Thursday, October 01, 2015

Camp GLOW!!

Camp GLOW campers with the Queen of Lesotho
Yesterday, I delivered a speech for the Queen of Lesotho, 'M'e 'Masenate Mohato Seeiso, and the Deputy Minister of Gender. Yesterday, my public speaking was broadcast on the national news. What is really important, however, is that yesterday, Camp GLOW North 2015 concluded. Yesterday, 190 young women from four districts and 19 schools in Lesotho returned home ready to start GLOW clubs and become positive leaders of change in their communities.

Over the last eight months or so, I have been working on Camp GLOW. GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World, is a global Peace Corps program. Its vision is to empower young women to become leaders in their communities with six goals: gender equality, self esteem, leadership, health, aspiration, and volunteerism.

Our camp was the largest such undertaking in Lesotho thus far. The multi-district camp began last year with PCVs who have since completed their service. They passed it on to us and we significantly expanded on their successes last year. Working with three other PCVs, two representatives from the Ministry of Gender, Youth, Sport, and Recreation, one from the Ministry of Social Development, and one teacher from a school that participated last year, we met regularly to ensure schools were invited to participate, the grant was written, more local partners were found, and the school was ready to be turned into a camp for five days. Despite years in similar programming, I had never planned a program for a site not designed for said programming. It was overwhelming the number of additional details required when turning a school into a camp site for a week!

Obviously, we accomplished it. Last Friday, just over twenty PCVs and Basotho staff arrived for our staff training. Then, before we were ready, it was Saturday and girls began arriving. Despite being exhausted before camp even began, it was impossible not to be energized by the enthusiasm of the girls. As each taxi arrived, the girls would pile out with shouts, dancing, and hugs!

In no time, camp was in full swing. The young women participated in sessions to help them reach the six goals of GLOW. At the same time, an advisor from each school participated in training sessions to help them adapt to leading such a dynamic club in a manner quite different from teaching here.

The Programming Directors and my
awaiting the Queen's arrival.
There were, of course, the usual challenges. More of my time than I would have liked was spent running around taking care of medical issues, discussions about food quantity with the two school cooks, and simply trying to make sure everyone else had what they needed for the camp to be successful while also co-leading the Advisors' sessions and trying to participate in the regular camp activities. These girls, however, made it all worth it. Every time they saw me passing, they greeted me with an incredible amount of love.

Career Panel speakers and organizers.
The campers participated in so many incredible sessions throughout the week. The FLAG or Fight Like a Girl facilitators from Qacha's Nek came and met with every girl and the staff/advisors that wanted to participate, teaching them ways to escape should they be attacked. This was definitely a favorite activity. There were sessions on Goal Setting, Leadership, Tie Dye, Empowering Others, Self Esteem and Positive Body Image, Sexual and Reproductive Health, HIV Prevention, Human Trafficking and Gender Based Violence, Yoga, Aerobics, CV (resume for the Americans) Writing, friendship bracelets, and much more. There was an amazing career panel with Basotho women in a variety of careers sharing their experiences, the challenges they had to overcome, and how to get into their field. In the evenings, we had a movie night, a dance party complete with GLOW sticks, and an amazing bonfire/talent show on our last evening.

The Advisors with their certificates
showing completion of their training.
During the bonfire/talent show, I sat in the school's office with the camp leadership team. We needed to find a student speaker for the closing ceremony, one who could handle speaking not only to the entire camp but to a number of distinguished guests. We had five nominations from counselors so we called each of them in to ask them to tell us about their week at camp and what they felt they had gained from the experience. I have never had such incredible feedback from campers or students during a program. With no time to think, the campers each shared powerful praise for the impact camp would have on their lives. A few of them had attended the previous year and still had nothing but praise for how this second camp changed them. One of the girls wrote her thoughts down before sharing, she said, “I did not know how to trust in myself, then after that [the session on empowerment], I just told myself that I will be who I am and do whatever I want to do as long as it is the right thing.” She concluded her thoughts with “You showed us that you love and care for us and you want us to have a better future.”



In all of the chaos that ensued our final morning as we prepared to change the site from camp back to school, prepared 250 campers, advisors, and staff for departure, and prepared for the arrival of our incredibly distinguished guests, it was too easy for me to focus on the right now. But this camp was not about right now. Everything we stressed with the campers and the advisors was focused on the future. Camp was not simply about five incredible days, it was about returning to school and starting a GLOW club to teach the same lessons and activities to other girls. It was about young women deciding they can determine their own future. They can set goals and achieve them. They can serve as leaders in their communities. They can.

'M'e Masenate Mohato Seeiso bestow certificates to the
GLOW Junior Counselors. 
The queen was clearly impressed by our camp and our young women. I was standing with her assistant, who was stunned when the queen deviated from her prepared words at the end of her speech; suggesting that next year her daughter could be able to attend Camp GLOW and that she and her daughter might try to visit some of the clubs the girls would be forming!

When I took all of this on a year ago, I had no idea how big it would become. I have reached a point of exhaustion not encountered in years. My voice is trying not to disappear entirely. I spent five nights sleeping on a thin mattress on the cement floor of a computer lab with twenty other women. And, I am still overwhelmed by the amount of reporting and paperwork I need to do in order to fully close out the camp and the grant from Peace Corps that made it all possible, but it was definitely worth it.


Campers do Grassroot Soccer Activities with Torle and her counterpart Maseru

Campers participate in a session on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Camp Staff, Junior Counselors, and distinguished guests after the closing ceremony




I must give huge thanks to the camp staff, the campers, the schools, the principals, the advisors, the distinguished guests who helped close camp, and especially my partners on the Camp Planning Committee. A project this big could never have succeeded without their help!

3 comments:

Emilio Fernandez said...

Good morning, how are you?

My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because through them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

For all this, I would ask you one small favor:
Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Lesotho? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Lesotho in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

Emilio Fernandez Esteban
Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
28902 Getafe (Madrid)
Spain

If you wish, you can visit my blog www.cartasenmibuzon.blogspot.com where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

Yours Sincerely

Emilio Fernandez

Beth said...

Hi Emilio,
I'll be posting your letter on Wednesday!

Cheers!
Beth

Emilio Fernandez said...

Dear Beth,

Only a few words in order to thank you for the nice postcard from Lesotho that you have sent to me, which I have received today. If you wish, you can see their picture published at my blog about postcards: www.postalesenmibuzon.blogspot.com

Thank you very much for helping me in order to increase my collection of letters, stamps and postcards.

I send again my sincere wishes of health and happiness to you, and at same time I hope that you can make your work in Lesotho in a pleasant way.

A strong hug from Spain

Emilio Fernandez