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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gender: LGL Summit and Madagascar

This is the fourth post on a mini-series about gender in Lesotho. While it can be read as a stand alone post, it is best read following Gender: An IntroGender: My Role and Work, and Gender: Ototo's Thoughts.

The LGL Summit participants and facilitators with the US Ambassador for Madagascar
As I mentioned in Gender: My Role and Work, I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the Peace Corps Let Girls Learn Summit for East and Southern Africa in Madagascar.

To get to Madagascar from Lesotho takes two days of travel-the travel time almost identical to traveling to New York. This is not because of time in the air, but the flight times available. So, after traveling all day Saturday and a four hour flight from South Africa on Sunday, we arrived with the Mozambique and South African representatives. We waited around at the airport for a bit as another flight with the rest of the group was delayed. 

As we walked from the airport to the bus, I marveled at the differences in cars from the mainland of Africa. In southern Africa, most cars are Toyotas or Volkswagons. Here, we were surrounded by the rounded bodies of Peugeots and Renaults. It took me a few minutes to realize the other thing that was surprising me: the steering wheels were all on the left side of the cars like in the US. After two years of looking at drivers on the right, I was surprised to see Madagascar is different and that it took me so long to figure it out. 

As we left the airport, dusk was approaching. We drove through the capital city of Antananarivo for a long time, looking at the primarily two-story buildings sitting nearly on top of the roads. By the time we were out of the capital it was dark. Although we were told it was typically a two hour drive to our destination, it took four, partially due to sitting for an hour waiting for an accident to be cleared. 

Despite being travel-weary when we finally arrived at Peace Corps Madagascar's lovely Training Center, it was impossible not to feel welcomed by the friendly, smiling faces of our facilitators, hosts, and fellow participants as we walked into the dining room. 

Team Lesotho rocking our traditional Seshoeshoe dresses:
me, 'M'e 'Mamakola, 'M'e 'Mamasupha, and Katie
Thus began a week of incredible work and fun alongside Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff from eight countries around Africa. Together we learned ways to implement Let Girls Learn in our countries. We started by discussing why girls education is vital to development. Facts such as "Increases in women's education are responsible for more than half the reduction in under-five child mortality," "If every woman had primary education, maternal mortalities could fall by 70%" and "With each additional year of schooling, overall economic growth increases 5%-12%"  really drive home the value of educational opportunity for women and girls in all communities around the globe. 

We spent the bulk of the week looking at how we as Peace Corps can help communities, schools, and individuals place a higher value on the education and success of girls. I am particularly impressed with the way the Peace Corps Headquarters team has designed the program to be woven into the work PCVs in our countries are already working, instead of introducing a huge amount of new work to be done. 

Having education volunteers work to decrease corporal punishment and gender-specific problems at schools, for example, can help girls to stay in school and learn more while there. Working to ensure schools have "girl-friendly" latrines can help girls to not miss school during their menstrual cycles, especially when combined with projects to make reusable pads with the students. In Lesotho, all volunteers work on teaching Life Skills and have the opportunity to work with youth clubs, both of which are big aspects of the Let Girls Learn program. 

The Mountain Kingdom (that's Lesotho)'s implementation plan-many
acronyms because we are Peace Corps!
Another thing about the Let Girls Learn program that I found incredibly well planned is the push to engage the community at large and especially men and boys. Positive changes to cultural views, as noted last week in Ototo's article, requires far more than just the input of those who benefit the most from the changes. If men and boys are not included in the process, it will not succeed. 

Enjoying dinner with friends from PC Tanzania
 and PC Madagascar on our last night. 
One of my favorite things about the entire summit, however, were the moments spent outside of sessions. We were in session from 8:30 to 5:30 every day but our mealtimes and evenings were spent connecting with one another. Learning about the cultural similarities and difference between the countries we work in and the way that Peace Corps operates in difference countries was fascinating. I am sure I am not along in saying I got a plethora of new ideas from the staff and volunteers from different posts. 

With the summit complete on Saturday afternoon, I took the remaining two hours or daylight to explore the area around the Training Center, binoculars in hand, hoping for at least one new bird species to cap off a week spent in a country with numerous unique bird species. It was an unsuccessful attempt, although I did hear some and I checked out some cool mushrooms. 

The next day, our daylight drive to the airport allowed me the chance to see more of Madagascar. The hills and rice fields were beautiful. I was again impressed by the size of the capital in comparison to anything in Lesotho...but then again, Madagascar is significantly larger than Lesotho. While I would have loved a bit of time to check out birds and lemurs, the trip was predominantly about LGL and Peace Corps and I loved every minute of it. 

A bridge from the road to the rice fields on our drive into Antananarivo

Antananarivo or "Tana" sprawling into the background. Sadly I shot this just before the city's "Hollywood" styled sign
came into view. 

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