Guyana lies on the northern coast of South America, surrounded by Venezuela, Brazil, and Suriname. This multi-ethnic country is known for its unspoiled wilderness, and as one of only four non-Spanish speaking countries on the continent.
Guyana was originally inhabited by Arawakan and Carib peoples, Native American groups linguistically and culturally related to the indigenous populations of the Caribbean. Although its coastline was spotted by Columbus during his 1498 voyage, it remained uncolonized until the arrival of Dutch settlers in 1616. The Netherlands ruled Guyana for nearly 200 years, and established the plantation-based agriculture that would be the foundation of the country’s economy throughout most of the colonial period. The 18th century saw fighting between Britain, France, and the Netherlands for control of the colony, with Britain emerging victorious. The British imported large numbers of African slaves to work the plantations, who, following the abolition of slavery in 1838, were replaced by Indian and Chinese indentured servants. This practice created the diverse population that remains in Guyana today; however, the colonial governors instituted a policy of playing different ethnic groups against one another in order to maintain control, which sowed the seeds of the ethnic divisions the country continues to experience. The growing power of the middle class fueled the popular cause for independence throughout the 19th and 20th centuries; this was finally achieved in 1966, when Guyana became a sovereign Commonwealth republic.
Guyana’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, along with some gold and bauxite mining, and light manufacturing focused on textiles. It is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, with a GDP PPP per capita of only about $6000; however, it was one of the few countries to experience economic growth in spite of the global credit crisis, with further growth predicted for 2009. The “Brain Drain” phenomenon is a significant problem in Guyana, as skilled workers emigrate to countries with higher wages. Development of infrastructure and low-quality health care are also ongoing issues.
The upswing of this situation is that there are plenty of opportunities for expatriates in Guyana, as teachers and trained medical professionals are both in short supply. Educators in science, math, and vocational subjects are particularly needed, in contrast to many other countries where EFL teaching is the largest market for foreigners. Many volunteer organizations are also active in the country in a variety of fields. Guyana is a megadiverse nation, with large areas of pristine rainforest and savanna, and an ethno-cultural milieu unlike any other; serving its people through one of these venues is a great excuse to enjoy this unique country over a longer time period than most tourists will be able to.
English is the official language of Guyana, but numerous others are spoken within its borders, many of which are regionally recognized. Guyanese Creole, similar to many Caribbean Creole languages, is used by most of the population as lingua franca, while Hindi is maintained by the country’s East Indian majority. Several Native American groups retain their unique languages as well; these include Akawaio, Macushi, and Wai-Wai.