Asian District Night Market–February 29th, 2020

Live painting at Asian District Night Market 2020 in Mesa, AZ
February 29th, 2020 | Photo taken by Monica Zimmerman

Early February, I was approached through Instagram by one of the entertainment coordinators that works with the Arizona Asian Chamber of Commerce (AACC) to do a live painting at their annual Asian District Night Market (ADNM). The AACC is a non-profit that supports Asian-American small businesses in Arizona. Every year, they host ADNM to celebrate Asian American business owners, artists, performers, and vendors. Usually it is held in Phoenix, but due to the relocation of many Asian American communities in the Area, it was held in Mesa for the first time this year.

I was pretty shocked to have been asked to do a live painting seeing as my resume is still building a reputation. She said she found me while scrolling through #phxfirstfriday posts and really loved my work from my recent feature at New City Studio. I didn’t get paid much for the gig, but I did get paid to do it–which is a first in my career and worth appreciating even if it wasn’t a lot.

Live Painting Set-Up at Asian District Night Market in Mesa, AZ
February 29th, 2020 | Photo taken by Monica Zimmerman

The headlining acts of the night were AJ Rafael and Ruby Ibarra, two filipinos that have impacted the music industry in more ways than one. I didn’t know about Ruby Ibarra until the event, but I grew up listening to AJ Rafael in my teens. He’s a Youtube Legend and a part of a generation of Asian Americans who really transformed how artists can use Youtube for their music. When I saw the promotion flyer with our names on it together, it was kind of a surreal moment.

I had never painted in front of a live audience before so I was pretty nervous. I read up on some live painting tips and decided to sketch my portrait the night before so that I was less likely to panic the night of. It helped a lot going in with a plan. I painted an oil portrait on a 20×24 canvas.

Why did you choose oil paints?

Most people would suggest using acrylic paints bc it dries faster and it doesn’t take quite as long to prepare/clean up. However, I chose to use oil paint because I work faster with it and I was worried about finishing the painting on time. I only had about 3-3 1/2 hours. The preparation/clean up was messy, but I personally like the slow process of taking care my paints. The important thing is to consider your goals for the live painting and to go with what you’re most comfortable.

How did you decide a 20×24 canvas was the right size for the live painting?

The coordinator didn’t give me any guidelines, so I had total freedom in making those creative decisions. I chose from in my inventory of blank canvases at home bc I didn’t want to spend any money on new supplies for the event. Ultimately based my choice on what I thought I could finish in 3 hours. That was my priority. I’m sure I could have painted on a larger canvas, but I also went with what felt safe to me. I was already taking a risk of being an unexperienced live painter… lol

“Golden Hour.” by Melanie Nicole. February 2020. Oil on 20×24 Gallery Wrapped Duck Cotton Canvas.

What inspired the portrait?

First it was the golden poppies that grew in front of my grandparents house. Thinking of them brings me a lot of joy. They’re the reason my family and I get opportunities like this. And secondly, just feeling really happy to be representing Asian American females with brown skin at this event. In a world of color, I mostly just see white–even amongst the Asian American community. In many Asian cultures, people with brown skin are not as highly praised as those with lighter complexions. Many young girls grow up feeling afraid of the sun and becoming too dark bc we fear it will limit our opportunites or decrease our worth. So with my art, I wanted create space for myself and others alike to be appreciated and respected for our skin color.

Thank you AACC for having me.

If you want to learn more about AACC, please visit their website here:
https://azasianchamber.com/

New City Studio–January 7th to January 17th, 2020

I’m new to the Phoenix area so I don’t know a whole lot yet on how to get involved in the art scene, but by the luck of hashtags, the art curator for New City Studio discovered my floral artwork on Instagram and asked me to be a part of their January showcase. The theme was “All Natural” and featured many artists in the area. There was no fee and all commissions were 100% the artists.

This was my first “Phoenix First Fridays” which is a monthly art walk in the city. Galleries open up, bottles of wine are shared, friends gather, and Phoenix artists get to showcase their work. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the luxury to enjoy these nights fully on my own, but I had so much fun being a part of it. There’s something about seeing your work up on white walls.

(Left) “Gratitude.” Acrylic on 36 x 48 Canvas
(Right) “Becoming.” Acrylic on 30 x 40 Canvas
This artwork is one-of-a-kind authentic, original artwork.
All copy right and reproduction rights are reserved by Melanie Nicole.

Probably one of my favorite moments was taking my niece to the gallery. I love being an auntie to her and I love being closer to my family. For 6-8 years, we were all living in different places in the world. Italy, Guyana, Texas. I think at the time it’s what we all wanted, but I think we’re all searching to lay some roots down somewhere. At least I am. And I’m incredibly happy to have started here in the desert.

Me and my niece viewing my artwork at New City Studio.

Ironically, the day of the opening reception was also my last day of work in community nutrition. If you didn’t know, I had been pursing a career in nutrition for the past 6-7 years. Graduating with a degree in Dietetics, working as a diet technican for awhile, and to my own distaste widely referred throughout my Peace Corps service as “the nutritionist”–it seemed like I was on track to achieving the security I thought this career would give me.

Post graduating, post building years of experience, post serving in Peace Corps… I got a job in the field WAY below my means to be financially independent. And time and time again, I was told in order to get better paying positions (and by better, I only mean 45-50k starting) I needed to go through a 9-month internship (that you pay for) and potentially a Master’s Degree (that you also pay for). Looking at those odds and also how miserable the work made me, I finally quit. Haven’t I already done enough?

In the movies, I feel like people are so happy when they give up their corperate jobs and pursue their creativity full time. I half expected there to be music playing and a party thrown in my honor. But I did not feel happy. I did not hear the music. And I did not throw a party. I was crushed.

6-7 years of my life, tens of thousands of dollars into a degree, and all the hard work/sacrifice… for what? It just all felt like a waste and I felt so disappointed. Not because I quit, but because those things didn’t give me the life I needed it to… that I thought was guaranteed to me.

It took time to process that.

In the end, I learned again that nothing is ever guaranteed to me. No matter how many years I put in, no matter how much money I invest, no matter how many prayers I pray. It’s always about what choices I make and living with those results. I had to change what that meant entirely and ask myself “what do you want out of this life?”

I want to choose to take a chance on myself.
To grab hold of new opportunities that make me feel good.
To do something I never thought I could.
To make choices that are for my health and well-being.
To say yes to what recognizes my value and talent.
And to say no to what doesn’t.

Being a nutritionist, I didn’t accomplish a whole lot of that.
But as an artist? Well, that’s what this is all about for me.

RAW Artists–November 7th, 2019

RAW Artists: STELLAR at The Pressroom–PHX, AZ

I kid you not, I was sitting in a pizza place with my co-workers on our lunch break when I suddenly received an email from RAW Artists to be featured at an upcoming show. I had maybe 2-3 paintings finished at the time and was still trying to figure out if I was a “true” artist. But here I was responding to an inquiry for my first showcase.

I had never heard of RAW Artists before, and quite frankly, I totally thought I was being scammed. But after talking with that art curator (and after a deep dive search through google), I realized it was legit. Can’t blame me, I’m new to the scene.

If you are/were as clueless as me, let me tell you about RAW Artists.

It’s a giant art production of different local artists in your area. They reach out to fashion designers, make-up artists, illustrators, painters, potters–you name it. There is a daunting $500 fee for each artist, which I believe is it’s biggest turn off. RAW Artists encourage you to sell 20 tickets to your friends, family, and fans for $25/each to reach the amount.

How did you come up with $500?

I’m incredibly new to the art industry and didn’t have (and still don’t) have a large fan base, but I’m really fortunate to have friends and family that are ridiculously supportive. I made a list of people I thought would be willing to buy a ticket and offered a free print of my artwork in return. I didn’t make a great big announcement on my social media about it, but instead reached out to each person personally. I found that to be very important and I think my friends/family appreciated it too. With their help, I managed to raise the $500 without having to contribute from my own bank account.

What was the event like?

I think there were about 50+ other vendors there. We each had a 6ft x 6ft metal fence to hang our artwork and about 4ft out to put tables, chairs, or other display items. It’s not much, but the challenge of figuring that out is half the fun.

Full artwork display at RAW Artists: STELLAR at The Pressroom–PHX, AZ

There were TONS of people there. My brother said there was a long ass line out the door just to get in. Just think about it, 50+ vendors who brought 10-20 ppl to the event–that’s nearly 500-1000 ppl coming through who are all really supportive of art. The energy was wild.

Did you gain anything from it?

I didn’t sell anything, but that’s ok. I enjoyed the experience in full connecting with other dope artists and introducing myself to people who thought my artwork was incredible. I felt validated as a “true artist” for the first time and it really inspired me to take my talent even more seriously.

Do you recommend participating in Raw ARTISTS events?

Definitely! I was mostly motivated by the opportunity to experience my first show. Learning how to talk to people as an artist and just not someone who paints. Taking my first step into the scene outside of social media. Legitmizing my career. This was really the beginning for me and I’m so thankful for it.

There’s pros and cons to it, but don’t like the feeling of not being “ready” stop you from trying it out. Take on the challenge of “ok, what do I need to do now to BE ready.” You got this.

If you have any questions about the event, please leave your comments below!

custom tattoo designs

I didn’t expect designing tattoos to be what people desired most from me. It’s a huge honor and I love getting the opportunity to collaborate with people creatively.

If you’re interested in a custom tattoo design, email me at melanienicoleart@gmail.com and let’s get started!

eclectic animal series

“Unmoved.” 2014
“Hello, hello.” 2016
“Bluebeary.” 2016

I really started to discover bits of my style and brand through these animals.
I made them out of curiousity and wanted to express that by using acrylic paint and trying to achieve a watercolour look. They were opportunities for me to explore different combinations of colors and work on skills that came naturally to me.

it’s not a goodbye, guyana

I’m sitting in my classroom at the primary school and outside my door are kids running about on the field.

Falling.
Laughing.
Dancing.
Jumping.
Yelling.
Pushing.

We’re celebrating Phagwah (or Holi), a Hindu festival of colors. The teachers have provided seven curry, the kids are ready to throw powder. I’m just happy to be here.

I’ve caught myself tearing up on my drives back and forth to Georgetown lately. Everytime I recognize how beautiful Berbice is with it’s rice fields and coconut tree forests or when one of my favorite soca songs play on the radio and I remember the people I danced with to them.

I like that I had a “normal” life here. Well, as normal as it might get for an American. One where I woke up in my own house, cooked my own breakfast, sipped on tea in while getting ready for work, washed my clothes in buckets, sat on verandas to gaff, said good morning and good night to my neighbors, went out for beers with friends after a long day, endured painful waits for cars and buses and boats and people, did nothing for days at a time, walked to the market every week, attended weddings and birthdays and dinner parties, paid my bills late and had my electricity cut off, participated in holidays and celebrations in my community, invited people into my house and into my life, and did so everyday for two years.

When I applied for Peace Corps, I half expected my experience to reflect the travel documentaries I love so much. But with how my time here unfolded, I can say that the things that made this experience extraordinary weren’t something I could film, record, or take a picture of. They were the kind of moments that while they were happening, you realized they were special. The kind of moments that could not have happened anywhere else. Moments that are strong enough to leave an impression in your memories, that when you think of them, you know those moments are irreplaceable. Moments you just have to keep to yourself. The ones you just had to be there for.

I had many of those moments.

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting over again. New town, new home, new strangers. New adjustments, new problems, new lessons. I am filled with excitement and anxiety. Many of you are curious about what’s next for me, but I don’t have any big plans to share with you. There’s a lot pressure to figure something out, but I’m just trying to come back to the US–with Mango, of course–and settle in.

I’ve moved around a lot in my life. From California to Texas to Arkansas to Guyana. You’d think I’d be better at saying goodbye by now, but I decided a long time ago that it’s okay to be an emotional wreck in airports. Leaving people you love never gets easier.


Thank you to my host family.

I wouldn’t have survived without you all. You were my safety and my security in Guyana. I owe any and all the success I’ve had here to how you loved me the last two years. You really treated me like family and welcomed me into your lives with wide open arms. You have been the best part of my service.

Thank you to the friends I’ve made in Guyana.

In a time when I was losing my identity to just being a volunteer, you helped me feel like myself again. Your company saved me in so many ways. I’ve never had friendships like this, even in the US, and I’ll continue to keep them close to me.

Thank you to my fellow PCVs.

We’ve had some good times and some really bad, but we made it to the end. I’m thankful to have done my service with and beside you. We’re all off on new adventures in new places and I wish you all the best.

Thank you to Guyana.

You’re beautiful, generous, and an undiscovered treasure in this world. But you are also one tough-ass country and you made me stronger.

Thank you to you.

My friends and family at home who have taken the time to read all my blogs, emails, and messages from Guyana. Your interest and support has been affirming to me that I’ve got a good team of people on my side. You’ve been understanding and compassionate towards my experiences, and I appreciate how much you’ve cared. I don’t take it for granted.

I’ll be back someday, Guyana.

Love always,
Mel

guyana gold

I was told guyana is rich in gold

it’s in the quiet mornings and still nights
when the choir of crickets and mysterious creatures
sing to me hello and whisper to me goodnight

it’s in the kids I teach
miss! miss! miss!
is there health club today?
god, i love their little faces

it’s in the warm bake
the ones that grandma makes
fresh from her over
sweet, soft, and salty

it’s in the forest of coconut trees
the black mirrored rivers
something I’ve never seen

it’s in the days I have to myself
to read and cook
quietly alone in my little home

it’s in practicing peace and contentment
mastering the art of doing nothing
relax you poor american
allow yourself to be ok with boredom

it’s in the calls I get
the letters, emails, and care packages
friendly reminders that I’m loved and remembered

it’s in the friends I’ve made
the fun times we’ve had
dancing and drinking
laying in beds gaffing
sleepovers and game nights
cookouts and cricket

it’s in the stars
I had never seen so many
the galaxy shining so clearly
the universe wrapped around me

it’s in the process of unlearning
letting go of a past self
embracing who I am now
entering a world different than mine
learning to appreciate it
respect it
equally as my own

it’s in what I’ve seen
what I’ve touched
what I’ve felt
what I don’t understand
what I can’t explain

it’s in the reasons I’ve stayed
the reasons I’ve grown
the reasons I’ve changed

I found my guyana gold
and I’ll never be the same.

depression and anxiety during my peace corps service

it’s new years eve so naturally I am feeling reflective.

in april, a group of volunteers and I were robbed. luckily, none of us were home at the time, but it was still a shocking experience seeing 10-15 backpacks ransacked and ripped apart on the floor. I headed into that weekend with already high levels of stress having just said goodbye to someone I love and hearing  bad news from home. the robbery was the cherry on top of my impending panic attack.

it seemed clear to me in that moment that I needed to go home. whether for good or for a short period of time, that much I wasn’t sure of yet, but I needed to leave. sometimes perseverance isn’t a matter of pushing any further.

I replayed the events in my head and concluded that my mental health was suffering long before the robbery even happened. we brush on the subject of mental health during training sessions and sometimes in casual conversations, but we don’t often talk about what we do about these conditions during service.

coping strategies are obviously limited on different degrees depending on where your site it, but limited in some way for all volunteers. for example, I can’t indulge in mint ice cream or go on a run outside in my community when I’m feeling stressed. so what did I do?

I boarded my flight back to guyana with a greater focus on making changes in the things that I could control in my life and becoming more aware of what makes me feel good and what doesn’t. It was a learn as you go process, but this is how i dealt with depression and anxiety during my peace corps service.

GOODBYE COFFEE–I love coffee. the smell, the energy, the life and light it brings to people in the morning. coffee was my love language until I realized it was causing unnecessary stress in my life. I listened to a podcast from Simple Roots Radio called Is Caffeine Harming Your Hormones? (give it a listen!) and started wondering if coffee, my sweet sweet coffee, was impacting my mental health. i’ve gone cold-turkey before on a coffee detox and ended up miserable, so don’t do it. I started the process with black tea and after a couple weeks I transitioned to green tea. truthfully, neither of these options were helpful in the morning, but taking coffee out of my diet helped me get more sleep at night and I started noticing that my body was producing more energy on it’s own. which is crazy bc even with coffee, some days I didn’t want to leave my bed. It made me realize that depression isn’t just caused by trauma. You’re not just sad bc of hurt feelings. Food/drinks effects your hormone balance and your hormone balance effects your mental/emotional health too.

SHAUN T–I can’t remember where I read this or heard it, but I learned about a doctor who prescribed his/her patients with an exercise routine before considering any medicine to support their mental health. I gave it a try and committed to shaun t’s max 30 (thanks jami for sharing these videos and mutual feelings for this man). my goal wasn’t to lose weight or get those abs I’ve been wanting since 2010–those reasons weren’t enough for me anymore. my mantra became “any exercise is enough exercise” and it worked. I no longer worried about working out my hardest as long as I was making the effort to work out at all. and with it, I gained a greater acceptance for my physical limitations. it was two months of my life that I sweated in the middle of my living room and laughed and screamed at my laptop every time my arms gave out. i can’t say I get a high in life from exercise like he does, but i do have a clearer mind and more consistent moods these days thanks to those god-awful power jacks.

BREATHING–I learned more about the benefits of breathing through simple yoga and meditation at home thanks to yoga with adrienne videos. I started with her TRUE 30 DAY Yoga Journey and was completely transformed. mindfully connecting to my breath helped me understand my emotions better. I learned that none are final and that the goal is never to stop myself from feeling them. breathing in is an acceptance of what I’m feeling and breathing it out allows them to pass. I became better at liking where I am in life, whether high or low, and being kind. a strength within rose out of me.

COUNSELING–i’m not ashamed to admit that i’ve been in and out of counseling throughout my peace corps service. unfortunately, there are limitations to what peace corps can provide you in terms of supporting your mental health, but don’t hesitate to advocate yourself for this service when you need it. i’ve been through multiple incidents throughout my peace corps service and each time, i asked for counseling to help cope with PTSD. it didn’t solve all my problems, but it did help some. i’ll be the first to say peace corps is not some hippy dippy experience. some serious shit happens, but as volunteers, we can all mutually agree that our tolerance for it is abnormally above average. that being said, you always… you must… do what’s best for you.

UNPLUGGED–i was off of social for about eight months. i recognized how it shaped what I thought of myself, others, and the world. and while i still believe that it has it’s benefits, it wasn’t serving me well. i didn’t like how i branded myself and my life to be something it wasn’t. i didn’t like comparing myself to my friends and family who are getting married, having kids, traveling, eating, and doing. i didn’t like the amount of time i spent coming up with a clever caption for a photo i took a millions time just to get the right angle. it was exhausting and toxic, so I quit. though I am back from my hiatus, I do feel less concerned with the person i want people to think i am and more okay with the person i am already. i take less pictures of the things i do after learning more about the valuable art of being present. It’s made my time in guyana, my relationships, my experiences, my love for myself and others all richer without a number of likes to measure their worth.

though i think the conversation about depression and anxiety has a long way to go, it is changing and i’m incredibly thankful for it. i’m glad people are being more transparent about their story and opening spaces for others like me to share theirs.

my revelation on depression and anxiety is that the condition is caused by many things out of a person’s control–have it be genetics, changes in hormones, grief, chronic stress, abuse, or any combination of sorts. it doesn’t help to blame ourselves for something we didn’t ask for. but what we can do is recognize what we can control. things like what we eat and drink, the people we are surrounded by, the information we fill our minds with, our daily habits, and what we feel and think and say to ourselves. took me a long time to understand that things don’t get better when you wait on circumstances to change. They get better when we make the changes.

there is no perfect recipe of how to deal with depression or anxiety, whether you are a peace corps volunteer or not. these are just a handful of changes I’ve made lately in my life that have made a significant difference in my well-being. feel free to try them and let me know how they work out for you.

we’re all just a work in progress.

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anyway, i’ve got less than 100 days left in peace corps.
cheers to that, everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!

love always,
mel

sanctuary

Sometimes I wonder
What if the story had been written the other way?
Where I, the woman, was spoken to first
The man created from my side to be my helper
The one who broke heaven in a single bite
‘you dumb man, can’t you do anything right?’

Would you then understand what it feels like to be second, below, under, behind?
Would you finally feel the fear that I walk with at night?
Would you be the downfall of all of humanity?

Or would you still get praise from the world?
An applause for sinking you teeth into things that aren’t yours

It is said you are the protector, but to me
you are the predator

I have been a victim
more than once
of your rights and your ways
that let you dance on my dignity
like a stampede of disgusted beasts

Yes, you
You see and you want
You want and you touch
You touch and it is my fault

It is sick.

The color of my skin, the structure of my face, my origin, my organs within
it shouldn’t feel like a prison or a place I can’t escape
It is not an item on the shelf
it is not the blame for anyone’s mistake

my body is a sanctuary
built of pure, divine femininity
built for my brilliance and my beauty
my intelligence and my integrity

my body is my body
your patriarchy can try
but it won’t break

 

 

here

last week, i spent five days hiking through the amazon with eight soulful women up to kaieteur falls.

it started off with a long bus ride on the lethem highway. during the day, you can see how the red road digs its way through the jungle. each dangerous dip and sharp turn was accompanied by a mix of soca, madonna, enrique iglesias, and everyone’s favorite early 2000s r&b/hip hop classics. just another day in a mini bus.

after a quick break, we took another drive through a small town towards the potaro river where we waited in the rain for our boat to take us across to our first camp site. the river is so different in the night. the water is dauntingly still, it was like gliding across liquid glass.

the next day, we took a long boat ride through the potaro river onto amatuk where we would rest before hiking up to kaieteur falls. the sun revealed the living jungle beside us, how it traces along the river. and then there were the mountains that overlook guyana and the mysterious things that inhabit it. i’m far from home.

at the bottom of the mountain, we had a couple warm up hikes where we fell into creeks, bruised our butts on broken branches, unintentionally swung on vines, and constantly slipped on rocks. as we were leaving the first waterfall, i stayed back to take in my surroundings again and was delighted by the company of two blue morpho butterflies dancing together wildly in the wind. i wish i could’ve joined them.

at the guest house, conversations ran deep as we often share our pains and frustrations with service when we get together. but this time with a greater acceptance of the things we’ve seen, experienced, and have survived from. we’ve all lived our own hard life here in guyana but have found strength, resiliency, connection, healing, growth, knowledge, empathy, generosity, understanding of ourselves, understanding of others, and even love because of it. we sense the end is nearing and we feel relieved in a way, but also sad. it’s the final chapter of this book.

finally, we begin our hike to kaieteur falls.

roy, our tour guide, tells us to remain vigilant towards snakes on the ground.

“ok yea, got it. watch out for snakes.”

*side note: everything on the ground resembles a snake.

we step into the breathing green jungle–the layers of giant leaves i’ve only had the pleasure of painting are now brushing against my sweaty skin, the symphony of sounds singing in my ears from the life hidden in the trees, no barriers or beaten path to follow–it was such an unfamiliar world to me.

a few hours later, the canopy of leaves begin to open up and the soil beneath our feet suddenly turns granite. legs are burning, chest is tighting, it was no walk in the park. we’ve reached the top. roy pauses and tells us to close our eyes.

ready? he said.

hand by hand, we’re safely led out to the ledge.

one, two, three.

the excitement overwhelmed us all.
i’m certain none of us had ever been in the presence of anything so beautiful
especially this city slicker

~ the fog and mist kept teasing us
only giving us a glimpse of kaieteur
until it hid him completely
but even the little that we saw was incredible.

we headed back to the cabin to finally put our heavy backpacks down and get out of our sweaty, smelly clothes. we’ll have better luck tomorrow.

though we were sore and sleepy after dinner, we couldn’t wait for the next day and decided to walk to the falls.

i thought it was magnificent before, but the darkness only brought out it’s majesty more.

i remember standing there wondering, how do I make this last?
my first instinct was to take a picture, but my screen only showed black.
it was like the moon only wanted my eyes to see it–how it illuminates kaieteur, brightening the masses of water that jump off the mountain and down into an uncultivated valley.

the moon put it all into perspective.

exist in this moment
breathe in what you see
breathe out what you feel
accept where you are
lean into it
be here.
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love always,
mel

projects and progress

With four months and something days left in my peace corps service, things are coming down to the wire. I’m not sure I used that expression correctly, but either way, I’m in the middle of my project to increase health promotion at the primary school level and time is starting to run out!

Let’s back track for a moment. I don’t work at the hospital anymore, by choice and by circumstance. I won’t go into details as to why but things just weren’t going well there so I turned my attention towards what I could do for the kids I taught at the school.

Alright, back to what I was saying about my current project. I started applying for a grant via PC’s Small Grant Program in May. I spent a few months putting it together trying really hard to involve my counterparts in the process. By the end of August, we had submitted our application and waited for PC Guyana and HQ to give us the green light. It took a couple weeks from that point for us to get approved and funded. After that, we waited patiently-ish for the check to arrive in Guyana (only 2 weeks ago) so we could start the implementation process.

My project consists of 3 parts.

PART 1: Starting a health club

Last school year, I taught HFLE alongside two fabulous teachers. Together, we started the health club at the school and so far it’s been great. Unfortunately but understandably, my partners have not been able to participate in many of the meetings. Nonetheless, over 40 students have attended at least one health club meeting! We’ve so far touched on topics such as self-awareness and self-esteem, body image, and friendships.

My favorite one so far has been our meeting about friendship. The goal was to allow the kids to practice getting to know each other and how to give a gift to someone based on the person’s interests… not theirs. I had the kids partner up and interview each other with questions like “What’s your favorite color? number? animal? food? game?” Afterwards, I had them make friendship bracelets for one another based on what they learned about their friend. Inevitably, beads bounced everywhere… but they loved it so I wasn’t that vexed.

Although the health club has been loads of fun, it’s also been really hectic… With little space and limited supplies, my kids are scrunched up and eager to get their hands on what’s there for them to use before it runs out. But even so, they are enjoying themselves and it makes me super happy when kids run up to in the middle of the week asking “Is there health club today?”

Sadly, I don’t know that this club will continue after I leave.. but at least for now, the kids are getting to experience it.

 

PART 2: Developing the Kid’s Learning Center

The purpose of this room is to connect education to technology. We currently have 4 computers with no practical benefit to the 700+ students at the school. With the new renovations and the addition of a projector, we’re hoping that more students will be able to experience the use of technology in their lessons.

I’ve run into a quite a few bumps in the road getting this room together. Starting off with the construction of the furniture. Alongside the local carpenter I hired for the project, we collected the prices and the materials to build the new furniture. The furniture is meant to maximize the space within the room. He constructed 3 long and thin benches with matching desks and a computer shelf  to fit in the back of the class. With this furniture, we are able to fit a maximum of 20 students comfortably at a time. That’s almost 3x’s more than before. The furniture was built in two days and painted in three, thanks to the local carpenter and my amazingly generous friends.

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We’ve worked almost 2 weeks straight on this part of the project and hopefully by the end of this weekend, it will be completely finished. Initially, two men volunteered to paint the room… but after much thought, I decided to give the task to women.

Even though it is typical for a male to do this kind of labor, I felt like it was an opportunity to show young girls AND young boys that women can do a man’s job. Maybe it will prove that these tasks aren’t limited to a single gender or maybe help break some of the stereotypes that restrict girls from learning specific skills.

At least, that’s the hope. I’m also prepared for the criticism and critique of close-minded individuals who will turn their heads and say they could’ve done better. But I’m also confident that this opens up an opportunity for girls to see themselves not only capable one day, but equal too.

PART 3: Teacher Development

My project is centered around helping the primary school support health promotion and equipping the staff to empower the youth, specifically girls, to take ownership of their health.

This portion of the project has also been challenging. Today, a workshop my colleagues and I have been working hard to put together fell through. That’s just how it goes sometimes–things don’t work out and you have to move on. However, my headmaster and I quickly came up with a solution and I think it will work out for the best. Cross my fingers.

Using the newly developed Kid’s Learning Center, I will hold a workshop series on gender equity. For three days, there will be an hour set aside when school gets out to work with the teachers. I’ve hired a private contractor for the Ministry of Social Cohesion to facilitate a session to help bring awareness to teachers on gender inequity in Guyana. The following two days, my fierce friend and I will continue the conversation on gender stereotypes/norms, how it impacts the health of the student, and how teachers can implement gender equitable practices into their classroom.


 

On paper, this all looks perfect.

But in reality, nothing up to this point has gone smoothly or according to plan. Which, at times, has left me feeling deeply disappointed and hopeless with volunteer guilt. It doesn’t always feel like these projects matter when you look at the greater needs of a developing country or when you’re not sure if your project will be carried on after you leave. That’s just the truth. But I’m taking a shot at it anyway, hoping that my aim towards sustainability is a step forward somewhere for this little corner of Guyana.

Love always,
Mel