Last week, 34 girls came together from seven different communities for a life-changing experience I will never forget.Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) is a camp for girls organized by Peace Corps volunteers all over the world. This year, I worked with 10 other volunteers to create a Camp GLOW in Nekemte, Ethiopia. This camp comprised of 9th and 10th grade girls from the southwest regions of the country. For most of them, it was their first time ever leaving home.
The camp started Sunday when we all gathered at the university. It took many of us several hours by bus to arrive. As the girls began meeting, they were mostly silent. They simply stared, uncertain and shy.
The first day, we organized them all into rooms and assigned each an animal group: Eagles, Elephants, Lions and Monkeys. A few counslers were assigned to each group and the process of getting to know each other began.
Sunday night was a lot of figuring out logistics and setting the ground rules. The girls got pink tote bags with journals and a few toiletries. They were given journal prompts every night and wrote in them just before bed.
During journal time, counslers met to discuss the upcoming day. We had programming all planned out weeks ahead of time. Still, life throws out obstacles and plans change. We hung giant charts on the wall for each day and had cards with each session taped on. Cards were switched around like a puzzle as we discussed what was working, what wasn’t, and what the realities of our time were. Contingincies were planned on top of contingincies. And even those changed.
Camp days started early and ended late, and each was filled with different events. There were skits on peer pressure, “girl talk” about sexual health, games to teach about HIV and some games just for fun. We had sessions to practice leadership and how to build teamwork. We taught about fuel-efficient cooking methods and learned how to plant trees. We had crafts to make useful items, and crafts that were just for fun. We had a day to visualize the future, created goals and planned out how to take lessons from camp back home. The last night was a giant bonfire, where the girls had their first taste of s’mores and wrote inspiring messages to each other in their journals. We sang songs, gave awards and recognized everyone for their hard work.
There is so much that can be said about this camp. The girls who started out so silent and shy were raising their hands to be leaders by the end. Girls who could mindlessly recite the use of condoms in HIV prevention actually saw one for the first time, and learned how to properly use it. They discovered first-hand the power of believing in yourself and had an opportunity to ask questions they never could before. It was overwhelming to see the transformation in every single one of them.
With all of the great things that came out of this camp, you’d think it went off without a hitch. That, however, could not be further from the truth. The latrines we had to use were up a muddy hill and covered in filth, our meal plans fell through, it rained at all the wrong times and we were out of running water for three days. I fell in the mud, twice, and got locked in a room for over an hour. There were three different languages being spoken and time was consistantly misjudged.
Yet despite the setbacks, every counsler remained calm, optomistic and helpful. Problem-solving was an ongoing skill and everyone pulled together with enthusiasm. Honestly, the patient teamwork of every counsler was inspiring. And we couldn’t have done alone. Four Ethiopian counterparts, as well as three junior counslers, were indespensible. It was one miraculous team putting on one miraculous event. And it was truely unforgettable.
If you’d like to see the camp in action, here’s a link to some photos: