stephen and Mary @Guyana

and I hope that you have enjoyed reading our adventures. If we have our way, it won't be the last one and there will be many more adventures to come but this particular one has ended and we must "get on".

For anyone out there who is thinking of doing a VSO placement, I can only encourage you and hope that you have a time as rewarding as the two of us.

And so I leave you with the following........

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." ~ St. Augustine

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." ~ Mark Twain

"A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet." ~ Lao-tzu

"Two roads diverged in a woods, and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." ~ Robert Frost

And finally my favourite .........

"Travel has a way of stretching the mind. The stretch comes not from 
travel's immediate rewards, the inevitable myriad of new sights, 
smells and sounds, but with experiencing firsthand 
how others do differently 
what we believed to be the right and only way." 
Ralph Crawshaw

From "Guess who?

Friday, 4 November 2011


Our Place of Work for the Next Year
The good news is that the staff at the Rwamagana District Office accepted us for a year's placement and we started there on 15th January 2011 doing the roles outlined in the previous post. You can read about our adventures in our second VSO placement in Rwanda at....

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Possible placement in Rwanda

Since we were accepted again for VSO we have been waiting patiently for a placement. They told us it could be really difficult to place couples and we have been hoping for the best.

About two weeks ago we were offered a placement in Rwanda, Central Africa in a place called Rwamagana in the east of the country. It's far from finalised yet and we are hoping that we will be accepted. It's French speaking but they have just changed their language of instruction to English and hopefully we will be able to cope. Mary has been offered the post of "Basic Methodology Trainer" and will be replacing an existing volunteer and I have been offered the placement of "Education Management Advisor" and it is a new post. Everyone we have spoken to has been very positive about the placement and Rwanda itself. It is far from signed and sealed. We have completed all the paperwork and we need to wait for a response from the employer which could be anything up to a month. So, a tense time while we wait to see whether our lives will be turned upside down again. We are very excited, as you might expect!

Thursday, 29 July 2010

We're planning to go again!

In the beginning of June we applied again to do a one year VSO placement starting some time next year. It's always difficult to place couples so we are hoping for the best. We've been assessed and accepted now and we are ready to start the whole process again, including all the forms, the medicals, the fundraising, the injections, the training and finally the offer of a placement which could be anywhere in the world.

We're really looking forward to our new adventure but it might be a while yet before we find out where we might be going. Fairly soon, this blog at this address will change to our new blog keeping you updated about our progress.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Return Volunteers Weekend

Harborne Hall VSO Training Centre Birmingham

There has to be something that rounds it all off and this was it. We were invited in early May to return to Birmingham to Harborne Hall where we had trained as VSOs for a weekend of meeting up, debrief and looking at the future.

It was an excellent weekend and we met many people with whom we had trained and caught up with their adventures in different parts of the world.

A walk in the Harborne Hall Gardens - bluebells and a wonderful time to return home

We had an opportunity to meet up with the new VSO Chief Executive, Marg Mayne who was very keen to hear feedback from all the volunteers. I volunteered to be on the VLG, Volunteer Liaison Group who help with these wekends on a two year stint. I was selected and I'm sure that will give me an opportunity to reamain "in touch". I'm also on the focus group for The Global Schools' Prize and have put myself forward to be a VSO selector. So the VSO experience has not ended for me.

Quite a few people were re-volunteering but it's not the right time for us at the moment but I'm very keen that it is something we will tackle again in the future.

One volunteer summed up the way he felt and it also applies to me.....

"When I'm there, I want to be here and 
when I'm here I want to be there!"

There must be something in that.

Catching up with new friends

Meeting Ann again in Ellesmere Port

There are many advantages in doing VSO, but one of them is the people and making new friends who, without a doubt, will be friends for life, because you have shared so much with them.

Meg and Stephen

Within less than a week of our return, Meg (VSO NCERD colleague from Southport) stayed with us on her way back to New York to see her new grandchild again - Emily. She stayed on the way back and a few weeks later, when we had finally got wheels again (not bicycles this time) we were on our way "Up North" to Southport to see her.

We even went on the "Duck" trip around Liverpool

Round and about Liverpool

We had a great few days and the Guyana experience really flooded back. We were tourists around the area and in Liverpool and then went on to Ellesmere Port to see Ann who had also worked in NCERD but had left a year earlier. What a great time we had together! There were no silent moments and Guyana really came black to life whilst we were visiting Chester and New Brighton (last time there in 1960!).

After "Church"

They both gave us the greatest welcome and I know that when we go to visit Sanny (CPCE lecturer) in Ireland in two weeks time it will be just as good.

In fact, we now have friends all over the world and look forward to extensive travels and, of course, if you are one of them, you are equally welcome here.

Arriving Home

It's over two years since we left England to go on our Guyanese adventure and so much has happened in that time and it has changed our lives FOREVER!

It was a good and uneventful flight and we arrived at Gatwick Airport in the early hours of of the morning on 2nd March 2009 to be met by Dan, Matt and Ann. It was weird. Walking in the house (without lodgers) and all for us was a strange experience. I couldn't resist looking into rooms I hadn't seen and opening drawers and cupboards just to see what was there. Matt and Lucy (and the lodgers) had looked after the place really well but there was a lot to do, mainly unpacking boxes which were all piled up in one of the rooms. The garden was neat but the trees and shrubs had had a whale of a time whilst we were away and bits had disappeared altogether.

So we set about the task of reorganising our lives, not back to the way they were, but the way they were going to be from now on as a retired couple with sooooo much to do that we wouldn't have found the time to work. We decided to call our retirement "sabbatical" because it was clearly a short time "time off" with a lot more to come when we got around to it and when we wanted to do it (whatever "IT" was) at our own pace. But there were one or two things to do before I can really end this blog.

Read on..........

Viva Las Vegas

Venice and the canals inside the Venetian Hotel

Well, we have come from the sublime to the ridiculous or the ridiculous to the sublime. I'm not sure which it is. Guyana to Las Vegas. So different, but I think Guyana definitely wins but Las Vegas has its good points. We have been before and thought we would probably never return but, last time, we didn't go to see the Grand Canyon and that was our motivation this time. Not only that, it's warmer than New York (about 22C) and after 10 days of minus 6C and 35C before that in Guyana we needed a bit more of moderate climate!

The front entrance of the Venetian

Apart from the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas has some amazing deals on at the moment. We are staying in the Venetian which is at the north end of the main part of the Strip. It has over 250 shops and around 50 restaurants in the hotel alone and we have an amazing suite with 3 TVs, sunken living area and out of this world bathroom for the price of a B & B in England. So luxury is the order of the day and we have it for 6 nights.

We enjoy a drink in the Paris Hotel

Mary couldn't resist taking a picture of the loos in the Paris

Half way through the week we went to the Canyon, via the Hoover Dam, by coach -5 hours each way but it was well worth it for what you see on the way. We went to the South Rim, which is more untouched and probably has some of the best views. We didn't get the Skywalk (walking on glass over the Canyon) but the IMAX I think was amazing and better! This has been a real treat and lives up to its name of the most visited natural tourist destination on the planet. Having visited some of the others I can see why.

The Hoover Dam

But, here's the crunch - Kaieteur (Falls) in Guayana is the largest single drop waterfall in the world and although it cannot compete with the GC for size, it is equally impressive for its wild, untouched, raw state and simple lack of people and tourists - a rare site on Earth.

However, we cannot say there were no tourists in LV because, even though it was February, it was packed. The hotels were splendid, the entertainment really enjoyable and the phasing back into a reasonable temperature was really pleasant. We have had a great 6 days.

South Rim

And now we are on our way back to England from Las Vegas to Los Angeles using New Zealand Airways after two exciting, fulfilling and really enjoyable two years in our second home - Guyana.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

New York, New York

We finally arrived at our hotel in Soho at midnight, tired and weary after a full days travelling. It had been an uneventful and good journey with everything going to time.

Taking a stroll in Central Park

After a leisurely introduction to New York on the Saturday, we met up with Meg on Sunday to visit her son Simon and Sara and new baby Emily in their west of Central Park apartment. Her daughters Ruth and Jenny had come from England especially too. Lovely baby! See Skype pictures in a previous post.

Simon, Sara and Emily

At the time of writing we've been in New York for nine days and we're off to Las Vegas tomorrow. We've been all over and revisited some of the places we saw last time. We are staying just where China Town hits Little Italy. It's a great stop, 3 minutes from a subway that goes everywhere and restaurants galore until late at night. We did the usual trips to Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Top of the Rockefeller Centre to see the skyline, St Patrick's Cathedral, 5th Avenue shopping, Central Park, the Met Museum of Art and the Guggenheim. We went to see the Lion King in Times Square and a magic show in a Bleeker Street Theatre. Tonight we will go up the Empire State Building to see the skyline at night. It's been a great treat but we still talk about Guyana all the time. I think it's in the blood and will be with us always!

Tomorrow we will go to Las Vegas for 6 nights so the next post might be from there if we have Internet or even from home if we don't.

We finally leave Guyana

The last week went fairly quickly - oraganising, dismantling, saying goodbyes and packing. Just like when we left England we ate out a lot in the last week - one final trip to the Brazilian Restaurant with Mira, Michaela and her Mum who was visiting. On Tuesday we went to the Good Thriving Chinese with Nicholas and Jenelle and then on Wednesday, having cleaned out the fridge and freezer, Mary and I went for one last trip to Odyssey Roof Top Garden and saw the biggest moon ever. Our final night was spent at Nicolette and Martin's with the 13th Club (celebrating our arrival in Guyana on 13th of every month). We had a wonderful Guyanese meal cooked by Cecelia with Pepperpot, dumplings, fish balls and metagee - an excellent end to Guyanese cuisine.

We had a leisurely departure on the Friday. Jente was just arriving in Guyana for a two week holiday and she came to see us and we had breakfast together at home. A great treat because we hadn't seen her since she left nearly 18 months before. So the time came and our favourite taxi driver, Rahim, took us to the airport with Meg in a separate car and before you knew it, we were on the plane and flying over the rain forest and Guyana was history. We were on our way to New York and then to Las Vegas for a holiday before returning home on 2nd March 2009.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Definitive Pine Tart

It's appropriate that this is the last post in Guyana for Stephen & Mary @ Guyana because those who know me know that I have sweet tooth and it will probably be my downfall but "what the heck!"

To my delight when I came here, I discovered the Pine Tart and I set myself the challenge of finding the definitive pine tart - the best one. To discover this, it meant that I had to eat around 200 of them whilst I was here (at least 2 a week) and test them for the following:

  • Quality of pineapple jam filling
  • Quality of pastry - somewhere between puff and short crust

  • The colour of the egg wash - not too yellow

  • The taste

  • The size

  • The ability to stay fresh overnight

I had to make a decision and time was getting close when I would never eat another pine tart again unless I made it myself. And then, lo and behold, at the party Nichola and Richard turned up with a box full made by their neighbour baker in Corriverton Region 6. I had to try several during the course of the evening and then have another for breakfast to judge point 6 above.

Nichola and Richard arrived the next day with bated breath whilst I gave my report. I could see Nichola was nervous but it was really important to be impartial about this.

Any way, all in all and taking everything into consideration, I declared the Corriverton Pine Tart the official definitive one of all time.

A fitting end to an enormous and onerous task for me over the last two years.

Of course, Nichola and Richard and Cheryl were there to witness this momentous occasion.

Now it's important to say one last thing before I close. When we arrived in Guyana we were taken to Corriverton for our Home Stay with Cheryl. She gave us a wonderful weekend. It was only fitting therefore that Cheryl stayed with us on our last weekend.

Stephen and his "sweet woman" Cheryl

So that's it for Guyana and loooking forward to seeing you, speaking to you or emailing you from Britain on 2nd March

The Icing on the Cake

As if it couldn't get better!

4 weeks ago we did an interview for the Guyana Chronicle and we discovered this week that it had been printed in the Sunday edition. Not only that but it had pride of place on the front page of the magazine - PepperPot - with an article on the inside. So I have reproduced the text here.....

VSO trio head home Saturday

taking with them bittersweet memories

By Vanessa Narine

“We just booked our tickets, but we will be taking Guyana home in our hearts.”

These were the words of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) volunteers Ms Meg Caton, Mr. Stephen Harding, and his wife Ms. Mary Harding; three individuals who, after meeting for the first time two years ago, have found fulfillment, fun and friends for life, as they served as volunteers based at the National Centre for Educational Resource Development (NCERD).The three, who supported the Education Sector here with their various talents, are bound for the United Kingdom (UK) and will be leaving next Saturday as they set off to reunite with family, and experience new things.“I am going home to two grandchildren expected over the next few weeks,” Meg Caton said, bitter-sweet emotions emanating from her words.She described her experience here as everything from exciting, rewarding and amazing to challenging and new.
Working with Mary Harding in Curriculum Development, Meg conveyed the feeling of satisfaction that came from visiting schools all across Guyana and seeing children being happy to read.

“Seeing them use the materials we helped develop, and the joy they got from reading was extremely rewarding,” she said.However, besides the rewards of her professional stint in Guyana, Meg said she was delighted at being a part of the Guyanese culture, and the many major events that occurred during her stay here.

Mary Harding echoed Meg’s sentiments, and singled out World Cup Cricket, the Caribbean Festival of the Creative Arts (CARIFESTA), plays at the Theatre Guild Playhouse and the National Cultural Centre; the celebration of Mashramani, Diwali, Phagwah and Christmas as being among the most enjoyable moments she’d had over the years.“The togetherness of the Guyanese people during these events, and the integration of everyone, regardless of religion, into the other’s celebrations exemplifies the country’s motto: ‘One People, One Nation, One Destiny’,”

Mary declared, excitement at the memory evident in her voice. She went on to say that not only did this spirit exist during playtime, but also during the course of work as working at NCERD involved teamwork as well as team spirit.“Working with curriculum development at NCERD was working as part of a team that was focused on improving literacy, and improving individual skills in Guyana in a mass literacy countrywide programme, the Fast Track Initiative (FTI), which targeted head teachers, practicing teachers and educators,” Mary said.

Mary also said that apart from the oneness one felt, life here was very different from that of life in London, particularly the lifestyles of persons in the outlying areas of Guyana.

Mary’s husband, Stephen, who worked in Education Management, echoed her sentiments, but added that while they had come with no idea of what to expect, they were, nevertheless, stunned.“The differences are countless, but one thing I appreciate very much is that Sundays in Guyana remains a day of rest. The traffic lights blink amber throughout the day; Guyanese take time to go to their religious bodies; and Sundays are distinctly different,” Stephen said, seemingly lost contemplating the differences.His colleague, Meg, also recalled her many Sundays in Guyana, saying that in London, Sundays were just normal days.“Persons should try not to change Sundays, since it is a special time that some take for granted,” Meg said.

Stephen continued his reminiscence as he pointed to one moment in several “special times” he experienced and said in all his years of work, never did he have a view of the ocean as he did while working with NCERD.“I had the perfect view of the Atlantic Ocean, and we could always tell before anyone when the rains were coming,” he recalled laughingly.Another special moment for him was the completion of a programme he wrote to assist in the training of School Managers, the Education Management Certificate Course, a programme that has seen over 350 graduates countrywide since its initiation.“There is a genuine thirst for knowledge in Guyana; people want to learn, especially now that the programme has activities to stimulate persons during the lectures,” Stephen said.

He said that since the fourth batch of school managers completed the 18-month course, over 600 individuals have expressed their interest in the programme, which it is hoped will continue as part of NCERD’s commitment to training.“The programme, which was developed in 1990 for schools in Africa, was now completely fitted to Guyana and its environment,” Stephen said proudly. “We have achieved far more than we had expected, and it is very satisfying.”

The three agreed that while the two years they spent here simply “flew by,” the satisfaction they gained was well beyond their expectations, not just work-wise, but in other respects as well, particularly the Guyanese cuisine and of course Guyana’s tourist attractions.“The best trips we had were our visits to the Kaieteur Falls and Shell Beach,” Mary said.

Smiling, her husband, Stephen, recalled the occasion.

“Everything that could have gone wrong on the trip to Shell Beach went wrong, but we were laughing the entire time,” he said.Smiling too, Mary’s memories traced back to the trip, as she reminded her husband of the boat breaking down in the middle of nowhere but added that the experience was worth so much.“

As much as we gave in our years as volunteers, we got back two-fold in so many other ways,” Meg said.So, leaving with the many experiences and fond memories gained while selflessly giving of themselves to serve other humans, in a strange land whose culture was alien to them, Meg, Mary and Stephen have exemplified the view that serving others brings its own rewards.

Director of NCERD, Mr Mohandatt Goolsarran, gave the VSO volunteers another reward, in that he expressed his gratitude for their selfless support over the years.“They were very adaptable and produced quality work, while they became integrated within the system, providing professional skills and motivating teachers to strive for greater heights,” he said.

Cooling Down Party

In good VSO tradition we decided to hold a Pot Luck Supper at our house to celebrate two happy years in Guyana for Mary, Meg and I. With Pot Luck, you get what you get and everyone brings something.

However, the important thing about parties is that you are there. But as you may have just read, we were taken out for the day and didn't get back until 4 minutes before the party was due to start. Anyway, I have been teaching leadership for the past two years and the importance of delegation, so a few phone calls and the whole thing was sorted thanks to our good friends Cheryl and Martin who set everything up and we arrived in style with everything done.

The party was great with superb food and everyone had a great time especially the three of us, even if we were a little tired after our exciting day.

Judge for yourself!

VIP Trip to the Mazaruni

At relatively short notice, Mary, Meg and I were given a VIP trip along the Mazaruni River last Saturday. In fact we had no idea what to expect other than our line manager at NCERD Miss Ali had offered the trip to us. So at 7-15am we set off to her house at Leonora Region 3 and little did we expect what we got.

We were whisked off in 4 X 4s to a private boat yard were a Jet Boat met us to take us down the Essequibo, passed Eddie Grant's private island to the Mazaruni near Itabali. We were to visit a granite quarry. Now, that doesn't sound too exciting but the way we did it, it surely was. The boat went twice as fast as a normal speedboat so that was a treat in itself. there were 7 of us and we were treated like VIPs the whole day.

On arrival at the quarry, a brand new bus, a real rarity in Guyana, took us 200 yards to an open air breakfast where we broke our fast Guyanese style with three different types of salt fish and bake and every different type of bun / cake imaginable, washed down with coffee and fruit juice. We were the guests of the owners, Brian and Gloria who had been working this quarry for three years and in that short time provided the granite for practically all the roads in Guyana and the extensive sea defenses.

Then we set off for the tour and the bus followed us all the way in case any of us got tired. We ended up in the Board room where we were forced to drink wine for two hours or so whilst we watched the whole operation from huge picture windows. The bus then took us into the rain forest where, lo and behold, was laid out a table with white cloth and crystal ready for lunch. This consisted, after drinks and appetizers, of Duck Curry, Mutton Curry, Mountain Fish and the biggest prawns you ever did see. All are Guyanese delicacies and were delicious. The bus then took us along the trail to Bartica where we were met by the boat which took us to Parika where the cars met us again and took us all the way home, where we arrived for our party at 7-26pm for a 7-30pm start.

What a day, what a treat and what an end to our time in Guyana!!

Waiting for the boat back to Parika after a superb day