Mekele Camp GLOW 2013!

I’ve never had a babysitting job, never been a camp counselor, never been a teacher, and I don’t have any close friends or family with kids yet.  I’m pretty inexperienced when it comes to working with youth.  Therefore I was a bit anxious about being a camp counselor and teacher for our 9 day summer camp.  But what an amazing experience!  Nine other Peace Corps Volunteers and I worked alongside 10 Ethiopian counterparts to run a summer camp for 43 Ethiopian teenagers in Mekele.  It worked!

Camp GLOW – Mekele – Ethiopia – 2013

Camp GLOW – Mekele – Ethiopia – 2013

Every year Peace Corps Volunteers worldwide conduct camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).  The focus of these camps is leadership, gender equality, and health education.

Camp GLOW has emerged as part of the Peace Corps’ growing contribution to supporting the empowerment and leadership of women and girls worldwide. Since the late 1990s, it has spread to Peace Corps posts throughout the world. […] Working closely with local partners, Camp GLOW aims to foster the next generation of young leaders in all of the countries in which the Peace Corps works, and to become a key partner in a global movement toward supporting gender equality and youth empowerment. 

From the Peace Corps Camp Manual

See my previous post about the planning meeting for more background on our camp specifically.  Despite all our detailed planning, I was still a bit nervous about camp.  Since most of us weren’t around for last year’s camp, this was our first summer camp in Ethiopia.  Additionally, like I said, I’m inexperienced when it comes to working with youth.  Despite these concerns, our camp was, in my biased opinion, a huge success.  We made it through without any serious problems and had a lot of fun along the way.

One instrumental factor in our success was our counterparts.  They were amazing!  These are committed Ethiopians who value youth education so much that they were willing to volunteer their time for over a week.  They weren’t just donating their time, but were also contributing their knowledge, flexibility, enthusiasm, and ability to function on minimal sleep.  They did an incredible job helping with translation and leading many of the sessions themselves without the assistance of PCVs.  At the end of camp, all the campers voted for their favorite staff.  They chose Ethiopians over us Americans, and rightfully so!  The counterparts were excellent teachers, friends, and role models for the students.

John, one of our awesome counterparts, leads a session on self-esteem.

John, one of our awesome counterparts, leads a session on self-esteem.

I’m really proud of our camp for allowing the counterparts so much freedom and autonomy in lesson planning and teaching.  They were not just translators.  In fact, sessions worked much better when facilitated by Ethiopians since students could easily follow along and the pace wasn’t dampened by saying everything twice, once in English then in Tigrigna.  I can’t express enough gratitude to these teachers, social workers, health experts, and friends who really made this camp work.

It wasn’t easy.  As jaded Peace Corps Volunteers who have seen too many failed projects, we were a bit reluctant to relinquish control of lesson plans and content.  But by spending two days working together discussing the camp’s goals and objectives, talking about how to create interactive lessons, and sharing our thoughts on the “burning wall of issues,” we developed a sense of trust between counterparts and PCVs.  We talk a lot about how Peace Corps’ role in development should be focused on teaching people; we should be building the capacity of people instead of building things.  I think we were on the right track with our camp and I look forward to involving our local counterparts even more next year.

Nigusse helped lead Grassroot Soccer: “A World Mobilized Through Soccer to Create an AIDS Free Generation” http://www.grassrootsoccer.org/

Nigusse helped lead Grassroot Soccer: “A World Mobilized Through Soccer to Create an AIDS Free Generation” http://www.grassrootsoccer.org/

Another thing that made camp great was, of course, the kids.  Each PCV was responsible for bringing around 4 students from their site.  These kids represented a pretty wide cross section of Tigray youth: rural, urban, short, tall, young (13), old (19 – oops), male, female.  They all had a few things in common though; they were all grade 9 or 10 students and most rank as top performing students in their schools.  We wanted to bring leaders from our communities, young people who might be able and willing to implement some projects at home after camp, or at least help us execute our own projects.  We selected students who are respected by their peers and teachers alike.  Despite their differences, these students worked and played together for a week and in the process formed new friendships and connections with kids from other towns.

Some of the campers lined up for another Grassroot Soccer activity

Some of the campers lined up for another Grassroot Soccer activity

After a week together, the kids were comfortable.  Too comfortable.  They started out nervous, shy, and quiet.  By the end they were chatting, talking, and “disturbing” a bit too much I suppose.  This camp was an opportunity for students to share their opinions, ask questions, actively participate, and question authority (to an extent).  We encouraged them to be part of the camp community because we were telling these students that they ARE the leaders in their community.  At the end of camp, as we were all saying goodbye to each other, I told one camper I was sorry for always being on her case to pay attention.  She replied, “it’s ok, I understand.  I’m sorry I was disturbing in class.  I was talking because I was happy.”

Almost everyone was in tears on the last day as their new friends departed.  Kids made sheets of phone numbers and promised to keep in touch as they waved goodbye.  I’m glad this camp happened and I’m thankful that it went so well.  Once again, thanks to the campers, counterparts, Peace Corps Volunteers, guest speakers, donors, and American tax payers (yes, this camp was funded by PEPFAR: the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief).  It couldn’t have happened without all these pieces coming together.  What a phenomenal experience and epitome of a successful Peace Corps project!  I can’t wait for camp next year!

Mesfin, selected as best camper, and Mohammad, another awesome counterpart, give a thumbs up at the closing ceremony.  Put this on a poster already!

Mesfin, selected as best camper, and Mohammad, another awesome counterpart, give a thumbs up at the closing ceremony. Someone put this on a poster already!

 

I was the camp’s “Media Officer.”  I guess this sounds better than photographer.  Anyway, this title gave me an excuse to run around and take too many photos.  Here are some of them, but more can be found on Facebook

Scott gets a “Gorsha” from a camper

Scott gets a “Gorsha” from a camper

Mr. Condom and Kirkos from Wiseup came to give condom demonstrations

Mr. Condom and Kirkos from Wiseup came to give condom demonstrations

Michael illustrates the differences between ideal and realistic images

Michael illustrates the differences between ideal and realistic images

The boys built a human pyramid

The boys built a human pyramid

The girls took turns writing nice things on each other’s backs in the “I Am…” activity.

The girls took turns writing nice things on each other’s backs in the “I Am…” activity.

Sam and Jessi hosted a cooking class to teach the kids about the food us crazy Americans make at home.  It’s not always injera!

Sam and Jessi hosted a cooking class to teach the kids about the food us crazy Americans make at home. It’s not always injera!

Hannah explains circle math during hula hooping “mathletes”

Hannah explains circle math during hula hooping “mathletes”

Adrienne helped run Grassroot Soccer.  http://www.grassrootsoccer.org/

Adrienne helped run Grassroot Soccer. http://www.grassrootsoccer.org/

The trust fall!

The trust fall!

The campers painted hand washing stations that they then took home to their communities

The campers painted hand washing stations that they then took home to their communities

The campers painted hand washing stations that they then took home to their communities

The campers painted hand washing stations that they then took home to their communities

The boys had to make coffee, traditionally done by women, to demonstrate reversal of gender roles.  It was hilarious.

The boys had to make coffee, traditionally done by women, to demonstrate reversal of gender roles. It was hilarious.

Shayna and Lilly laugh at the boys trying to make coffee

Shayna and Lilly laugh at the boys trying to make coffee

Group photo after Grassroot Soccer

Group photo after Grassroot Soccer

More Grassroot Soccer!

More Grassroot Soccer!

Nigisti shows off her collage made during an art session

Nigsti shows off her collage made during an art session

MC Alula!!!  He hosted our talent show.

MC Alula!!! He hosted our talent show.

Hannah spinning fire poi during the talent show

Hannah spinning fire poi during the talent show

Me, Mohammad and our boys on field day!  Team Light Blue!

Me, Mohammad and our boys on field day! Team Light Blue!

Carry the egg in the spoon for field day

Carry the egg in the spoon for field day

Limbo for field day

Limbo for field day

Dizzy bat for field day

Dizzy bat for field day

Candle lighting ceremony on the last night

Candle lighting ceremony on the last night

Certificate of completion.  Well done!

Certificate of completion. Well done!

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About copelaf

photographer, writer, engineer, eater, traveler, and - occasionally - a thinker.
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6 Responses to Mekele Camp GLOW 2013!

  1. Dawn Whipp says:

    Amazing. You are doing such good work, Forrest.

  2. Melinda Jahsman says:

    Hey Forrest! Looks like you are having a great time. Just taking a library class and learning about blogging! Yeah–now I can keep up with what’s happening you!! Emily finally made to Melbourne.
    Melinda

  3. Pingback: Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ! | Tales From The Big Country

  4. Pingback: Mekele Camp GLOW 2014 | Tales From The Big Country

  5. Pingback: Two Years, Endless Challenges, Boundless Growth | Tales From The Big Country

  6. Pingback: Summer Camps 2015 – Publicity Blitz! | Fotos

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