Posts Tagged ‘Guyana’

I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. The ever-inspiring Lissa’s uber-inspiring post was about what she was going to do with Chris Guillebeau’s surprise $100 investment in each of the participants at his World Domination Summit (this is Good Domination, folks, not Dark Side Domination). He asked everyone in the audience to invest the $100 he gave them in changing the World.

Lissa decided she would pay it forward and invited everyone reading her blog post to share how they would use the $100. So I patted my Thesis on the head and told her I’d be back later, and posted how the $100 could be used to help spark one of my Dreams: to found Flourish Youth Centre in Georgetown, Guyana, for disadvantaged children and youth.

The idea is a youth centre that would provide a loving, inspiring, and enriching environment for youth. It will be a drop-in centre to offer supplemental programming to existing homes and orphanages in Georgetown (such as Joshua House, where I have volunteered).

Kids (& a puppy) at Joshua House who could benefit from Flourish Youth Centre. Sept 2011

There are so many kids out there who just don’t get a good start to life. Maybe they are AIDS orphans. Maybe they are abused at home. Maybe they live in grinding poverty.  Whatever the case, if they have a safe, loving, stimulating environment to go to, that can go a long way to helping them flourish, to become everything they can be. I want to be part of a place like that, in partnership with local friends who believe, like me, that things can be even better in Guyana.

Part of the mission of Flourish would be to help children and youth connect with the more-than-human-world, so with animals and plants. There is little infrastructure in Guyana to take care of unwanted animals, and I do not know of any therapeutic use of animals there (for example, caring for horses, dogs, and so many other species has been found beneficial to traumatized children and youth). There are so many possibilities to create an enriching environment for young people; I see especially animals, permaculture gardens, and lots of music and arts.

I see Flourish Youth Centre as part of a network with other similar organizations, projects and centres. For example, I am inspired by Projeto Sol and Boikarabelo (featured in documentary, Angels in the Dust), and the rural residence of the Dogo Dogo Centre I visited in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

Today, I was supposed to be working on my Thesis. But when Lissa Rankin’s newsletter sailed into my Inbox, I couldn’t resist reading her post. And discovered Flourish Youth Centre will get one of the $100 investments generously donated by Lissa’s readers!!!

I cried. This is the first investment in Flourish. One more beautiful step towards the Dream becoming Real.

To Lissa and the generous donors inspired by her post, thank you with all my heart and soul!

Keep Shining,


Working horses in Georgetown, Guyana, could also benefit from linking youth with the more-than-human-world through Flourish Youth Centre.


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i offer her food


even El Dorado & honey

she won’t take anything,

slight tick of her head like a gentle no

cathy resting on the day she died

she is emaciated,

can barely move

i see in her eyes

she has decided.

i will leave the next day,

don’t want her to suffer

try to get the vet assistant to come to kill her, but

he doesn’t come.

* * *

i don’t see her the next day.

i think “she must have gone off on her own to die”

i feel bad i couldn’t give her a gentle death

hope she didn’t suffer.

* * *

stuck at Bina Hill an extra day

we go to a friend’s wedding

when i come back, Gilly’s voice in the dark

“your dog is dead.”

it hurts, but i already knew in my heart, “i thought so.”

” i found the body.”

“where is she?”

“by the tourism office.”

and there is her body, stretched out on her left side

light mist of raindrops on her fur.

* * *

i want to bury her.

find wheelbarrow, struggle with gate

then the surprising weight and difficulty

to get her body into wheelbarrow

i nearly vomit twice from the putrid stench

she probably died the night before

its dark, i’m tired, the ground is too hard

don’t have it in me to bury her

so i find a young tree

lay her out, running, head thrown back

howling to the moon.

i wish i could have done better for her in life and now in death

but it is peaceful

i thank her for coming briefly into my life,

and to know, just before i leave,

that she is beyond pain, hunger, and fear

her timing is impeccable.

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I decided to spend part (or all) of the weekend back at the Iwokrama field station. Friday was Andy’s birthday, and lots of Iwokrama folks were converging at the Field Station for a tour guide refresher course. Now that I was suddenly teaching the Wildlife Management course, this was a great opportunity to try to get advice and resources. The tourism folks from NRDDB were going, so I tagged along on the Intraserv bus. R & I got dropped at Oasis (close to the upscale RockView lodge where scruffy wanna-be researchers like me can’t afford to stay), a rest stop a 10 min drive away where the Intraserv bus stops, a bit of a travel hub. Chatted a bit with a chap who had just done jungle survival training near Surama, a village I can’ t wait to visit. The climax of the course is to spend two days alone in the forest. It was quite the site to see all these white men troupe onto the bus with their blow-darts and bows and arrows they had bought as souvenirs as carry-on. I joked with R that security on the Rupununi’s Intraserv bus sure was different from that of a plane headed to the US!!! I dozed during the trip through the rainforest. It was great to be back at Iwokrama. Especially for the shower! There are water problems at Bina Hill, and the evening before, the water had to be pumped from a well that turned out to be contaminated, so they had to pump out the water to clean it. So Iwokrama was luxury to me, I got to take a shower! Also, poor Margaret, the cook at Bina Hill, is having some trouble making stuff I can actually eat. The milk allergy isn’t a problem, but being allergic to tomatoes and vegetarian has been a bit more tricky. And the menu is just generally more limited than at Iwokrama Field Station. So more luxury was C’s awesome food. Then onwards to b-day cake for Andy, which I lived vicariously through others since it had milk in it. J made a nice fire to sit by near the river, so a bunch of us hung out there sipping El Dorado, chatting, and playing with my propeller LED glow poi. Yep, no need for batteries, except the propellers break really easily. Which is why Nick stocked me with dozens of replacement propellers. The only thing missing was singing, I missed my capoeira family, there’s no way a fire would have escaped our music, even if it were just our voices and clapping.

After such a lovely time back at Iwokrama, I was optimistic that everything would be just fine about me sleeping in a hammock. It was a busy night, so no beds were available. Back in 2006, I tried to get used to sleeping in a hammock, but was pretty hopeless at it, ended up on a bedroll on the floor in Nappi, and lucked into a bed at Yupukari. But I was enchanted by the idea that with my hammock & mosquito net under my arm, I was good to go anywhere and have a place to stay. The first problem was that my hammock-neighbour was watching Bourne Identity on his laptop, and I couldn’t find my earplugs to drown it out. Finally that was over, but now I wasn’t so sleepy. Then it started to get cold. Then the ants started biting me. Although it was nothing like the Ant Attack poor Andy suffered the night before, it was enough to keep me awake. Then I could feel something even larger crawling on me. Which turned out to be a cockroach. Fed up with everyone else’s blissful snoring, I got up and worked in the Field Station main building since there are lights in there, and was kept company by many bats and a frog that lives in the corner of Angie’s office. In the end, I slept less than an hour.

Predictably, my brain was not working to well the next morning. Unpredictably, I had an epiphany about my research: why not use the Bina Hill cohort as a sample for my study? These are young people who are interested in the environment, but only some of them had the opportunity to be in wildlife clubs. So I could compare the knowledge, beliefs, values, and intended behavior towards the environment of Wildlife Club alumni vs. those who didn’t get to be in a wildlife club. I was excited enough to work on this idea, rather than roam around the forest or take a nap The next two nights I was back in my old room, so I slept.

I went to parts of the tour guide refresher course, a highlight being the walk through the forest Raquel took us on to improve our plant identification skills and learn about the properties and uses of the trees and other plants. My favourite find was the resin of the Haiawa, which has a lovely smell and in burnt as incense and to repel mosquitoes, and the burnt resin can be used as waterproof pitch to fix boats. A good point was that ecotourists often want to see animals, and that can’t be guaranteed. But if you know your plants, every tree can tell an interesting story so the tourist should still be happy at the end of the tour, whether or not any charismatic megafauna were sighted. A highlight for me was learning about the forest fauna from Wally Prince. I wish I could download all the Wildlife and Wildlife Management info in his brain, and use it to teach my wildlife management class!monkey ladder

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Waking up at 4:50am to run was not as excruciating as I thought it would be.  The knock on my wooden window came promptly at 5am “Miss, Miss, you coming Miss???” I mumbled some inarticulate assent & stumbled out.

It was dark. Spectacular stars, yes, enough light to see where the heck I was going, no.  But I ran.  I kept a girl in view, almost the only form I could see.  “You’re all crazy” I hissed.  They just laughed.  “Crazy, crazy, CRAZY,” hitting a puddle shut me up.  I learned to recognize the slight gleam to avoid other ones. And soon all was good, only sounds our feet hitting the ground, our breath, some birds & bugs.  Only stars above and faint outlines of fellow runners near me & mountains far away.  And I just had to trust my feet to keep going one step in front of the other, and that would carry me to the unseen but known destination: the junction with the main road.

We paused, stretched a little and back we ran to the compound.  Then onwards to the Big Benab (round structure with thatch  roof) where the Bina Hill students get their classes.  We took over the main room to stretch and exercise.  After a few stretches lead by a student, they put me on the spot, they wanted to do  some capoeira and yoga stretches.  I threw in some nasty abs for good measure.

if I have to get up at 5am, expect funny balance stretches

Then they went off  to work in the garden.  Which is why they get up so early to exercise.   Sure its dark, but the temperature is right, and they have to get to work in the garden by 6am, so its way they squeeze in some training.  I went up to the second floor of the Benab to do sun salutations, literally, since I could face the dawn.  And watch the panorama view of the savannah and distant mountains come to light.

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There are times in life when you feel like you have utterly failed. Today there was terrible suffering and I failed to prevent it, failed to alleviate it quickly enough, and failed to do anything decent and respectful afterward. Taking a hard look at yourself and your world can come from anywhere, from a tragedy, from a beautiful experience, from a conversation. For me, the spark has often been: a mouse.

I started my PhD in the hopes of studying humane education. The broader way to think of humane education is it is intended to increase empathy and compassion towards all living beings. This view encourages us to see the inextricable links between social justice, animal welfare, and a healthy environment. But I knew the setting where I wanted to do my research and eventually, to live: Guyana, South America. But I have not found any humane education programs here, and over time I made connections to an inspiring environmental education program developed and maintained by indigenous Makushi people. And so by the time I came here on this reconnaissance visit in preparation for the eventual research, I had to put aside my dreams of learning what effective humane education looks like, and focus on understanding the forms of environmental education that already exist here.

But there is a tiny corpse in the left part of my peripheral vision that must hold me to not stray too far from my dream. Because it is clear that it is suffering that I want to reduce. Anyone’s suffering.

The more I live, the more baffled I am that human beings have been given such extraordinary power over other life forms on this planet. Once we toiled to obtain our food and shelter, which came from animals and plants. I don’t want to romanticize that past, but it did involve a deep understanding and respect for these other species, these other ways of being in this world. Now, upon a whim, to satisfy wants and not needs, millions of animals suffer in factory farms, and thousands of plant & animal species have become extinct due to habitat loss and the bushmeat trade.

So much suffering is so unnecessary.

There is the inescapable truth that every human, just like every other living being, needs a certain amount of resources to survive, and ideally, to thrive. Each of us takes up a certain amount of space, and we humans can choose both the quantity and quality of that space. When it comes to the physical resources needed to sustain us, each day is full of decisions: Will I buy fruit from a local farmer who takes good care of her land, or from some nameless agribusiness? Turn off the tap while I brush my teeth or leave the water running? Refuse to buy meat produced by factory farms, or buy the cheaper fast food? Buy that cheap plastic gadget from China that will be thrown out, or the locally made handiwork? Each of these choices may seem, individually, to be trivial, of no consequence. But collectively, our individual actions have created the world the way it is now.

Are you happy with the way the world is now? I’m not. There is so much suffering, so much inequality.

But the world is also a beautiful, marvelous, and inspiring place, and so I have hope. Hope that not only can much of the suffering today be ended, but hope also that all of us can live more, can thrive and flourish. In other words, I believe it is possible to reduce suffering AND increase joy.

So let me tell you about Today’s mouse. Georgetown, Guyana, 2010. I’d been in the backyard with my host as he fed the two dogs, which included a complex array of supplements, and picked pawpaws. I ate one of the pawpaws, then settled in at the kitchen table to do some work before dinner. When finally a tiny figure caught my eye. The mouse lay on her side, fur torn out in places, covered with a sheen of glue, and with a sickening feeling, I realized what those cardboard rectangles in the kitchen were: glue traps. This must be one of the most ghastly inventions, and one of the cruelest ways possible to kill an animal. Once caught in the glue, the mouse struggles to get free, losing fur, possibly ripping of skin too, until, terrified but exhausted, the mouse is still. Based on the number of droppings behind this mouse, I could tell she had been terrified and stuck there for some time. Time slowed, the only movement was her labored breathing, as I tried to figure out what to do, while simultaneously my cell was ringing. My host returned and I showed him. He was about to leave, and said he would deal with it later. “But the mouse is still alive. Its suffering.” I considered a cervical dislocation (neck-breaking), but would need a glove for my own safety and realized I may do a bad job since the mouse was stuck in the glue. “What do you suggest?” he asked. “Blunt trauma.” A nice way to say bash the little skull in. So my host got a shoe. 

When the cardboard rectangle was moved out in the open, the mouse began to struggle again, to try to escape. The first strike was mislaid, the glue making it difficult. So was the second. The third may have cracked the skull, but it was finally the fourth that was certain, and the convulsive kicks off the hind legs confirmed death. “His life is ebbing away,” commented my host, who seemed bemused though sympathetic to my obvious distress about the glue traps and the suffering and death of this particular mouse. I learned the glue traps have become popular here. What can I do? Why aren’t the more humane snap traps being used? And why haven’t ultrasound deterrent technologies been perfected as a humane way to keep mice and rats away?

The image is so terrible, let us take a break from it.

So now let me tell you about Yesterday’s mouse. Montreal, Canada, 2002. I was just about to move out of my downtown apartment to live with my then boyfriend in Ottawa. I woke up, drifted into the kitchen without my glasses on. I noticed a brown form in the water in the sink, and, squinting at it, realized it was a mouse. “That’s sad,” I thought, “a mouse drowned in my sink.” Then she moved, and I realized the tiny creature was still alive and had survived by clinging to a yogurt container lid. I awoke my boyfriend, we put tissue in a big ice cream tub, found a glove, and I offered my gloved hand to the little soaked creature. She climbed onto my hand, and I placed her gently into the container.

We had three choices: kill her, release her to be vermin in someone else’s apartment, or keep her.

We kept her.

I learned so much from her and the tame friend we got for her, and put my prejudices aside based on real experience with her, rather than on my assumptions.

Now back to Georgetown, where I try to write with Today’s bedraggled dead mouse in view. My host’s granddaughter begins to watch Ratatouille, and I am drawn into the story, a funny and clever account of a gifted rat who longs to be a chef. I wonder if it improves viewers attitudes towards rats? The film puts them in a positive light, and the message is important: not to write anyone off, and to have an open mind. And so that same old question again: why am I researching humane or environmental education when the arts are probably our best bet to promote humane treatment of animals? Why not write anti-glue trap songs and try to become a pop star? Is it possible that exposure to a few minutes or hours of art can do more than days and months of classes?

Then Ms. E comes back with a mission: to fry bakes tonight for breakfast tomorrow. Her method is a bit different from the way I was taught, and I enjoy learning from her. Then another bedraggled mouse appears, stumbling and confused, in the brightly lit kitchen. I steer this mouse towards a closed door to the outside, and she is able to escape. But I say to Ms. E that this mouse must be sick or injured, a mouse would never come out in the light like that, and she seemed to be limping and confused.

And this leads us to Tomorrow’s mouse: will it be Ratatouille or the poor little injured sick mouse slipping out the kitchen door? Will we use our human ingenuity to work on humane ways to control nuisance animals, or continue the cruel status quo? It’s our choice.

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