In the world of international development, there has been a focus on Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) in the past few years. This is totally logical: in the past fifty years, there have been lots and lots of projects, and very few ways to measure if they actually produced results. It’s important to donors, project administrators, and “recipients” that we learn from past and current projects to make future projects more efficient and effective.
But sometimes, the focus on M&E can lead to people questioning the need for projects where the benefits aren’t always tangible. Projects where you don’t build something, or teach a specific technical skill. Projects like Camp GLOW. Sometimes it can be hard to justify with hard data why girls’ empowerment projects and camps such as GLOW are necessary and effective, because the impact is either intangible and/or so far down the road that there’s no way to measure it now.
To those who question “why waste money on Camp GLOW when you could have built a road,” I have an anecdote from this year’s camp.
We split the girls into five teams, trying to make sure girls from the same village were on different teams, so they would get out of their comfort zones and get to know new girls. Each team was led by at least one Beninese woman serving as a “tutrice,” which is a combination role model and counselor. Each team also had Peace Corps Volunteers assigned, who were with their girls the entire week.
The first night, the teams were just getting to know each other – girls, tutrices, and Volunteers. I listened in to the green team’s initial discussions.
The Volunteer, Piotr, asked the girls if they had plans for what they wanted to do with their lives. Most of them had never been asked this question before. The majority said they wanted to get their high school diploma, but didn’t really know what they could do with that. One girl said she wanted to drop out after the national exams in 9th grade, and become a hairdresser.
Now, there is nothing wrong with being a hairdresser. But these girls were chosen because someone saw potential in them, and wanted to nurture that potential. And as a teacher, I can never recommend to anyone to plan to drop out of school.
So I kept my eye on the girl the whole week. She participated well in all the activities and sessions, and seemed to be making connections with the other girls in camp.
Then came the career panel on our last day. The girls, in their teams, had the opportunity to speak to Beninese women who have professional careers. There was a caterer/restauranteur who often caters for high-level government meetings and conferences, a journalist, two health workers (one a nurse and one a community health expert working with USAID), and one woman who I’m ashamed to say I’ve forgotten what she does (possibly because I was running around trying to find enough chairs for this all to work, but that’s still no excuse).
During their last rotation, the woman asked the girls what they wanted to do. The girl who had previously planned to drop out of school said she wanted to be a doctor. She asked the nurse what she needed to study in school, and any other advice for how to reach her new goal.
If Camp GLOW had even a small part of producing a future woman doctor in Benin, it was worth it.