I've written a lot about the challenges girls face in this country: lack of school-related support from parents, sexual harassment from teachers (some teachers, not all), pressure to marry and have babies right now, and an overwhelming pressure to value household duties over educational/professional goals. It's hard to see such bright, strong girls being shoved aside to make way for the boys just because of their sex.
That's where the idea for girls' camp came from. Camp GLOW started in Romania in the early '90s, dreamed up by Peace Corps volunteers who saw basically the same problems there as I see in Benin in 2011. Our Camp GLOW is held in Porto Novo every year, and this year we invited 50 girls, six of whom were from Daagbé (thanks for your donations!).
To stop myself from rambling for years about how awesome it was to see these girls learning, interacting, and taking control of their own sessions, I'm going to just give some highlights.
- We taught them about themselves. Kids don't get the sex/puberty talk here until they're in 3eme -- usually at 17ish years old. That's a little late, especially when all there is to do in village for hormone-filled teens is... ahem. Because it's always better to have a Beninese person teach these culturally sensitive things, we invited a Porto-Novo-based female doctor to teach the girls about their bodies: puberty, periods, abstinence, and preservatifs (condoms). Personal opinion: when pregnancy is such a huge, education-ending problem here, this is one of the most important topics we can teach them.
- We taught them about their rights. A fantastic man (Beninese) from the NGO Victory Way came to talk to the girls about sexual harassment and their rights as both women and children. Victory Way is an organization that works (really effectively, I think) to combat the mistreatment of women in Benin. The man was incredible, challenging the girls to think and ask questions and argue for their own equality... it was amazing. The girls really, really got it, and at the end of it they couldn't stop talking about everything they'd learned... how equal they are, how they can push for the same treatment as their brothers get. Definitely a highlight for me.
|The girls playing Zoom. : )|
- Zoom! This is probably only entertaining to my fellow Jonesians, but when it was my turn for songs and games, I taught the entire camp an edited version of "Zoom"... which may or may not be a part of King's Cup. A game we perfected on Saturday nights in college. The girls loved it. :)
- Arts & Crafts! Among the items created: Fanmilk pouch purses, handmade bound books, and beaded necklaces.
- (I Brag.) One of my girls, Flora, was in my group, and she wanted to know if we were going to go home after the camp. Home, as in America. I explained that some would go home because they'd finished their two years, but that I and lots of others would be staying another year. Flora jumped up and shouted "yaaaay! Madame is staying!" I'm sure that that was a Class A Suck-Up moment for her, but hey, I'm susceptible to flattery, and that was good to hear. :)
- Seeing My Girls Be Girls. In class, they're all super respectful, kinda quiet, and not excited or emotional about anything. By the end of the week, not only did they have friends from other villages across Benin, but they also jumped around, laughed, were silly... they were girls. Real, free, excited-to-be-alive girls.
I can't get more photos to upload right now, but here's the full album. Thanks so much to everyone who donated the funds to make this happen... it was amazing, and I'm so glad I got to be here. Stay tuned for next year's camp!