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A life-changing trip to Guyana

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Giving back: building site team 4 in Guyana

My name is Darren Woods; I am a senior community support worker at Family Centre and one of the leaders of the Youth Leadership Academy Programme and the Beyond Rugby Programme.

For the past four years we have worked closely with David Thompson, the head of the Bermuda Overseas Missions, to provide youth from these programmes with the opportunity to travel overseas to build houses with Habitat for Humanity.

Thus far, young people have travelled to Bolivia, India, Paraguay, and Malawi.

We believe it is important for youth to have experiences such as the Bermuda Overseas Mission Trip because it opens their eyes to a different reality that enables them to see the struggles they face in a new light.

It is a chance for them to shift their mindset and a chance for them to recognise and take fuller advantage of the opportunities they are thankful for.

This year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to join the group and experience the power of the BOM for myself.

This motivated me to provide this opportunity to eight young people from our programme; this is the greatest number of Family Centre youths to date. We worked alongside youths, their families, donors, and David Thompson to fundraise to make this possible.

On this note, we would like to thank Axis, Validus, Ariel Re, Bacardi, and everyone who gave personal donations to make this experience happen.

This year, 22 volunteers in total travelled to Georgetown, Guyana.

During 17 days, the Bermuda contingent worked four different build sites, successfully supporting four families in the construction or repair of their family’s home.

This was a huge accomplishment for our group!

Not only was it motivating to see the substantial progress we made with somewhat basic tools, it was incredibly humbling to experience the appreciation of the families who we built homes for.

What makes BOM such a powerful experience is both the ability to serve others as well as immerse yourselves in a different culture and landscape.

On our rest days we explored the country visiting orphanages, national parks, eco-resorts and participating in cultural festivities. This was the first time I have had the opportunity to accompany a group of young people from YLA and Beyond Rugby on an overseas trip. It is one I will never forget. It was amazing to watch my guys give all they had on the worksites, build friendships with families, and fully come to understand the immediate impact they were having.

Taking young people outside their comfort zones, to a place where there was limited internet, unfamiliar foods, and a different type of poverty to that which they had seen before, provided us with the space to talk about life and to reflect on their family and personal situations.

We all really looked at our lives, who we are, where we are, what challenges we face and who we want to become.

On the last night, we all reflected on how the trip had changed us and made a personal commitment for how we have to carry this change in lives back in Bermuda.

For example, personally I reflected that I had never physically worked so selflessly for someone else in my life. Watching the Guyanese people make do, and even experience contentment with so little literally changed my perspective on what I need to live a full life.

Therefore, I committed to always reflect on what will really make me happy, and living a simpler life.

This was a life changing experience that we all will never forget.

Learning how others live simply

Name: Asante Darrell

Age: 18

Three words to describe yourself: Humble, appreciative and cultured.

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Unforgettable, meaningful and selfless.

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

I loved experiencing Guyana, the different cultures and different places we visited were inspiring.

Learning about the different ethnic groups, their history and peoples way of life was a real eye-opener.

I enjoyed visiting the waterfalls, going to the various resorts, being on the jungle tour on the boat, eating out at different restaurants and talking to people everywhere I went.

My most enjoyable memory was putting smiles on the faces of the families that we built houses for.

What did you learn from the trip?

I really learnt how others live a simple life.

You don’t have to have a lot of material things to be content. I noticed that in Bermuda we sometimes get caught up in the western way of thinking and lose focus of what’s important.

I personally just want to be happy living a simpler life.

What differences did you see between Guyana and Bermuda?

In Bermuda we take small things for granted and don’t always realise how lucky we are.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

This trip helped us to shape our perspective of what life can be and how other people live in the world.

It pointed out to us how someone can be stuck in the Bermuda bubble and not realise how fortunate we really are.

This trip allowed me and the other young people to experience the other side, feel good about making a difference and appreciate what we have.

Trip put a perspective on life

Name: Freeman Lema

Age: 18

Three words to describe yourself: Fun, hardworking, caring.

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Life changing; humbling; eye opening

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

Having the opportunity to go on a trip like this and work really hard for a family in need was a new experience.

I worked on a house for a family of five who were living in a small “house” that was on the same property as the new house. Every day I would go and look at the old house, think about what it would be like to live there and start my work day focused.

My favourite part was every day the grandmother would come out of the house, smile, wave and thank us for working on the house for her. Seeing her everyday reminded me why I was there, what I was doing and the importance of my work.

I am a hands-on person, so working alongside the Habitat contractor was a cool experience; I really learnt a lot of new things from him and in particular I learnt how to tile. I may surprise my mom and redo our bathroom.

What did you learn from the trip?

Being in a country for 17 days, it’s hard to not learn anything about the country, culture and the people.

We were there for their Emancipation Day and visited their cultural day festivities. Seeing the people all dressed up their African garments, embracing their heritage and culture was something I had never experienced.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

On this trip I learnt that I have the ability to work as a team player with people from different backgrounds, ages and upbringings.

This was something that challenged me at times but a skill that I am proud to leave with. It’s important to be able to work with everyone.

How did you find Guayana?

I noticed that in Guyana they don’t really have any gangs which was shocking to me; they have crime but it is not really gang-related.

I really struggled with that as I couldn’t figure out how in a place that big they didn’t have this problem that was ruining our country.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

Trips like this allow young people to realise everything they do have and to stop getting upset over small material things that don’t really matter.

Some people don’t have anything and we are here worried about sneakers and iPhone.

It really puts prospective on life and it was an amazing life- changing experience that other young people need to have.

Their happiness told me we’d done a good job

Name: Jadon Simmons

Age: 16

Three words to describe yourself: Humble, hardworking, open minded.

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Fun, gratifying and different.

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

One of the major highlights on the trip for me was seeing the people’s faces, when we completed the house.

Their excitement and happiness really let me know we did a great job.

I met and made a lot of new friends from Bermuda on this trip and also met some really cool people, which made the two weeks fly by and a lot of fun.

What did you learn from the trip?

I learnt that the amount of time and organisation it takes to make a trip like this happen. I’m someone who pays attention to small details and I noticed the work our Bermuda leader David Thompson did, and the Guyana Habitat leader did, to ensure things ran smoothly.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

This experience taught me that I am not used to hard work, but I have a strong work ethic. On the worksite some days I really wanted to quit and go home but I knew why I was there and pushed myself beyond what I knew was possible.

What differences did you see between Guyana and Bermuda?

I noticed that we have more opportunities as young people in Bermuda. I attempted to open up and try different foods out there, but there is not anything that compares to my mother’s home-cooked meals.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

This experience shows young people the power of giving back and puts their life into perspective.

It made me check myself

Name: Jahniko Francis

Age: 18

Three words to describe yourself: Respectful, happy and uplifting

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Humbling, inspiring and vibes.

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

I really enjoyed getting to go to a new place for an extended period of time and experience the culture, country and people. I’m used to travelling on rugby trips, but this was a different experience for me.

One of the highlights for me was working on a construction site. It was my first time doing real manual labour. I enjoyed learning new things and working alongside my BOM friends and the Habitat team to build the houses.

What did you learn from the trip?

The importance of being a team player, how to work with other people and how to push myself.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

It’s tough to say this, but I realised that I was selfish, spoilt and ungrateful. I used to complain about lots of small things, like why couldn’t I have a pair of sneakers or other small dumb things. I became friends with one of the workers on my site; he was the same age as me and every day he walked a few miles to the site with no shoes. He didn’t have any gloves or safety goggles or anything. He showed up on time, worked really hard, had a positive attitude and was content with what he had in life. His happiness makes me really think about my life and check myself.

What differences did you see between Guyana and Bermuda?

The biggest difference between Guyana was that the people embrace who they are and don’t try to be anyone else.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

This experience opens up the eyes of young people in how other people live, challenges them to work hard for someone else and shows them what they are capable of.

It’s amazing how resourceful they are

Name: Jahzardae Samuels

Age: 17

Three words to describe yourself: Helpful, caring and respectful.

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Cultural, thought provoking, breath- taking

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

On this trip I had so many different first experiences. We went to see waterfalls, visited different eco-resorts and participated in different cultural activities. The most rewarding part of this experience was interacting and building alongside the families of the houses we built for.

I worked on two different projects while I was there and both of the families were really involved in the building of the site. On one site the mom and her children sat on the steps everyday and watched and helped as best they could. The youngest child became my little mate.

On the other house owner, Shocka, worked with us every day to complete his house, he joked with us, danced with us and was really grateful and appreciative of everything we did.

The other part of this experience I really enjoyed was visiting the Boys’ Orphanage. It was sad, but while we were there playing football and rugby with the guys it was great.

What did you learn from the trip?

On this trip I learnt a lot on the building site. I have worked on building sites locally and we have it easy here because we have a variety of tools including power tools. In Guyana I learnt that sometimes you have to make something out of nothing. The only building materials we had were a hand saw, hammer, shovel, wood, nails, level, rocks, sand, cement and water. From that we made scaffolding, cement, dug foundation and built a whole balcony with pillars. It was amazing how resourceful they were.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

I learnt that I am a hard worker, very helpful, quick-thinker, can follow instructions and that I have a positive attitude — all things that an employer is looking for. I built on my skill set and pushed myself to work hard even when I didn’t want to. All things that I know will serve me well in the future.

What differences did you see between Guyana and Bermuda?

In Bermuda we have it easy; even those who don’t think they do. Before this trip I really thought I had it hard in life and to be completely honest, this is not the case. I am thankful for my family and everything that I do have.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

This trip was an eye-opening experience and it has the potential to change your life around. It’s actually changed my life, made me more grateful, and appreciative. I realise everything I have and the opportunities I need to take advantage of. I plan on reaching my full potential because not everyone has the opportunity to.

Bermuda is very fortunate

Name: Josiah Smith

Age: 18

Three words to describe yourself: Brave, hardworking and open minded.

Three words to describe your experience in Guyana: Humbling, informative and eye opening.

Please share some of the highlights of your journey with us.

This is my third trip with the Bermuda Overseas Mission group and each trip has a different experience, feel and its own highlights. In Guyana, we were able to put on the final touches to two of their building sites. We worked on the electricals, installed windows and painted walls. This was the first time I saw the final product of a building project and seeing a family move into their new home was inspiring and emotional.

In Guyana I really felt that I got to experience the culture, people and vibes. We attended poetry nights, made friends at different national parks, met the families on the worksites and really connected with the Guyana Habitat team.

What did you learn from the trip?

Each trip has a different feel but the one consistent feeling that I have taken from each one is to be appreciative and thankful for everything that I have.

What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

On the trip I learnt a lot about myself and the person who I am shaping up to be.

I am a person who wants to help people, someone who wants to impact the lives of others and make a difference.

I don’t want to just be selfish and live a life that is all about myself.

I know that I love to travel and experience other cultures, but it really brings me a sense of happiness to help other people and give back. I will continue to come on these trips and hope to one day become a Habitat leader and provide young people with similar experiences.

How did you find Guyana? What differences did you see between Guyana and Bermuda?

I found Guyana to be beautifully unique.

It has a lot of natural treasures that I enjoyed learning about and visiting. They call it the land of many waters. The Kiuter Falls were simply breath taking.

I realised that Bermuda is very fortunate; we are very developed, we have strong structures that withstand the elements and our poverty is different from theirs. In Guyana they are below sea level and their houses are mainly built on stilts (if you can afford it). The opportunities for personal development also seem to be quite scarce.

Most people I saw were in survival mode. This is not judged to be a bad thing as generally, people are more willing to do what we label as mediocre jobs to survive. The Guyana people are hardworking, resourceful and resilient because things are not handed to them.

I find in Bermuda we have things too easy, which sometimes breeds a poor work ethic.

Why are experiences like this important for young people to participate in?

On this trip I got to travel with a few of my close friends from rugby and the Youth Leadership Academy.

Watching them step outside of their comfort zone, leave their every day circumstances and leave the social pressure of being a certain person or upholding a certain image that they have in Bermuda was cool to see.

On these trips you get the opportunity to evaluate yourself, you reflect on your life, what you thought you didn’t have or took for granted and really put things into perspective. You start to question and challenge your own thought process around wants versus needs, if you are living up to your full potential and what you should be grateful for.

These are important life lessons that help shape who you are in the long run and, unless exposed, you are stuck in a “Bermuda Westernised mindset”.

The trip is a life-changing experience that is important for any young person to experience.

Enjoying the sights: Darren Woods and Josiah Smith at the waterfalls in Guyana
Giving to others: the building site team 2 in Guyana
Journey of discovery: Darren Woods, fourth left, with the group
Tackling poverty: the teams took rugby to the orphanage and had lots of fun with the children there
Seeing the sights: Darren Woods and Asante Darrell enjoying a river tour