Forty-eight students, 11 PCVs and 11 PCV counterparts lifted off on August 29, after a week of sessions addressing sexual health, gender empowerment and community leadership.
(Sorry. Floridians love space and cramming space-related verbs into space-related stories. Anyway…)
Stretching from as far east as Gurage Zone (housing Agena) to as far west as Illubabor Zone (holding Metu and Gore), Camp GLoW brought together strangers and equipped them with the skills to transform their towns. We made them believe they had the opportunity to change their lives.
GLoW, an acronym for Girls Leading our World, began in 1995 with four PCVs and three PCV counterparts in Romania. They took 80 girls to a mountaintop town for a week of leadership-driven sessions, and since then, the camp’s model has infiltrated Peace Corps posts across the globe.
Historically, the camp targets young women and provides them with health training, life skills training and goal setting to give them the tools necessary to thrive as they grow. Some camps, like ours, are coed, justified with the belief the world becomes a stronger, more unified and better atmosphere when we’re playing on the same level and understand what goes into getting us all to the same level.
How did we arrive in space?
During the camp kick-off meeting the first week of April, participating PCVs tossed around camp themes. What’s endless? What can always be explored? What can we see? What can we always learn more about?
Space, the link between discovery of the world around us and above us, and the world within ourselves.
Finding our astronauts (campers)
We put together an application to determine which students would travel mountain roads to SOS Children’s Village in Jimma, our camp’s venue. We wanted a way to gauge creativity, original thought and analysis. The following questions became the pieces of our camp application:
- Who is a leader in your community? Why? (Describe why that person is a leader.)
Choose ONE of the below questions to answer.
- If you could have shay-bunna (coffee or tea) with anyone in all of history, who would it be? Why?
- If you could change any problem in your community, what would it be?
- Please describe something you are proud of in your community.
Students were encouraged to respond in whatever language was easiest for them to write – English, Amharic, Oromifa.
Maneuvering around the room as students scribbled answers, chewed pencil erasers, crossed out sentences and rewrote thoughts showcased the effort dozens were putting into the application (and their writing styles). It quashed some of the cheating going on, muting whispers and darting eyes, but there were still a few applications that mirrored each other.
And there were the essays that popped. Sixteen applicants whittled to six interviewees, and six interviewees narrowed to four campers.
Some of the best responses from the essays and interviews…
From one camper’s essay, a response to the question, “Who is a leader in your community?”
Everybody is a leader in his/her own life. We can do whatever we like in our lives. […] I would change women’s inferiority from men. We have a constitution that says all females are equal with man, and this may be found in the constitution, but it does not work like this on the streets.
Pulling from that excerpt came the interview question, “You say everybody can be a leader. Can you tell me how you are a leader?”
Part of the response:
We choose our own destinies. I can change my attitude to feel more at peace with myself, and no one can force how I choose to react.
This is the caliber of students we had to work with for a week. They latched onto the sessions, they popped hands in the air to ask questions and challenge answers. They showed all of us they’re ready to take these ideas home and, excuse the gushy pride, change the world.
The lessons we gave our students
Timeliness. While, as PCVs, we’ve adapted to multitudes of Ethiopian culture, we still cling to the saying, “If you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late.” Imagine, then, what happens when everyone shows up 20 minutes late to a session on the second day.
It only happened once. We remember what it’s like to be a teenager, to make new friends, to soak in fresh experiences. We know we have to be flexible and modify schedules (see “The lessons our students gave us”), but we also know that we’re going to do all in our own power to keep our end of the schedule on time.
Action planning. Volunteerism is on the rise, with university students returning home
during the summer and setting up tutoring programs and summer schools to get younger kids to where they need to be for the upcoming school year. The foundation is there, so let’s take it to the next level with what it means to have goals, how to evaluate them, how to achieve them. Everyone’s got the dream of a better Ethiopia, now they’ve got the most basic tool in making it a reality.
Sexual health, HIV prevention, malaria.
The space to discuss gender (in)equity. On Wednesday, we did fish bowl (what some people call Gender Stadium, if you’re using GrassRoots Soccer jargon) – the activity where you read a statement, and those who identify with it sit in the middle and discuss it, while the rest of the participants sit silently in an outer circle and listen to the dialogue. The idea is to give individuals an opportunity to hear an issue from an “inside” perspective.
One of the highlights from the boys’ dialogue: What’s one thing you wish you could say to a girl?
“They should have to be serious like us if they want to be treated like us.”
(Yes, that did trigger whiplash among the girls.)
The lessons our students gave us
Patience. When dinner ran two hours late on the first night (an outlet issue delaying food preparation), staff threw an American-style hissy fit, complete with the, “WE’RE OFF SCHEDULE! WHAT DO WE DO NOW?!” hysteria. Meanwhile, students are racing around the compound getting to know each other, chatting like they’ve known each other for years. Some of the boys played basketball. Counterparts were around to monitor students and keep things under control while PCVs pondered what to do with all the time we unwillingly inherited.
As the week rolled on, we found ourselves modifying the schedule each day, pushing sessions back, cutting excess breaks we didn’t need, etc. to keep our track clear, but our kids engaged.
Love. One of our students came down with typhoid and typhus, and he spent most of the week with an around-the-clock medical team of counterparts taking him to the clinic, picking up antibiotics and monitoring his health. Campers rotated meals to eat with him, wrote him get-well-soon messages and on Thursday, he surprised all of us by leaving his room and joining in for the group photos and evening candlelight ceremony.
The lesson my kids gave me
Faith. The only reason I returned to Ethiopia at the end of two weeks as opposed to staying stateside for a month was camp. There were logistical and operational tasks still needing completion (the biggest ones: getting the entire venue ready for a week of camp – laying down mattresses, washing bed nets, hanging bed nets, rearranging classrooms, creating a cafeteria – and, vital to everyone’s sanity for a week, finalizing a food order – wanna guess how much fun it is catering Orthodox Christian and Muslim meals? It’s like a giant, unperceivable puzzle you hope comes together in the end).
There were my kids. Some of them went to Addis for the summer to live and work with extended family, others stayed in town to help their families with younger siblings, and they were all counting down till they could go on this journey. No way could they miss this opportunity.
I didn’t see much of them throughout the week, but other PCVs relayed messages.
Amanuel cracked jokes (he cracked his shy shell!), Minte busted out a spontaneous free-verse poem Thursday afternoon, Mahder floated from person to person during each break and spoke to everyone at least once, Eden encouraged others to look at issues from ignored perspectives.
They had the chance to dig into themselves and become the best versions of themselves.
In the weeks since camp has ended, they’ve taken turns popping onto the compound, sifting through photos and videos from the week. They all talk about the service project they agreed to initiate as a group – a language and mentoring program – and they share how they’re already using the lessons learned at camp to transform how they approach scenarios within town.