Twenty-two-year-old Kim Spencer has a love for birds and she wants to ensure that they are protected in their natural habitat. She believes one of the best ways she can do that is by teaching the children in her community to have that same love.
She follows her passion as a teacher at the Sand Creek Secondary School, a senior ranger with the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC) and as the secretary to the council. Importantly, as well, she ensures that some of her classes are held outside of the school’s building as she helps her students to understand the importance of protecting the environment.
The SRDC is the representative body of the 21 Wapichan villages in the South Rupununi, Region Nine. It exercises collective authority and stewardship over Wapichan wiizi (territory), represents its people on issues of common concern, and coordinates collective decision-making and action.
Spencer, who became the youngest licensed female tour guide with the Guyana Tourism Authority, believes that teaching is her calling, although not necessarily in a classroom.
An ardent rider who has participated in the Rupununi Rodeo in the past, Spencer hopes to play a major role in helping youths to understand the importance of protecting the environment and wildlife. She believes this would engineer change as they can make a difference in the future.
“I am trying to do this in Sand Creek. It is a challenge but I am starting with the school first… and I am trying to do that,” the young teacher said.
She has encouraged students to make the nearby suburban tau known as the Baboon Mountain a project and treat it as a protected area as a start as it sustains some wildlife and the Red siskin, a small endangered finch native to tropical South America. Her students motivate her as well as they are always interested in field trips.
A 2015 graduate of the Aishalton Secondary School, Spencer, who hails from Katoonarib Village, said right out of school she decided to commence volunteering with SRDC, which involved training on the Dadanawa Ranch. She learned how to handle birds, identify them, measure them and also how to capture them to collect data. It was at this very ranch, Spencer believes, that her love for the outdoors began. From the age of eight years old, she had spent significant time there as her mother lived and worked on the ranch. She was taken out into the fields for camping and other trips.
As a young cadet ranger with the SRDC, Spencer visited many villages in the South Rupununi and assisted in taking children out on field trips, teaching them about birds. This was done in six villages in 2015.
“While working with SRDC and engaging with students I found it interesting and it was a friend of mine who said we should apply to teach…,” she told the Stabroek Weekend about her entry into the profession.
Initially, she planned to teach for just a year and she was successful in getting an appointment at the Sand Creek Secondary School in 2016. She taught technical drawing and Mathematics. Her teaching did not stop the work she was doing with the SRDC. She still went out into the field on weekends.
At the age of 17, as a young teacher, Spencer formed a club in her school with interested students to take them on bird watching and other field trips in the Sand Creek area. In 2017, she applied to the Cyril Potter College of Education after she found that she loved interacting with her students and decided she could make teaching a career.
At the time she was the class mistress for a second Grade 8 class, which she moved with from Grade 7, and as she sadly left the school to attend college she promised her students that she would be back before they wrote CSEC.
“It did happen. I went back and I saw them off. I did not teach them but I was there to encourage them to do their exams,” she said.
While she returned to Sand Creek in 2019 she had not completed the college programme as she had withdrawn from some of the courses, especially those that had to do with teaching practice.
“There were some difficult moments during that time. I didn’t feel ready or able to do it so I spoke to my lecturers and I told them I would take a year off,” she said. Spencer is currently completing her studies at college.
“So when I am not teaching or when I am free like on weekends and the holidays I go out in the fields,” she said.
Spencer was quick to note that when she is out in the field she still works along with the experts. She has never gone on a solo trip as a cadet ranger or tour guide as yet as she still needs some more experience.
‘Connected to nature’
Spencer said she loves looking at birds and describes it as one of her passions, which she finds “beautiful and when I listen to the birds singing, I feel connected to nature”. At times she climbs a mountain and just sits and enjoys the stillness of the environment and “I feel so good about it”.
She also enjoys taking others into the field and teaching them about the birds and the environment.
Doing this means that she is more out in the environment and nature, which she loves.
“It [nature] gives me happiness and peace of mind. It is like when I am there I have nothing to worry about and it is so refreshing to me,” she said.
Spencer shared that she rode in the Rupununi Rodeo in 2016 and 2017 and while she participated in 2019 she only did a few events. She had big plans for the rodeo in 2020 but COVID-19 dashed all of that aside. It was in 2019 that she trained as a tour guide and while she has been with the SRDC for quite some time, she has also been attached to the Rupununi Trail group and another ranch where she gained significant experience.
Skipping the 2018 rodeo and only participating in a few events in 2019 was as result of an accident that saw her being hospitalized and unable to walk for three months. She disclosed that she was doing her last event in 2017 when one of her feet became stuck in the stirrup and she “was dragged and stamped on”.
The accident resulted in a cracked pelvis and while she had plans on going back last year, she knew she could not have done all the events. She has no intention of trying all the events at a rodeo in the future because of that accident.
“In 2017 I did almost all the events… and I could still remember how it felt. I do ride cows, but not the wild ones and at the rodeo it was a wild one and huge and when I touched the bull it was just like getting shivers. It was the first time I decided to challenge the big one,” she said.
That year as well, the accident prevented her from participating in the Sand Creek Rodeo, which was held shortly after the Rupununi Rodeo.
“Rodeo is one of my sports as well. I love rodeos and I have looked forward to them since I could remember,” she said, adding that the injury she sustained has healed and she does not worry about it.
She still rides the team cows and horses as she executes her duties in the field or just for the fun of it. She also recently got her motorcycle license. “Motorcycles are best for Rupununi roads where you go through short cuts…,”she said.
Looking to the future, Spencer said she has to make a tough decision about her career. “Sometimes I feel like I need to teach them and I need them to grow up and become something and if I leave them they would have no teacher… but I am not going to leave the environment. What I do now is that I still teach in school but outside I have an extra curricula, where I teach my students about environmental studies and we plan camps and field trips during the holidays,” she shared.
But if all goes well on completion of her studies she will serve for five years after which she has every intention of making the environment her full-time job. She does not rule out making teaching a profession but right now her goal and passion is the environment and wildlife.
“In today’s world or society people do not care about the land, the forest, the rivers; they just throw anything outside…not caring that they are affecting other living things. And wherever they park or stop you would see a mess there… They are also destroying the wildlife habitat or home with artificial stuff which is hard to compost,” she explained.