Published on December 5th, 2013 | by NA Central New Jersey0
Life in the Peace Corps: Back to Summer Camp
Schools operate on trimesters here, so there are three separate month long holidays throughout the year. In May, that break meant escaping to Greece to visit my Mom and get the princess treatment for a few weeks. This time around I “toughed it out” in country, which ended up not really being so tough after all. Instead I got to be part of something amazing, the most rewarding project I’ve done in country: counselling at National Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).
GLOW happens a few times a year; it’s a Peace Corps baby, funded, planned, and staffed by us. We nominate girls aged 14-18 from our communities, and bring them together for a week of American summer camp-style fun, with tons of exciting empowerment sessions sprinkled in, like Assertiveness, Malaria Prevention, Self Esteem, Teamwork, Reproductive Health, Goal Setting, Money Management, and Income Generating Activities.
As a counsellor I was assigned a group of ten girls and we Sparrows did everything together all week: eat, clean, sleep, play, dance, learn, reflect, grow… My girls were from the far corners of Uganda, no two came from the same district or tribe, no two spoke the same local language. As anticipated, they were shy and anxious at first; reflection sessions were quiet and I felt like I was pulling teeth to get them to talk about what they were learning and thinking.
Some of the girls had never left their village, most had never been to Kampala, and all were very far out of their comfort zones. I guess this made the transformation I saw in them that much more dramatic. Because after the second day, my group of timid crickets had turned into a sisterhood who walked everywhere arm in arm, laughed and cried together as we brought up more sensitive and powerful topics during reflection, and chattered away like they were at a slumber party long after the dorm lights were switched off. They were jumping out of their seats to participate in classes, leading dozens of their friends in camp-wide activities, and scheming on how they would share what they learned at GLOW with their own communities.
This last point is one of the most important goals of camp. We are empowering this small group of girls, but that’s just what they are: small. We want every woman in Uganda to learn how to be financially independent, confidently say “no” to men they don’t trust, and separate the myths from the facts when it comes to family planning, their bodies, and their sexual health. We handpick campers for a reason, so that we work with young leaders who have the ability to spread their knowledge and insights and initiate a ripple effect.
On the last day my little Sparrows left me smiling, with two of them telling me separately that GLOW was the best week of their lives… Soon after, I was elected to be camp director next August, and I already can’t wait for round 2!
Questions and comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.