Camp GLOW 2012
Carina and I have just finished another whirlwind two weeks of traveling in Rwanda. The first week, we were in beautiful Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu in western Rwanda. Here, we had our COS conference (Close Of Service). Hard to imagine that our time in Rwanda is quickly coming to an end. We are already becoming very emotional about leaving. We have made some friends with bonds that even culture and language can’t get in the way. Who would have ever imagined that we can have a friend that we consider our ‘son’ even when we speak different languages? The conference was about how to say goodbye to our village and the Peace Corps requirements of us leaving the country complete with MIF kits. I don’t know the abbreviation, but we have to give poop samples from three different days and put some in a tiny little jar and transport it to Kigali. This aspires to be the most traumatizing thing I will have had to do in my PC service.
Now to the good stuff, CAMP GLOW 2012!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Camp GLOW is a girls only camp for Girls Leading Our World. In a society dominated by traditional ‘male’ and ‘female’ roles, girls desperately need a voice and their own time to be recognized and encouraged. This is an event that Carina and others have been planning and preparing for since March. It was a 5 day event where Peace Corps Volunteers chose students from their schools to attend. During these 5 days, the girls get lessons on HIV/AIDS (causes, prevention, myths/facts), condom demonstration and how to use them properly, gender roles in Rwandan society, goal setting, self-confidence, gender equality, and self-esteem. Also, there are various other ‘camp’ events such as a carnival, afternoon activities (choice of cooking, drama, crafts, sports, dancing, and science), lots of cheering and ‘cheer offs’, ice-breakers, energizers, talents show, an “I Can’t” funeral, journal time, a question box session, and a career fair. In between all this we had time for breaks, getting to know each other, reflection time in small groups, and somewhere in there we ate 3 meals a day. We were busy from 6:30am – 9:00pm every day!!
So, Camp Glow is a time to cultivate the traits of strong, confident girls and give them a safe place to be who they can be not who they are expected to be. In attendance, we had:
· 18 Peace Corps Volunteers
· 13 Rwandan facilitators
· 10 Jr. Facilitators
· 104 students/girls
· 25 schools represented (from 2 different province and ~8 districts)
· TOTAL: 145 People (plus hired kitchen staff and cleaning staff)
The Rwandan facilitators are Rwandan teachers from our school who show an interest in volunteerism, love for students, and a desire to develop themselves and their country. This may sound like what you think all teachers should be, but in Rwanda, teaching is a profession that is usually seen as just a ‘stint’ until you can find better work. The Junior Facilitators are student-aged girls who attended camp last year as campers and displayed exemplary characteristics and followed up on the ideals of camp by becoming leaders in their schools during the year. The students/girls are girls that the PCV’s deem to differentiate themselves in school based on their performance or by an interview or application process. We chose our girls based their leadership skills, girls that ‘go the extra mile’ by attending after school clubs, who try to interact with us, try to speak English, and girls who show initiative and confidence. We want to build upon a foundation of these skills in order to create future leaders and role models. Unfortunately, we can’t bring all the girls of our school. Typically in Rwanda, a girl who has isoni (shame or shyness) is a desired trait. This means that the majority of the girls in school won’t look a teacher or adult in the eyes when talking to them, they talk so quietly in class that you can’t hear them, they have zero confidence, they are afraid to try anything that isn’t the ‘norm’, and they basically fall in place and never rock the boat.
During camp, Carina and I had different roles. Carina was in charge of the TOT (Training of trainers). TOT was a time when all us PCVs and facilitators arrived two days early in order to get on the same page, fill in any gaps of knowledge that we may have had, get ideas for lessons, learn good energizer/ice-breakers, and share some bonding time before camp so we could lead the girls as a cohesive unit. I was a ‘hero group’ leader. They organized camp so the girls were put into 10 hero groups to act as small groups to reflect on what they learned and be able to give girls the chance to make a smaller group of friends as some people are very intimidated by 145 people. The heroes that the groups were based on were women role models such as Miss JoJo (a Rwandan musician), Michelle Obama, Oprah, Serena Williams, Mia Hamm, and several others. Carina also led nightly meetings amongst us leaders after the girls went to sleep and she ended up becoming a hero group leader during day 2 when one PCV had to make an abrupt exit from the country because of a family member illness.
The girls had an absolutely amazing, wonderful, and once-in-a-lifetime experience. For me, my favorite experience of this camp was watching the transformation of the girls. When they arrived on day 1, it was quite awkward and the girls were their typical quite, shy selves (granted walking into an experience where you aren’t quite sure what will happen and you are with 125+ new people). My group was especially shy given that their group leader was a white American male. But by the last day, the girls would high-five me as they walked by me, give me hugs, approach me in conversation, sit with me at meals, and in general not be intimidated by me. This let me know that I had been successful in making them feel comfortable and like part of a family. Another favorite of ours was the ‘Affirmation Wall’. This was a wall where every girl and staff member had an envelope with their name on it. Here, we would write short messages to each other giving encouragement, support, and other words of affirmation. I got really into this and probably wrote at least 50 messages and I received 74 messages from the girls with messages ranging from “Andrew I like your voice and you[r] motion, when you teach my heart was full of happy. Have a good job” to a picture drawn of me. The girls especially loved Carina and I because we are married. When we introduced ourselves and Carina said “this is my husband”, it solicited the largest applause and cheering of anyone. In general, Rwandans are in love with Carina because while she is American, she has dark hair and darker skin and she has ‘lovely lady lumps’ (her words not mine). They tend to associate her more closely with beauty as she is closer to what they see as Rwandan beauty. She is typically mistaken for an Indian by people here in Rwanda.
· Teaching the girls to play baseball (a game not known at all in Rwanda) and having them be very successful in learning the rules and playing competitively
· Face painting at the carnival
· Having our student camper from last year be one of the most energetic and outgoing Junior Facilitators this year
· Rwandans and PCVs working hand-in-hand to create a culture that isn’t Rwandan or American, but a camp culture of its own
· Feeding 140 people for 5 days!
· Having our teachers that we brought, Jane and Aphrodice, be two of the most encouraging and hard working facilitators at camp
· Giving the girls the feeling of a safe environment where they could (and did) ask many questions that they can’t normally ask adults due to culture. Questions about their bodies, sex, AIDS, boys, and love
Camp GLOW was a success because we were able to give these girls an experience that few in Rwanda ever get to have. They were able to bond with girls outside of their villages, Rwandan women role models, and 18 different Americans. During the week, they were shown more physical and verbal affection than is typically given in a young Rwandans life. We were constantly hugging, high fiving, creating a safe telling them how important they are, telling them we love them, and advising them that anything is possible in their lives. Our camp cheer and motto was two-fold: “Yes we can!” and “We are stronger!” All of this plus other ‘campy’ things such as posters, banners, decorations, and a sound system complete with many impromptu dances. All this combined with a full schedule was so overwhelming. These girls are coming from their villages where they are on ‘Rwandan’ time (ie. time is flexible and non-rigid) to a camp partially run by Americans and our definition of time (which means every minute of every day was fully planned out and rigidly followed). During the last day after we had a ceremony to hand out certificates, a few girls crying set off the entire group to break down and cry. This was a victory in itself as the Rwandan culture is one where public emotions are rarely shown and crying is still a sign of weakness.
I can’t begin to explain what this camp means to Carina and I. This camp (and last years) is the pinnacle of our Peace Corps service. If this was the only activity that we completed in our 2 years, our time in Rwanda would be considered a success. The hugs, tears, and smiles that we witnessed and received are worth more than anything money can buy. We consider ourselves so lucky that life has led us to the Peace Corps and to Rwanda. Daily life can begin to wear on you after two years in a developing country but our students and their growth we have witnessed makes all of the other issues and hardships melt away. We can only hope that our lives post-Peace Corps will lead us to a place where we can find meaning, success, and work towards peace and understanding.
If you see far you will go far.
(but applicable to what we tried to teach our girls at camp)