Jack Bailey's Gap Year Grant report 2019
We awarded a Gap Year Grant to Jack Bailey. Jack worked as
a volunteer teacher in rural Sand Creek, Guyana. This is his
report on his return.
A year in Guyana: an adventure into the unknown, Jack Bailey
On the 23 August 2018 I embarked on a journey that would take
me across the world to Guyana (a country I had little idea
about), to volunteer as a teacher (an occupation I had little
experience in) and live independently for the first time.
This was a huge leap of faith, but one year on I’m home
again, having learned a huge amount about myself, the people I
was living with, and the world.
Sand Creek Secondary School
I moved to Sand Creek, South Central, Region #9, Guyana. A
village positioned between the expansive savannah and the
impressive jungles. This was a place impacted by colonialism
and more obviously, by Christianity.
My school, Sand Creek Secondary School, was one of 4 schools
in the region and served the surrounding villages. There were
250 students from years 7 to 11, with students in year 11
sitting their CXC’s (GCSE equivalent). In terms of their
teaching staff, there were about 20 teachers, but quantity is
pished above quality. Students who failed 1 or more of their
CXCs are now teachers in the same subjects. Therefore, with
both GCSEs and A Levels I was more qualified than most. That’s
not to say it was easy at all.
The school environment is very different. Corporal punishment
is still legal and very much used (and more commonly
threatened). Teachers commonly have very little patience.
Teaching methods tend to include reading from a textbook for
students to copy, or writing on the chalkboard, again for
students to copy. So, the idea for me was to show the students
how to enjoy school and learn whilst having fun.
In terms of communication, there is a village radio to
contact nearby villages. The radio operates on solar and was
patchy at best, the WiFi situation was similar. The school had
free, government provided WiFi, although it only worked when
the sun was shining and even then ‘worked’ is generous. So,
communication with family was done via WhatsApp, with phone
calls a handful of times throughout the year.
"Sir, how do you know all of this information?"
As a teacher, I was involved in teaching students in year 7,
9 and 10 maths, science and geography. Maths and science were
the ‘easy’ subjects as they were common in the school with
resources and teachers to ask for help.
On the other hand, geography was brand new, introduced for
the first time by yours truly. The school had 4 CXC textbooks
as well as some British A level resources but no curriculum or
guide for teaching it. So, I wrote my own. I found this hugely
enjoyable as I choose subjects that gave the students a view
of the world around them, their impact on it and how it’s
changing - areas that I'm passionate about.
A memorable moment for me was whilst teaching students about
the world’s continents, a student stopped me to ask “Sir, how
do you know all of this information?”. These students are
disconnected from what is going on around the world and for me
to be able to stand in front of them and answer all their
questions about the animals that live in Europe, what the
temperatures are like in Australia or even the languages
spoken across the Americas boggles their minds.
I found all my teaching hugely rewarding, especially with the
younger students who would sometimes be the sunshine in your
day, and other days they would be the hardest class. They
ended up teaching me a lot about patience and perseverance
(it’s not just the students that learn in school). For
science, I taught at year 9 level and in Guyana they have a
national exam at this level. I was responsible for coaching 42
students through coursework and how to answer the exam
questions. A challenging experience when some students don’t
want to help themselves, but together we got through it and
I’m just as nervous for the results as they are.
At the end of a year of teaching, both my students and I had
been on a journey. From my first day teaching to my last and
from their first day in secondary school and still many more
to go. My time there was short at only a year. But I would
hope to have left a lasting memory with my students, of
perseverance, of learning from mistakes, and of having fun and
The day to day struggle, and generosity
Although teaching was a large part of my year, I was also
living amongst an indigenous Amerindian community. A community
below the poverty line, but regardless get on and live their
lives. They work on their farms to provide vegetables and
provisions for their community. They train as cowboys to herd
their horses and cattle in order to earn some money. This is a
place where laziness isn’t allowed, as it doesn’t put food on
the table. That is the day to day struggle, what will we eat
today? Where will it come from? Through their struggle they
are the most generous and kind people I have known. Everyone
knows everyone, says hello to everyone and helps when they’re
To exemplify generosity, I will tell a little story. There
was a time that I visited my friend’s house, they are a family
of about 12. I stayed for a while and chatted and played with
their children. When I get up to leave, they hand me half a
bunch of bananas. Half of their last bunch. They don’t know
when they will next get fruit, fruit that is their breakfast
and snack. If I was to politely refuse, they would be
offended, they are offering, and I must accept. Can you
imagine your friend turning around and offering you a similar
proportion of their monthly salary?
I have to say, my experiences in Guyana have had a profound
impact on me. I have jumped into the deep end of the deepest
pool I know and not drowned but thrived. I made lifelong
friends, I helped shape the futures of my students and I
gained memories that will never fade.
Finally, I would like to extend a huge thank you to those
who supported me along the way. Without the support of trusts,
like your own, I would not be able to have experienced all
these amazing experiences and been able to offer my support to
a community in need.