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By Gabriella Chapman
Residents of far-flung areas in Guyana are most times at a grave disadvantage when it comes to access to tertiary level education. The mountain of expenses incurred to advance in their career is most times beyond their reach.
However, over the years with much resilience and determination youths in these areas have been excelling despite all odds. In fact, in 2016, the University of Guyana made available several online programmes for students who cannot attend on campus. But this too, posed difficulties in communities where internet connection is nonexistent.
Speaking about defying the odds, Village Voice News presents to you Miriam Douglas, a young woman who grew up in a small village in Region 10 called ‘New Found Out’, popularly known as ‘Goshen’, which is located on the Essequibo River, across from Bartica. In an interview with with this newspaper, Douglas shared her challenging experience, pursuing her Bachelor’s Degree online, in Goshen using money raised from her craft business.
Growing up in the small village, she said that her family was very close-knitted and supportive. And despite growing up with parents who did not receive a formal secondary education, they played an integral role in the education of their three children. “Every evening they would sit us down at the table and have us do our homework or some form of revision. From a very young age, I loved learning, so I travelled everyday by boat to attend school whether it rained or shine. I attended the Holy Name Nursery and Primary Schools at River’s View, Essequibo River. I was the valedictorian when I graduated primary school and was awarded a hinterland scholarship to attend the Bartica Secondary School now known as the Three Miles Secondary School. I did my CSEC exams at a very painful and difficult time as my parents separated the day before those exams commenced, I cried until my eyes felt like there was sand under the lids. Thankfully, my class teacher Ms. Tamika Edwards prayed with me every morning and I recited the memory verse on my 10 fingers throughout the exam period: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13. Many days I didn’t want to sit the exams, but I wrote nine subjects and was the second best graduating student for the region that year,” she recounted.
In Goshen her childhood aspiration was to become a teacher, as she would have practiced while playing with her cousins when they were younger. However, with her business knowledge gained in school, she was able to secure a job as banker at one of the banks in Bartica. This position Douglas maintained for approximately five years.
She told Village Voice News that a feeling of stagnation came upon her as there wasn’t much scope for advancement. “I desperately wanted to further my studies but there were no tertiary programmes being offered in Bartica at the time. I felt stagnant… On the other hand, I would have had to relocate to Georgetown if I wanted to attend university. I didn’t want to waste away my years not doing anything academically, so by faith I applied to the University of Guyana in 2015 to pursue the Diploma programme in Tourism Studies as this was and still is one of my passions – to enhance the tourism sector of my community and country. I submitted my application without knowing the cost, I also didn’t know where I was going to find the tuition fees nor did I have any idea where I would find accommodation as this course was full time, and I would have to attend classes on campus. I was accepted, however, enough people did not apply in order to proceed with the course. I was a bit disappointed and relieved at the same time. Nevertheless, this did not deter me from furthering my studies,” she shared
“In 2016,” she further recalled, “I learnt of the online programmes being offered by the University, but none was related to banking, yet I still wanted to pursue a tertiary education. So I chose the one closest to my heart, which is Environmental Management and Technology.”
The young woman said the journey was the toughest. She was a student with a business background from Secondary School who was pursuing a degree in the Science field at University level, living in a community with extremely poor internet connectivity, and inadequate financial support.
I wanted to quit
“The first two years didn’t look too promising as my grades were not up to my standards. I wanted to quit after the first year and I applied for leave of absence in the second year to get myself together… I had to accumulate funds for my tuition fees, juggle being a full time employee and pursue my studies. All of these were minor issues when compared to my major challenge of proper internet access. I had to relocate to Bartica to access better internet but you can imagine my disappointment when I tried to login and it said ‘this page cannot be displayed’ which was a frequent message throughout the four years. I had many sleepless nights trying to download material, do research and complete assignments. I can vividly recall several occasions while writing online exams, which were timed exams, I would watch the timer counting down the minutes and my questions just weren’t loading and I’m sitting there feeling helpless, panicking, sweating, my heart rate increasing rapidly while I’m making a mess of my hair trying to stay focused and remain calm. The internet is extremely slow and quite often would disconnect from 11PM and reconnect at 7AM which was the only period of time I had reserved for my studies but I did what I could with what I had and managed to complete my degree successfully,” Douglas detailed.
Now she is proud to say that she graduated University debt free. “Accumulating tuition fees wasn’t an easy task. I even turned one of my hobbies into a little business. I make handmade customised bracelets from recycled plastic and thread on special orders. I do not advertise it much because it is time consuming but I needed the money at the time and some of my friends really did support me. If you ordered one of my handmade bracelets, you contributed to my success so thank you very much,” she noted.
Gaining employment is still a challenge however, especially in her community. For this reason, she said she may have to move in the future, should the opportunity arise. However, she also mentioned that regardless of this, she will still be committed to her community’s development.
“Bartica is currently the model Green Town so I would gladly collaborate with our Mayor who is currently doing an excellent job with keeping the environment clean, green and pristine. I believe that us humans are the creators of our own destruction; however, it is us who have to change our habits and use our creativity to make positive and wise decisions to preserve our environment so that our future generations can enjoy and live in this very environment.
As I was learning, I was also sharing my knowledge with my colleagues, friends and family about ways in which we need to reduce our energy consumption and ultimately lower our carbon footprint. The impact of climate change is creeping up on us whether we acknowledge it or not. I would be more than happy to do my part to make Bartica the model Green Town,” she posited.