It was AWESOME!!!! I am not sure how to fully explain all of the awesomeness but overall it was a success. The girls had a great time, learned a lot, our venue was great, and we had fun.
Four PCVs each raised money and planned camp- me, Cate, Ethan, and Andrew. We each brought girls form our communities totally 32 girls ages 15-17 (ish). Two of these PCVs were male, therefore were mostly invisible during camp as this camp was all about empowerment and leadership for young women. It was important for us to create a safe and comfortable environment for these girls to learn, ask questions, and grow- therefore it was all female. We still took full advantage of the boys free time by having them help prep (blow up condom balloons, rinse tye die t shirts, etc) and had one session about 'inside a boys head'. We also had four other PCVs come help as counselors, and they were phenomenal! Kristina, Stephanie, Linda, and Teresa took time out of their schedules to be pretty much ‘big sisters’ to the girls. We split the group of girls into four teams and each counselor was the leader of one team. This was a huge help when we talked about sensitive topics and needed smaller group discussions. They also made sure the girls went to bed on time, lead energizers, made sure their girls were showing up, and just made sure everything was running smoothly. Cate and I facilitated all of the sessions and although we had a lot of fun with the girls our role was more of the serious teacher role.
We found it incredibly helpful to have each counselor be responsible for 8 set girls, and build a relationship within that team. Each team sat together, had bunks in the same area, and competed against other teams. We assigned colours for the teams but then with the help of the counselors they named their team, we had team green, The African Queens; Red, Superwomen; Blue, indestructible blue?; and yellow, Yellow Fever. Not only did we keep things running smoothly by screaming “LAST TEAM BACK DOES PUSHUPS” or “FIRST TEAM READY GETS FIVE POINTS!” but we ended on a fun note with a GLOW Decathlon.
We had a jam packed schedule with lessons ranging from the immune system, healthy relationships, HIV transmission and prevention, condom use, abstaining, early pregnancy and economics, myths & facts of HIV, peer pressure and negotiation, sex, goal setting, aaaand bunches of other stuff. We related pretty much every session to good decision making and HIV while trying to make them as fun and interactive as possible. One of the most important things for us was to continually empower these young women and make sure they know they have the right to choose.
Empowerment is a tricky thing, it’s great to talk about- but how do you empower a group? Especially a group of young females in a society where women are marginalized, there are few positive role models, and abuse and rape are so high many people consider it normal. I am no expert, I have just been pretty much guessing at everything I have done for the last 21 months (thanks for the great trainings, PC, not) but from my humble opinion information is the most important. Any theory regarding behavior change involves knowledge so I figure that is a pretty good place to start. But, these kids have information thrown at them all the time. School usually involved a teacher talking or them copying notes from a book- that is if there is a teacher- so we had to be strategic with presenting information. Then of course you have to take information a step further. Motivation. Give them a reason to use the information we are giving them and possibly make some changes in their lives. I find it is not that difficult to pump the girls up, just be excited tell real life stories, show how hard work pays off- but then they need the tools. So not just telling them not to have sex or do drugs, but giving them the tools to say no, fight peer pressure, and ways to negotiate. Not just tell them to be faithful and use a condom, but show what happens when people have many sexual partners and exactly how to use a condom properly.
Condoms were one of the biggest hits. We blew them up, we popped them, we raced to see who could put a condom on a cucumber the fastest (and properly), and we had them practice. Condom demonstrations are fun, debunking myths of them being too small (ha) and having them handle both female and male condoms so they are not scared is interactive and incredibly important. This is just one more way of giving the girls the information and power to make healthy decisions.
I think another favorite for some girls was taking the girls to the river. That was fun, but exhausting. Many of these girls had never been in water over their head and being in a river caused a little chaos. I had to revert back to my lifeguarding and swim teaching days and lay down the law a couple times, but it was worth it.
Another huge plus for me was hanging out with other PCVs. It was wonderful feeling productive and like I was doing something that matters for the girls, but it would not have been possible if the 8 of us were not able to come together. I have a feeling if PCVs were able to collaborate more often or placed closer together all of our services would be so much better. Pulling off this camp was stressful and a lot of work, but so worth it! So thanks again to everyone who donated, wouldn’t have been able to do it without you!