Category Archives: Blog

My surrogate mother(s) in Guyana

By Skyler Jennings

When I first found out I was accepted onto the Texas State Global News Team and was going to Guyana my first thoughts revolved around shear happiness and excitement.

My second thoughts?

I’m leaving the country for twelve days without my mom?!

I put on my big girl pants and pretended I could handle this, that people have gone farther and longer without being by their mom 24/7, because I wanted so much to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

It soon became clear that I hadn’t so much left a mom behind as I had gained two surrogate moms (whether they intended it or not).

My first surrogate mom was my instructor Holly Lynn Wise.

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Holly Lynn Wise on Fort Island in Guyana. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

I first took her class in spring 2017, and that’s when she changed me as a journalist. She taught me about the confidence needed to be a journalist. She’s 100 percent the reason I put my big girl pants on and pretended I could handle this – because she believed in me.

In Guyana, she took on a role of more than just a mentor.

She was the one who asked me every.single.day how I was feeling because she knew I had caught a bug. She’s the one who carried around Advil for me, who ran upstairs at the last minute before the van rolled out for the day to grab medicine for me.

When my imaginary big girl pants had fallen down and I was feeling unsure of myself as a journalist, she approached me every few minutes and coaxed me until I pulled them right back up.

When the days were long and our stomaches were rumbling, she would pull out a bag of trail mix to hold us over. When we needed an ‘American night’ in, she grabbed spaghetti and garlic bread ingredients to help our homesickness.

She was there for me, with me, when I faced my fear of heights and conquered the clocktower in Stabroek Market.

She was so important to the stability I needed while I was miles away from my biological mom.

My other surrogate mom, Sharon Armstead, I didn’t meet until the pre-departure meetings got into full swing in fall 2017. I fully experienced the Armstead love on one of our recreation days in Guyana.

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Sharon Armstead in the speedboat on the Demerara River. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

We were on a small speedboat, filled to capacity with roughly 20 people. I’d never been afraid of boat rides, in fact I’d always enjoyed them, and I did for the ride out to Baganara Island Resort.

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The speedboat we took. Photo by Skyler Jennings/Global News Team.

On the ride back, however, the tide in the Demerara River had changed and the boat ride became one of horror for me. I was sat in the second row, meaning the ride for me was bumpier than it was for most. I was silently trying to conceal my panic attack, embarrassed beyond belief.

Nothing could get by Sharon, who was sat in the first row and caught sight of my silent tears.

Without hesitation, she immediately turned in her seat and grabbed my hand. She leaned in to keep our moment private, and whispered reassuring words in my ear.

She hugged me. She held my hand. She whispered to me. She shared her own experience on this river a year prior that was similar to mine.

For twenty minutes she did this, until we had to stop the boat at an island to get gas and I assured her I was calmed down.

That day, without her love, would have been one I looked back on with pain.

Now, I look back on it with so much happiness in my heart because I know she was there to make sure I was ok, not only because my biological mom couldn’t, but because she truly cared.

Sharon and Holly, my forever surrogate moms: thank you, for so much more than you will ever realize.

 

 

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The adventures of storytelling in a different country

By Ashley Skinner

I was the editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper.

I wrote for my local, hometown paper for three years.

I won State in the news competition my senior year in high school.

I was a reporter and news editor of the Texas State newspaper, the University Star.

Through all that, the hardest thing I’ve had to do regarding journalism was travel to a different country and gather information to write stories weeks later.

At McKenzie High School in Linden, Guyana, we were able to talk with students of all ages. One student, Sharisee, asked me about my field of journalism, and told me she wanted to go into broadcast journalism. Talking with these kids made me realize how they make good out of unideal situations.

Journalists love new experiences and a change of scenery. Going to Guyana, I knew I would get a change of scenery, a new perspective on life and a new experience with storytelling.

However, weeks later, I did not know I would long to tell more of the Guyanese peoples’ stories.

While our team was in Guyana for 11 days, we spent our time listening. We didn’t go through the hospital each day looking for sources; we went through the hospital listening deeply to the community members of Georgetown and Linden, looking for a niche where we could fit to best tell their stories to our communities back in the states.

As we were leaving the high school, I saw a group of kids practicing basketball. Their coach was helping them learn how to work as a team and shoot the ball. I could help but reminisce on my days of playing basketball, wanting to go out there and teach these kids as much as I could.

The hardest part was listening to their voices, so full of passion and pride for their country, and being the person designated to transfer that same passion into a story for others to read.

Like I said, I’ve done this before in my high school community and in the Texas State/San Marcos community. But this, this was so different.

I was dealing with a completely different country that doesn’t really matter to people in the United States, honestly. People here are interested in what we as a team did, not necessarily the content in our stories.

Listening to the people of Guyana broke my heart in some ways. They have gone through so much, but they are strong. They endure life in such a different way than we do and have so many stories to tell about it.

All they needed was a bunch of kids from Texas to listen to them for a few days. In that time we managed to do everything a journalist should do:

We told people’s stories in a way that others can relate.

We showed people how others live; we made them see how good their lives are here in the U.S.

We gave people a reason to take action on things they feel passionate about.

We informed people.

We helped people.

We inspired people.

We are journalists.

The ways I’ve changed

When I left for my study abroad trip in January, I did not think that I was a journalist. I was afraid that my skills would not stack up against the other students that I was headed there with. I had never been off of my own continent and I was just afraid of being away from the safety and security of my own bubble.

When I left for my study abroad trip, I did not think that I would grow to care so much about the group of people that I was with. Strangers at the start of the year and, now, people that I hope to keep in touch with even after the semester has ended. We learned something from each other, and that is what has changed me.

Skyler, a journalism student, that faced her fears and left her comfort of home just as I did. She is brave and can survive any bug bite that she is faced with (at least with an EpiPen in tow). She showed me that I wasn’t alone in my fear and discomfort and that I would be okay, just like she was.

Alana, a fellow Public Relations major, showed me what it means to truly care about and have a passion for the field that you are going into. She is passionate about museums, latinx history, art and photography. From her, I learned to find something that I love and never stop chasing that.

Katie, the sassiest and most outspoken of the group, is so involved in reporting news and writing the best stories that she can. She taught me what it really means to be a journalist and helped me gain skills that I didn’t know I had–like interviewing, gathering sources and being confident in what you are writing about.

Ashley, the inspiring and resilient nineteen year old, really showed me that even if you have been in the trenches at points in your life, you can rise above and come out on top. We shared our stories of childhood and found many points that we could relate on. She is a strong woman who has set her mind to whatever she wants, and I know that she can achieve her dreams. I wish that I had been more like her when I started off as a student–determined, passionate and hard-working.

Last, but certainly not least, Holly Lynn Wise. The most inspiring woman that I have met in my college career. Holly pushed me and convinced me to go on the study abroad trip two days before the application was due. I learned how to use my writing skills, thanks to her, and for that I am very grateful. Journalism aside, I am now passionate about finding my place in the world and using my skills to add to it. Holly showed me what it means to be career-driven and to take your life and run with it. She is caring, kind, compassionate, and I am excited to watch how the next chapter of her life unfolds. I hope she knows how much she means to me and that I would not trade the experiences that I had because of her for anything.

I will not view my life in the same way I did before I left on my study abroad trip. I have determination and the drive to use my skills and have an effect on the world around me.

Featured photo by Alana Zamora/Global News Team

Georgetown Public Hospital functions as the country’s last stop for care

By Katie Burrell

Guyana’s Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation is known as the country’s last-stop hospital, and takes the heaviest load in patient care.

For people in Guyana, it means they likely will be taking a trip abroad for specialized care if they cannot receive it in Georgetown. Being largest public hospital in the country can be costly on the hospital’s budget and resource supply.

Elizabeth Gonsalvez, deputy CEO of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation,  stepped into her position three months ago. She has traveled to other countries including Canada to witness medical care and said shetook her position to improve conditions in her hospital because she knows how many people rely on its care.

“We call it the last-stop hospital because we’ve got lots of hospitals that are out there in the less developed areas and they’re not able to handle some situations,” Gonsalvez said. “We have quite a few specialties that are under one roof. We’re doing pretty good with what we have. I know there is room for improvement.”

In Guyana, hospitals are either privately owned or they are funded through the Ministry of Public Health or the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.

Private hospitals charge patients for care, medications and operations unlike public hospitals which charge nothing for almost all services. Public hospitals rely on the ministry for supplies including medications and tools.

Gonsalvez said she wants to get more equipment for the hospital and give more attention to the nursing staff. She said nurses at the hospital will benefit from more education.

Sharon Armstead, director of clinical education and clinical assistant professor in Texas State University’s department of respiratory care, was born  in Guyana before moving to the United States to pursue a career as a respiratory therapist and later, a clinical professor. Armstead has travelled to Guyana at least four times since 2015, making it a point to visit Georgetown Public Hospital and provide training, advice and supplies.

Armstead compares the hospital to any other in the U.S.; it has hardworking staff doing their best with what they have.

She said the hospital is so inundated with patients it often does not have enough materials to work with. In a hospital with 500 beds and plenty of patients in need of care each day, the last-stop hospital could use more specialized caregivers.

“I think if you add another discipline (respiratory therapy), you would improve the care,” Armstead said. “By literature, it shows a faster recovery time and less time in the ICU for patients.”

Sheik Amir, director of medical services at Georgetown Public Hospital said the hospital does the best with what it has, but would benefit from receiving more supplies from the Ministry of Public Health.

“Patients have a finite limit for what they can pay, so when that happens they come here,” Amir said. “This is the capital of Guyana, the city hospital, so historically this is the better staffed hospital. Generally speaking, most surgeries are being done in this hospital and regional hospitals.”

Amir said he sees how his hospital will improve with the addition of respiratory therapists, or nurses trained to specialize in respiratory care would benefit his hospital which is so responsible for specialized medical care in the country.

Family as a Foundation: Bridges Global Medical Missions

By Lindsey Blisard

Dr. Claudette Heyliger-Thomas founded Bridges Global Medical Missions in 2008 with the sole purpose of giving back to the country that she is from–Guyana.

Her team of volunteer medical professionals ranges from nurses and social workers to doctors of different specialties, such as endocrinologists, gynecologists and cardiologists.

Food For the Poor, an organization in the United States that helps to provide donated items, meals, and healthcare to poor areas, has been one of her greatest supporters. They supported her in the beginning of her mission work and continue to support Bridges Global Medical Missions by donating shoes, clothing and toiletry items for her to distribute in the country.

When Heyliger-Thomas started Bridges, she knew in the beginning it would be challenging to help the entire country, so she decided to start near where her mother grew up – West Coast Berbice and Parika.

On her first medical mission in 2008 to Guyana, Heyliger-Thomas brought along with her a team consisting of her cousin (a cardiologist), her daughter (a surgical resident), her childhood friend (a pharmacist), and her husband’s cousin (a nurse).

“It was family. Family, family, family,” she said. “I talked with them… they jumped on board, and we did it.”

Heyliger-Thomas left Guyana when she was 18 to attend university in Montreal, knowing that when she left, she wanted to be a physician. After going to UMDNJ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, she became a pediatrician and has been doing private practice in Atlanta, Georgia.

In addition to her medical outreach, Heyliger-Thomas has also started a Continuing Medical Education program in Guyana. Since 2009, she and her medical team give lectures at the hospitals that they rotate at, but in the beginning, they felt they were leaving much of the country out and that not enough people were getting chances for expanding their education.

In 2017, as a  collaboration with the University of Guyana, they put out ads in the newspaper to invite nurses, physicians, and allied health professionals to the Continuing Medical Education program. Diversity was important to her in order to get as many people to come to the conference as possible.

The number of people who showed up was something Heyliger-Thomas was not expecting.

“We catered for 100 people and 350 showed up,” she said. “I walked into the room and we were absolutely blown away.”

Sharon Armstead, a respiratory therapist, has been a part of the group since 2015. She is also from Guyana and, with Bridges, was able to return home for the first time since she was a child. She has gone with Bridges back to Guyana in order to help expand the respiratory therapy knowledge in the country.

Armstead said she appreciates Heyliger-Thomas because of the amount of passion she has for her profession and her country.

“She gets people from all over the world and all over the country to come and volunteer their time for free,” she said. “And they come because of Claudette.”

Heyliger-Thomas has several future projects she is working on.

Currently, she is trying to get a grant to help provide support for maternal health and prevent maternal death nationwide. She is also working with the University of Guyana to offer a respiratory therapy program within the school.  

Bridges has worked with the Ministry of Public Health to provide care in the country. During a press conference in January of 2018 at Georgetown Public Hospital, Volda Lawrence, the minister of public health, and Dr. Karen Cummings, the minister within the ministry, explained how important the work that Bridges is doing for the country.

“We do not offer a first-world health service, but I can assure you that we are working towards that,” Lawrence said. “And we will reach our goals.”

Since she is close to retiring from being a physician, Heyliger-Thomas will make Bridges Global Medical Missions her primary focus. She hopes to work toward providing care to many other countries. Originally, her organization was just called Bridges Medical Missions, but after starting her missions and realizing that she wanted to go to places other than Guyana she added Global to expand her mission.

“My focus is not only Guyana,” she said. “My focus is to go to other places in the world.”

Featured image by Nigel Durrant

People are the memories I will never forget

By Katie Burrell

I met so many different people in Guyana from children to elderly to travelers like me. Each person left a memory with me, allowing me to value my time in Guyana even more.

While abroad, we met people from the Ministry of Health who watched over us and helped us get places. They took us to hospitals, schools, and orphanage and a senior citizens home.

I’ll never forget my visit to McKenzie High School. We took a day off of working in the Linden hospital to visit the school and conduct asthma screening.

While we were there, I met students with big dreams of playing in the World Cup, visiting Canada and even a student who will be moving to Texas after she graduates. These students and their goals helped me realize, amid all the excitement, that I was living out one of my high school goals to leave the United States for travel.

While I was watching these kids play soccer in the courtyard, I realized I achieved my goal a few years later that 16 year-old had planned, but I think my trip to Guyana was right on time anyways. These kids inspired me to keep my goals high too, as I’m confident they will surely reach their’s too.

On our last day, one of my favorite memories was making 100 peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches to take to Sofia, a care center for children under 18 who may not have families. Our group hurried to make all of these sandwiches, load donations into two vans and hurry over to the senior home before meeting at Sofia to decorate and meet the kids.

While at the senior home I met with five people who had lived in Guyana all of their lives. There they met their spouse, raised their kids and worked their whole lives. They went to church, read books and told each other stories. Here I made memories listening to others share theirs and it assured me. The seniors talked to me about their travels, their great loves and even the little things they have done daily all their lives to enjoy happiness.

Much further in their lives than the students at the high school, I will remember the zest for life and living out their dreams these people had. One senior told me about her dream to have children and how she had two happy, healthy children who visit her every week. She told me about the joy of ready to grandchildren and sharing a meal with them each week.

The people of Guyana reminded me of the joy that comes from achieving goals and enjoying life as it comes.

When we went to the children’s home we witnessed pure happiness. I watched children run their fingers through their new books, run around with beach balls and stuff yummy peanut butter in their mouths.

In each of the places we went we saw happiness and laughter. We heard stories of dreams and goals being achieved. We exchanged stories of our cultures and of our families back home. I’m grateful to the people I met for being fun and entertaining but for reminding me, during a long journey away from home, why I was there.