Since the 1990s, Peace Corps Volunteers around the world have been carrying out a little something called Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World. This year, me and my fellow volunteers carried out our second annual Camp GLOW for our region of Timor-Leste, and it was fabulous! Each country does it a little differently, but ours focused on topics of health, gender equality, leadership development, and self-esteem. We are also one of the few countries in the world to conduct the entire camp in the local language, rather than English (very little English is spoken here). Am I showing off? Maybe a little 😉
Alright, so I wanted to make this post all about what we did in our four days of camp. It is programs like these where I really see a difference being made. Since being here for one year now, I am convinced that education is the quickest way to change a nation. We don’t appreciate it nearly as much as we ought to in the States. Here we go!
Day 1: Gender Equality
The first day was all about getting the girls into the swing of how camp would work, learning about one another, and diving right into some real shit. We had invited the local female head of police to come and talk about domestic violence in Timor, so to warm the girls up, we began with a workshop that differentiated gender and sex.
For this workshop, the girls would together write the characteristics of a girl and those of a boy on separate posters. The girl poster got things like cooking, cleaning, having children, and long hair. The boy poster got things like playing soccer, drinking alcohol, short hair, and a phrase best translated as ‘looking for trouble’. We got the girls thinking of gender versus sex, with sex including things such as having children, which only females can do. Gender included things like cooking and cleaning and playing soccer. I could already observe this group of 20 girls as being quite thoughtful and ready to learn.
Later, the female head of police came by, and talked to the girls about domestic violence against women and children in particular. Our girls were all ages 14-19 and in high school, so it was a familiar topic, being both children and young women. The female police officer explained how these conflicts are resolved at different levels of the law, starting with resolution within the household, to having the local chief mediate the conflict, or taking it to the court to resolve. I love this speaker, because she places a lot of emphasis on the fact that women don’t ask for violence to happen to them, whether they do something culturally inappropriate, or wear short skirts. She really put it into the heads of our campers that violence is something that others choose to act on, and the victim can never be at fault. This is insanely progressive for the area, and I felt so local that we had this woman come in and give incredible information to our campers. The girls were very interested in this topic throughout the rest of camp.
Day 2: Health and Self Esteem
The second day, we had some more exciting speakers, including leader Mana Zhita, from the organization Marie Stopes. Marie Stopes is an international organization, and in Timor they are doing a lot to advance women’s health education and access to menstrual hygiene and family planning. They came in with a great session on reproductive health and menstrual hygiene. Timor is a country where menstruation is very taboo. When I lived in the mountains, during my training, I remember being told by my host mom to make sure I don’t wash my hair when I am on my period, because if I did… I would die. There are many other myths, such as not being able to drink cold water, not bathing, not being able to exercise, and more. There are even more myths following a woman giving birth, such as only being able to eat rice for 40 days. Marie Stopes works to educate women about these myths, and even provides affordable cloth menstrual pads. The education they provided our campers was valuable, and my students who attended the camp even asked for further education on the topic, once the camp was over.
The rest of the day, we did creative activities tied in with building self-esteem. This is a hard topic for people in Timor, especially young women. There have been so many aid organizations here telling Timorese what they do wrong, and inadvertently telling them they are dumb, that most people are quite shy. After giving one another compliments within the group, we kept hearing girls saying how their brown skin is ugly, and that our white skin was beautiful. Girls here regularly use anti-frizz shampoos and skin whiteners, and during the camp I watched them apply these creams after they showered. So, during this session, one of the other volunteers and I had a chat with the girls asking about who might have taught them that brown skin is ugly. Not being able to get into the history of it, or why the media shows a limited spectrum of beauty, we quickly sent them chanting about how beautiful they are. It wasn’t much, but they made no comments about my skin being better than theirs for the rest of camp.
We ended the day with GLOW Olympics! This included egg tosses, egg spoon races, and other American classics that were very entertaining to the campers.
Day 3: Leadership
The third day was all about leadership, and I was leading this session. Last year, this had been a really hard topic to work on, because schools here don’t teach critical thinking skills. So, this year, I designed a workshop that I hoped would slowly tug on some critical thinking. I created seven stations, each with a young female leader from around the world, under the age of 30. The stations including a short blurb on who the leader was, what they did that makes them a leader, and the qualities they possessed that made them great leaders. I also made sure to include a mix of Muslim, European, and beautiful brown girls from the USA, South America, and Africa. Gotta give them proof that white skin has nothing to do with great character and intelligence, am I right?
The campers got a lot out of reading about all these different people and began to understand the different qualities and actions that made a good leader. I think they felt a little more like they could do bigger things if they wanted to. Later in the day, we did a rotating café, with three local female leaders. This was a great opportunity for girls to see that in Timor, they had the opportunity to be leaders and influencers. Leadership isn’t limited to the foreigners that come in with their aid; it is fully available for them to lead themselves.
We ended the day with a dance party, American and Timorese dancing alike!
Day 4: Wrapping Up
This was a final day! We crafted in between cleaning up the camp area, and everyone was looking very tired and ready to head home to a comfy bed. Before awarding them certificates (the Timorese looooooove certificates), the girls performed several skits highlighting different topics they learned at camp. There was much giggling and excellent acting involved. Finally, we got all dressed up in our camp T-shirts, and the girls were awarded well-deserved certificates! Here we are:
Being able to host programs like these are what make being a volunteer all the more rewarding. Here’s to more work like this ahead!