Fiona Madeleine Craven: The Irish VSO who loves being Guyanese


“It’s just an extremely beautiful country. There’s so much diversity.”
QUOTE:The longer I’ve been here the more this has become my home. I’m not worried about going back home because those relationships are strong and I’ve had them for a long time. I’m more worried about going back home and missing all the friends I have here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back in a work capacity but I will definitely come back on a visit.” GROWING up in a developed country, she had a very privileged upbringing. Nevertheless, she was interested in what was going on in the rest of the world. She knew she had a skill that was valuable overseas and so wanted to offer it to the less fortunate.
Meet the charming Fiona Madeleine Craven who has always wanted to experience a different way of life and who made good use of the opportunity for doing so while she has no family or other ties.
Fiona, who just turned 30, grew up in Ireland in the capital city of Dublin. Having gained her degree in Speech and Language Therapy, a four-year programme she had to complete in Ireland, she gained employment with a government health care agency.
However, with her burning desire to help others, Fiona was fortunate enough to be granted a year of absence from work by her employer. She connected with Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO), an agency which sends volunteers around the world to developing countries.
After going through an application process in Ireland to be assessed and chosen as a volunteer, Fiona began a placement in Guyana. Though she had initially hoped to go to Africa, he did not turn down the offer she got to come to Guyana. In fact, she had never heard of Guyana before and hence thought it would be some place different in the world to live and work.
Having arrived in the country, she has served for the past 14 months as a Speech and Language Therapist following her attachment to the Ministry of Health. She worked on a disability project which is funded through the European Union (EU).
The EU provides funding to VSO to source volunteers with skills to work with people with disabilities, and VSO provides flights, a stipend, and accommodation.
Fiona’s duties while in Guyana include daily coaching of  staff in the Georgetown Public Hospital SLT’s department in clinical techniques for working with paediatrics and adults with communication impairment.
She also worked in a rehabilitation department for adults and in a centre for children with developmental disorders. She liaised with the Health Ministry and international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) to secure financial support for the departments.

Beautiful Guyana
“It’s just an extremely beautiful country. There’s so much diversity. I find that the coastland is completely different from the south so the Rupununi and Georgetown…you can’t compare the two,” she told the Chronicle in an interview.
She loves the friendliness of Guyanese people and the real vibrancy in colour on the streets. The abundance of music in the country is very much fun to her. “I found it very noisy when I first got here and quite difficult to adjust to because at home, things are much more consistent and are less of that noise and unexpected things happening. Now it’s what I love about the country. You wake up and you never know what’s going to happen.”
One of Fiona’s most unforgettable experiences in Guyana is her trip to Kaieteur Falls. After spending only three months in the country, visiting Kaieteur Falls was one of her big trips. “I got to see the rivers. And I did some hiking overland. It was just this incredible natural feature there after the mist cleared. That was very special. When I saw it, I felt I’ve really arrived.”
In addition, sharing in the country’s celebrations such as Phagwah, Diwali, and Mashramani has been really fun experiences for her.
Reflecting on Guyana as compared to her home country, Fiona said in the workplace, people are very smart. “That’s something I will take back with me. I love people going to work in their really high heels walking near all the potholes and it’s not practical but it looks great,” she laughed.
At home, though, she said people are very practical. “So I walk to work with my runners and then I put on my good shoes at work, whereas here, people go to work in their good shoes and then put on their sneakers. I’m always laughing with my workmates about this.”
Fiona also said that in Guyana, people are always changing their hairstyles. “This at first really confused me. I think I’d know somebody and then they change their hairstyle and I can’t recognise them. People are really into their fashions and styles more so than at home.”
As compared with back home, Fiona observed that faith and religion are a very big part of life here and that the pace of life in Guyana is much slower than at home. People have time and it’s no rush, rush, rush, she said.
Fiona is a vegetarian and in terms of food, she said it was not very difficult for her to get items in Georgetown. “The fruits are amazing here so I love to go to Bourda Market and get them because you don’t have that selection back home.”
She said she has never in her life eaten so much rice as during her time in Guyana.  “We, at home, eat a lot of stews that’s made of potatoes. We eat loads and loads of potatoes. Potatoes are like your rice here-potatoes with lamb, carrots and onions and it’s all done in a gravy sauce and then we’d have bread to dip in it.”
Fiona’s friends in Berbice have taught her how to cook a number of local dishes. So at present, she can make a good channa, potato curry, roti and dhal puri. “So I will be going home and giving a lesson to all my friends,” she said.
Having spent only roughly a year, Fiona said it will be very difficult for her to leave. “The longer I’ve been here the more this has become my home. I’m not worried about going back home because those relationships are strong and I’ve had them for a long time. I’m more worried about going back home and missing all the friends I have here. I don’t know if I’ll be able to come back in a work capacity, but I will definitely come back on a visit.”

More Access
Fiona related that she has had a huge amount of job satisfaction in Guyana and has really enjoyed working with her colleagues in the Ministry of Health. “That has been a real plus,” she says.
However, Fiona commented that there needs to be further changes in the education system in Guyana in the way that children are taught. “I think there are definite efforts being made to try to change that but I think students aren’t provided with adequate learning spaces. I’ve gone into some schools where there’s just hundreds of children in a small room in seats separated by black boards…and the noise.”
She said there also needs to be more done to help people with disabilities access services, especially in remote regions.
Fiona also thinks that travelling to see places in Guyana is too expensive. “It needs to be more accessible to its own people to be able to travel around and see,” she opined.
Fiona leaves for her home on May 1 and has not made mosquitoes, other bugs, and cockroaches dampen her spirit. The sacrifices were well worth it, she disclosed.