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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…