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