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Training Guides in Guyana S.A. - Lesson Learned
The group of guides (and instructor Chuck Lennox- lower right) that received training at Kaieteur National Park, Guyana.
By Chuck Lennox, Principal/Consultant, Cascade Interpretive Consulting LLC
Ecotourism in Guyana
When I first read the initial email inquiry about possible work in Guyana, I thought isn't that in Africa (nope!) and isn’t that where Jonestown was (yup!). Guyana is a small country on the eastern "shoulder" of South America paired with Suriname and French Guiana. Many people confuse its name with the African county of Ghana (thus the initials S.A. after its name above for South America) or identify it with the horrendous Jonestown massacre that occurred in northwestern Guyana in 1978.
The former British colony and only English-speaking country in South America, however, is an up and coming destination for ecotourism. With nearly 80% of its original rainforest habitat intact, Guyana is being added to the must see lists of birders and other eco-tourists.
Interpretive Training Initiative in Guyana
This past summer and fall I ventured south from my home in Seattle, Washington USA to assist in a major ecotourism initiative funded by the United States Agency for International Development – the Guyana Trade and Investment Support (GTIS II) project implemented by the Carana Corporation. The project in the past had provided training in basic guiding and birding skills but determined the next training offering should be in interpretive skills and natural history.
Over the course of two weeks in July 2011 in the first training session, we trained and coached 23 guides ranging in age from 18 to over 50. Experience levels ranged from never having led a group of visitors (yet) to guides who accompany international visitors around the country.
The group of guides and instructor Chuck Lennox (far right) at the Bina Hill Institute, North Rupununi, Guyana. Photo by Kirk Smock, kirksmock.com
The training, held in the interior North Rupununi region of Guyana, was open to guides from around the country. Most of the students were Amerindian which reflected the population of this interior region of the country. I taught four days of interpretive skills and then facilitated the remaining days of training that consisted of risk management, natural history, customer service and anthropology.
Iwokrama International Centre tour guide, Alex Honorio explaining a weather station during of a mock interpretive tour. Photo by Kirk Smock, kirksmock.com
Within the first two days of training, the US AID Mission Director for Guyana, the Guyana Minister of Amerindian Affairs and the Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority all paid a visit to the training site illustrating the high profile the training had for the country.
The group moved around to four different locations so guides could see the diversity of eco-lodges and operations. As an additional experience, we even did an overnight river trip on the Burro Burro River to a hammock camp operated by Surama Village. The guides helped this neophyte hammock sleeper rig his hammock so he didn’t fall over during the night! Travel on the interior rivers is common for access to some of the villages and better wildlife viewing.
Lessons for Interpretive Guide Trainers
I learned as much as the guides during this training. Flexibility and the ability to quickly change direction are paramount. The best lesson plans have to be adjusted or dropped completely depending on circumstances. I learn I can think on my feet. Slowing down and thinking before I talked was another important lesson.
When you get blank stares from students after using the typical American phrase of "foot in the door", you know you have to rethink the words you use. I was the one with the accent and culture colloquiums.
The final evening at Surama Eco-lodge, the entire village invited the training class up to the village from the separate eco-lodge for a feast, cultural presentation and dancing. Some of the guides presented a last minute skit to the village and the class. You know you are appreciated when students make fun of the training they just received and imitate your style. Oh – and a good sense of humor is important to have along as a training tool too!
For more information about this experience, a session will be presented at the National Association for Interpretation's International Conference in Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i May 8-12, 2012.
Author Bio: Chuck Lennox
Chuck Lennox is Principal/Consultant for Cascade Interpretive Consulting LLC. He is an interpretive, informal education and ecotourism consultant based in Seattle, Washington USA and is the incoming Director of NAI’s Region 10 and a new national NAI Board member.