Mekele Camp GLOW 2014

I just worked with 13 other Peace Corps Volunteers and 6 Ethiopian counterparts to conduct the second annual Mekele Camp GLOW.  Camp GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World, is an international Peace Corps project focused on teaching youth about leadership, gender equality, and health (malaria, HIV/AIDS, hygiene and sanitation).  This year’s Mekele Camp Glow brought together 44 students, age 13 to 16, from seven different towns in Tigray to discuss how they can make changes in their communities and lead Ethiopia forward as the next generation of leaders.

We built off the successes of last year’s camp which you can read about on my blog.

Here are some anecdotes from our recent summer camp followed by some more of my favorite pictures.  Warning: my rose-tinted glasses are still on.  I’m sure the skeptical and jaded Forrest will be back for the next post…

Mekele Camp GLOW 2014

Mekele Camp GLOW 2014

Goofy Kids

We had some awesome kids at camp this year.  There was little 13 year old Denite who at the talent show shared an adorable poem about having ears and a tail like a cat.  Then there was her hilarious impersonation of Lucy, Dinkenesh as she’s known in Ethiopia, with her ape walk and monkey ears.  And what about Eyouel who got soaked from spraying water as he filled jerry cans of water to be used by everyone else since our dormitory’s water was cut all week?  Helpful little dude.  He loved it!  And Faniel who always had a smile on his face and never failed to give me a thumbs up.  Anyway there were too many cute kids and funny interactions to record them all.

Denite - Photo from Avak

Denite – Photo from Avak

Kids! - Photo From Avak

Kids! – Photo From Avak

A thumbs up from Faniel

A thumbs up from Faniel

Crying Kids

Most of the students were crying at the end of camp.  That sounds terrible, but what I mean is that we made learning fun.  We listened to kids.  We gave them a venue to speak, to be heard, to have fun and be kids.  This type of environment is exceedingly rare in the world, especially Ethiopia, and I’m so happy to be a part of it with these students.  Sustainability and hard Monitoring and Evaluation data be damned, this camp (and other Camp GLOWs around the world) are awesome for everyone involved, especially these kids who will return to their hard lives after finishing camp.

Gebremarium is returning to the countryside to help on his family’s farm by plowing with an ox drawn hand plow on rocky fields.  Rahawa showed up to camp with nasty (but healing) burns on her hand and face from cooking the family’s injera at her home when the oven exploded.  Some gross man at the bus station grabbed Jerri’s arm as soon as we returned to Abi Adi.  All these kids will return to a barely functional educational institution where they will share classrooms with 70 other students where they will be taught by teachers with minimal training and too few supplies and teaching aids.  All this ‘learning’ will happen in dirty cement classrooms with echoy walls, holes in the blackboard, broken glass and dust on the floor, and dysfunctional latrines.

Being a kid in Ethiopia is not easy.  I like to think that we made it easy and fun to be a kid for a week.  You could read it in some kid’s faces towards the end of camp, how they don’t want to leave camp and return to the harsh reality that they’ll face again.  Rough…

Students at the Closing Ceremony

Students at the Closing Ceremony

Staying in School and Gender Issues

Jessi, Rahel, and Weini lead an excellent session about gender equality and the importance of education for females.  We watched a bit of the film Girl Rising, talked about some statistics about early marriage, and then sang along to some Yegna women’s power music videos.  I always get too emotional thinking about this stuff so I was in the back trying to hold my shit together when Haimanot, one of the students, shared her story.  She was engaged in an arranged marriage last year.  She is 16 years old and is turning into a very beautiful young woman.  She convinced her family to break off the marriage and keep her in school.  She credits this decision to last year’s camp GLOW.  I can’t believe that  we, the staff at Mekele Camp GLOW 2013, made this change in her life.  It was an intense moment for all of us in the room.  It made me realize that these camps really do matter, especially to this strong young woman.  Crazy.

Haimanot and Shay - Photo from Avak

Haimanot and Shay – Photo from Avak

Sacrifices

During the camp’s closing ceremony, Shayna, one of the PCVs,  gave a nice speech in which she explained to our Ethiopian friends a bit about the sacrifices we have made as Volunteers.  We don’t mean to be cocky or self aggrandizing but it’s worth thinking about this for a minute once in a while.  We gave up our jobs.  We left our friends and families for over 2 years.  We don’t make any money.  We live in a foreign and trying environment.  EVERY DAY.  But we do it because we believe in it and hope to inspire others to do the same: to act for reasons other than money and do a bit of good in the world.  Only a bit.  To at least try!  We do it because we see changes.  We stay because of the people we’ve met who have touched us and proven there still is good in this world.  People like these students and our amazing Ethiopian counterparts.  People like Haimanot!

Funding

Another point Shayna made was to acknowledge the source of funding for camp: United States Citizens.  PEPFAR: the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, started by George W., funded our camp, and many other camp GLOWs around the world.  American taxpayers paid for this camp.  Thanks!

Merre on the left (our accountant) and Jerri

Merre on the left (our “budget officer”) and Jerri

Counterparts

All of the Ethiopian counterparts were excellent role models for the kids.  Gebrekidan, Ali, Abraha, Weini, Berhana, and Rahel showed these students that volunteerism happens in Ethiopia too.  I’m especially grateful to Abraha who helps me with Grassroot Soccer in Abi Adi.  We added him to camp at the last minute, due to some staff changes, and he stepped right up to the responsibility, leading students through the GRS curriculum.  Thank you all for making this camp happen!

Counterparts Leading!

Counterparts Leading!

Another World

Finally, I think the last thing I want to say about camp is how different it is from my daily life here in Ethiopia.  Things made sense to me at camp: we followed a schedule, there were rules, people had jobs and responsibilities, we spoke a lot of English.  As soon as we left the campus I could immediately feel the difference.  I’m not saying our ‘ferenji’ American way is best, it’s just what I’m used to.  Camp was an environment that we manufactured here in Ethiopia.  It’s an environment where I’m comfortable as an American.

When camp ended I was pulled out of my fairy tale world and thrust back into the baffling, confusing, and convoluted reality of a developing country that I’ll never fully understand.  A country with 2 hour daily coffee ceremonies, confusing politics, unpredictable public transportation, poop in the street, and too many languages for me to ever effectively communicate.  It’s confusing and crazy and foreign for me, the white boy from Spokane, Washington.

 

I’m done with my mini-visit to our synthesized America and am now back in the real EE TEE YO PYA.

At least until camp next year…

 

We had a welcoming ceremony on the first day

We had a welcoming ceremony on the first day

Bunna Ceremony - The boys made coffee for the girls in a gender role reversal activity

Bunna Ceremony – The boys made coffee for the girls in a gender role reversal activity

The girls watch while the boys struggle at making coffee (usually a job given to Females in Ethiopia)

The girls watch while the boys struggle at making coffee (usually a job given to females in Ethiopia)

stoking the coals for bunna (coffee) - Photo from Avak

stoking the coals for bunna (coffee) – Photo from Avak

Its the tradition to smell the roasted beans.  That's whats happening in this unflattering photo of Rozina.

Its the tradition to smell the roasted beans. That’s whats happening in this unflattering photo of Rozina.

Some students helped me make bunna

Some students helped me make bunna

Jessi and Sam hosted a cooking club - Photo from Pam

Jessi and Sam hosted a cooking club – Photo from Pam

One of our classroom sessions

One of our classroom sessions

Ato Condom paid us another visit this year

Ato Condom paid us another visit this year

Carry the egg - Field day activities

Carry the egg – Field day activities

Field day activities

Field day activities

Knock over those cans - Field day activity

Knock over those cans – Field day activity

Limbo at field day

Limbo at field day

Wheelbarrow race at field day

Wheelbarrow race at field day

Sack race at field day

Sack race at field day

Mike getting his hair did

Mike getting his hair did

These kids chose to model a bicycle during the "statue game"

These kids chose to model a bicycle during the “statue game”

More Fun and Games

More Fun and Games

Jessi leading a session about gender equality and staying in school

Jessi leading a session about gender equality and staying in school

The students watched a few music videos from Yegna, a music group that promotes gender equality

The students watched a few music videos from Yegna, a music group that promotes gender equality

Grassroot Soccer - You can read more about this program on my blog https://talesfromthebigcountry.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/grassroot-soccer-skillz/

Grassroot Soccer – You can read more about this program on my blog https://talesfromthebigcountry.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/grassroot-soccer-skillz/

Grassroot Soccer - Photo from Pam

Grassroot Soccer – Photo from Pam

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer

Grassroot Soccer

Gere and I lead a session about Malaria in Tigray

Gere and I lead a session about Malaria in Tigray

The kids painted murals about issues they think are critical in their own towns

The kids painted murals about issues they think are critical in their own towns

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Painting murals

Students acted out dramas to educate others about "burning issues" in Ethiopia.  We filmed them to share.  Photo by Avak

Students acted out dramas to educate others about “burning issues” in Ethiopia. We filmed them to share. Photo by Avak

Students acted out dramas to educate others about "burning issues" in Ethiopia.  We filmed them to share.  Photo by Avak

Students acted out dramas to educate others about “burning issues” in Ethiopia. We filmed them to share. Photo by Avak

Students acted out dramas to educate others about "burning issues" in Ethiopia.  We filmed them to share.  Photo by Avak

Students acted out dramas to educate others about “burning issues” in Ethiopia. We filmed them to share. Photo by Avak

Students prepare for their drama about road safety.

Students prepare for their drama about road safety.

It wouldn't be camp without a talent show!

It wouldn’t be camp without a talent show!

Bright and I dancing Awers (the Abi Adi dance) at the Talent show.  Photo from Avak

Bright and I dancing Awers (the Abi Adi dance) at the Talent show. Photo from Avak

The junior counselors roasted the female counselors with a goofy song

The junior counselors roasted the female counselors with a goofy song

Haimanot showing off her karate moves.  Photo from Pam

Haimanot showing off her karate moves. Photo from Pam

Hannah spinning fire

Hannah spinning fire

Dustin and Mike doing a version of No Diggity

Dustin and Mike doing an acoustic version of No Diggity

The girls from northern Tigray had a tahollo making contest.  They had to race to see who could shape the most dough in 60 seconds.

The girls from northern Tigray had a tahollo making contest. They had to race to see who could shape the most dough in 60 seconds.  Shayna lost.

For another perspective about camp, check out Shayna’s blog.

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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 2014

  1. bornopolo says:

    Aw this makes me so happy. Great photos! I wish I could have been there! I saw Jerri and Bright and even Mubarek! Wow! So glad to see camps are going strong. Miss you, Forrest! 🙂
    your old sitemate, Ally

  2. Kristi Moses says:

    Hi! I just want to say that this post made me want to do Peace Corps again! GLOW camps were definitely a highlight of my service in Ghana. I just love your whole blog.

    Kristi
    Regional Recruiter in Seattle

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