Girls Leading Our World
PCVs participate in Camp Glow and receive more than they give
by Paul Voigt (Shambu 2011- )
Summer! For lots of kids in the U.S., that means packing up and heading to camp. Thanks to three Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Romania in 1995, girls from developing countries all over the world now participate in Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) every summer. These three PCVs are certainly proud that their Camp GLOW model is thriving 17 years later. Some of the camps now include boys. This year Ethiopian PCVs led seven camps, including more than 200 boys and girls from Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, and Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region.
The camp I took part in was a GLOW camp for 9th and 10th grade girls. Going away to camp was a cultural leap of faith since girls rarely leave their families at this age. Credit goes to the parents for sending their daughters off to this mysterious “camp” opportunity with a bunch of ferenjis. When we arrived after riding hours on bumpy buses at Wellega University in Nekempte, which hosted our camp, the girls sat in stunned silence during lunch as they tried to understand what they had signed up for. Girls from the same town physically clung to each other as they struggled to adjust to the unknown. Little did they know they would soon be diving into everything from crafts to “condomizing” bananas. Surprisingly, all week the girls were up for anything we threw at them with 100% participation and dedication. It was also fun to watch them branch out and make new friends and become like sisters in this new adventure.
The week’s activities included sessions on gender roles, self-esteem, peer pressure, HIV/AIDS, “girl talk” about sexual health, a fuel-saving cooking method, tree-planting, clothes washing with a “laundry stick,” goal-setting, career and life-planning, plus games for learning, games for fun, journal writing, and crafts. The girls demonstrated their understanding of peer pressure by putting on skits that were as entertaining as they were informative. Drama seems to come naturally to Ethiopians. In an activity on voice projection, girls were asked to stand outside twenty feet from our second floor classroom and say their name, where they were from, and their favorite color loud enough so that everyone could hear them. Even the shyest girls gave it a shot. Craft sessions gave them a chance to express their creativity. Team-building games were exciting to watch and filled each girl with pride and jumping-up-and-down excitement when they accomplished their goal.
Anyone who has ever been a camp counselor knows that running a camp is like what our camp director Laura calls “a constant level of barely concealed chaos.” But when you take friendly, caring, knowledgeable, flexible, can-do counselors and combine them with inspirational gobez campers, problems such as girls being locked in their room due to notoriously bad door locks in this country, no water on campus, and schedule changes on the fly all work out in the end. After months of planning and preparation, we were able to see the fruits of our efforts. As we headed to shayee/bunna break one morning, the girls spontaneously began chanting, “Girls leading our world!” Some of the male students (and females) on campus stared in astonishment. “Lead us,” one male student said half intrigued, half mockingly. I had no doubt in that moment that these confident and amazing young girls were ready to take him up on that.
The question now is how do we make the progress of these successful camps sustainable and far-reaching? The answer is through GLOW Clubs. The final session of the week was dedicated to planning GLOW Clubs. The PCVs and the girls they brought to camp sat down together with markers and flipchart paper and enthusiastically brainstormed thoughtful plans. They’re excited to share their knowledge with classmates. We’re looking forward to assisting the girls with their GLOW Clubs as they put their leadership skills into action this year.
I’ll bet a gaari cart full of birr these bright young girls will grow beyond what they think is possible. When I look at pictures from our camp, I see the joy and potential in 34 girls’ faces. We haven’t seen the last of them. They’re inspirational, shining examples of not just Ethiopia’s future, but our future.