She learned first-hand about the true Guyana

Daniela Spagnuolo and friends in Guyana.
Daniela Spagnuolo and friends in Guyana.

She wanted to explore and figure things out and that’s exactly what U of T Scarborough student Daniela Spagnuolo did on a 10-month internship in Guyana.

Armed with research information and contacts in Guyana through friends here of Guyanese heritage, the 21-year-old from North York related how she had eye-opening experiences, living on her own, working in Georgetown and travelling to several areas of Guyana.

The fourth-year International Development Studies co-op specialist and Political Science major student sat beside me on a flight from Guyana to Toronto recently and spoke of returning with many positive memories.

“For the most part, everything went very well.  I can’t think of anything that affected me in negative way,” she said, adding there wasn’t much of a culture shock.

“My biggest impression was flying over Guyana and I remembered thinking this country is so green and being in Georgetown and thinking, where did all the green go,” she said with a chuckle.

“During my travels in Guyana and getting into the nature and seeing all the natural beauty of Guyana was really great and it’s something that I really enjoyed about being there.”

Why Guyana?  When she applied for the specific undergraduate program, she wanted to get some exposure and chose the co-op / internship program, although, she would then have to spend five years to earn her degree.

With the assistance of CUSO International, a non-profit development organization that matches skilled volunteers with local partners to work on development projects designed to empower impoverished communities, she was assigned to work with the Volunteer Youth Corp in Guyana.

She said the university offered two programs – Volunteer Youth Corp (VYC) and the Jamaican Diaspora Institute in Kingston.  She applied for both spots and was accepted to work with VYC, an opportunity she said, that gave her the exposure and ability to “figure out things.”

She added that CUSO provided training and support for her stint in Guyana.

“I liked the fact that we were living on our own instead of a host family, as that was part of what I wanted to do.” She lived in Georgetown, had a landlord, who she said “looked out for her” and took mini buses to work.

“My position was a technical advisor for the career guidance program, which started by the Volunteer Youth Corp in response to a high youth employment rate in the country.  It has been running for the past three years in Georgetown schools.

“We were working on strengthening the program.  Previously, it was offered in four schools in the fourth form and this year, we extended it to write the curriculum for the year two for the fifth form students and build on the subjects in the previous year.”

She said there are three units within the curriculum – personal development, which helped to identify the students interests and skills, decision making, how to set goals, which are align with what the student is interested in with careers that are available.

Besides, the work she did, Daniela said she loved the people and made many friends. She also enjoyed the food and spices and going to the market and trying different fruits. She brought back a Guyanese cookbook, so she can share the foods she ate for the 10-months.

She visited the mighty Kaieteur Falls and turtle conservation site Shell Beach and went hiking in the North West district.

“I met someone who is working on an agro-tourism centre, which I think is really cool. I went with him to scout out some of the locations and work on the farm they are building there.

“There are a lot of great things and I want to share all the opportunities that Guyana has with people because I think everyone should know about what a wonderful place it is.”

She hopes to return one day but for now she’s heading back to school during the summer and preparing for her thesis for next year.