An Inspiring Woman

Some days, whether in America or in Benin, it’s hard to get motivated.

It’s hard to keep fighting the good fight, to keep working to promote justice and education and tolerance when everything else seems like it’s conspiring against you. It’s hard to keep working when it’s so much easier to stop fighting, to let fate take you where it will, to curl up with a warm drink (if you’re in America) or a cold drink (if you’re in Benin) and say, “oh well, I tried.”

On those days, you have to look for sources of inspiration and motivation.

Yesterday, I found a new source of motivation: a Ghanian woman named Doris.

First some background. While I was in business school, I interned part time with an organization called ABAN: A Ban Against Neglect. They do three main things:

1. Bring in girls and young women in vulnerable situations in Ghana, and put them through a two year program. Typically these are girls from rural villages who ran away to the city, had no way of supporting themselves, and may have gotten involved with a sugar daddy in order to get enough food and clothing. Some of them have babies. ABAN gets them out of the city, and gives them training in literacy, health/life skills, financial literacy, and sewing, so they will have a trade when the leave the center.

2. Recycle plastic “sachets” of water. Used throughout West Africa, “pure wata” as it is known in Benin, is a means of getting more or less clean water, through half liter plastic bags. But used bags are all over the ground, polluting cities. ABAN collects them.

3. “Upcycles” the plastic bags, pairing them with hand-dyed batik fabric, and makes bags, purses, and other products that they sell in the US. They just released their new Fall 2014 line of products and I am about to go on a shopping spree myself.

Where does Doris come in? Doris is the programs coordinator in Ghana. That means she works with the girls, acting as part social worker, part friend, part mother, and part teacher. She is applying for a fellowship, and she and ABAN published her application essay on their website.

You can read the full essay here, but l’d like to share a short excerpt.

There are communities that still believe girls are only good when they have men by their sides and will never shine by themselves. As such, there are a lot of girls and women who are wasting away untapped potential in themselves that they may never know they have….

Many of the people in the villages that would want to access this help are unable because of financial constraints. Even if some are able to break through and make it, there is little incentive to go back into their communities and help it develop. This means the community remains underdeveloped, the mindsets of the local people never change, and the abuse of girls continues.

So what if help could be sent to the young women in these villages, to be empowered and trained to lead the next generation of children to sustainable community building?

For most of these women, all they need is someone to be there and be available, to listen and to lead them through the process. Someone to encourage and applaud their little efforts that when seen together, could transform their community.

Doris’ essay is a powerful reminder that girls matter, and that even small actions can have a big impact. It’s also a great reminder that African women are working to empower each other, and that their strength, energy and determination are making a difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

Sometimes, it’s nice to know that you’re not alone in the fight – you’ve got allies who are fighting alongside with you.

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Why Camp Is Worth It

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.

Camp GLOW: now with 100% more photos!

I’ve finally finished my month and a half of crazy traveling, AND now own a computer that has the letter “e.” Yes, this entire time I’ve been writing my posts on a laptop while having to copy-paste every time I wanted to use an “e.”

In any case, I now have enough internet to finally share some of the fabulous photos from Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Once again, a huge thank you to all who donated to make camp possible. The 51 girls are poised to become leaders of their communities, and they are the future leaders of Benin and of the world!DSCF0415

(above) The girls show off their new mosquito nets, which they got to take home!DSCF0434

(above) Showing off our arts and crafts project – tie dye!

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(above) playing games during down time

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(above) Taking notes at the field trip to the Royal Palace of Porto-NovoDSCF3504

(above) game time in the evenings

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(above) PCV John helps girls with tie dye.

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(above) one of our amazing tutrices (role model/counselor) works with her teamIMG_0348

(above) PCV Taylor, our “energy specialist” since she always has fun songs and games ready to go at a moment’s notice!

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(above) Strutting their stuff during our fashion show!IMG_0402

(above) Dance Party!

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(above) showing off the fabulous outfits we found at the local market.IMG_0442

(above) learning about their history at the Royal Palace

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(above) one of our tutrices, who is training to be a health professional, adds comments and information during a session on family planning.

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(above) PCV Mike leads a session on family planning, where each of the girls had the opportunity to practice how to put on a condom – in this case a glue bottle standing in for the phallus.

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(above) a PCV “men’s panel” where girls had the opportunity to have real men debunk myths (such as “it’s impossible for a man to be faithful” or “if a man doesn’t have sex regularly, he will die”)

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(above) PCV games master John supervises a relay race/tag.

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(above) PCVs getting in on the action for a wheelbarrow race

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(above): Career Panel! Girls got the opportunity to speak to women in professional roles about their jobs, their education, and if it’s really possible for a Beninese woman to have a career and a family (hint: it is!)

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(above) the Blue Team speaks with one of our career panelists

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAlots of smiles at Camp GLOW!

It’s Finally Here!

I’m talking, of course, about Camp GLOW! Girls Leading Our World starts today! After much prep work and stress we’ll finally get to meet the amazing girls we’ll work with this week.

Sessions planned include goal setting, family planning, women’s and children’s rights, study skills, nutrition, malaria prevention, HIV/AIDS prevention, and public speaking. The girls will also get to visit the National Assembly and Royal Palace, and there’s a professional women’s panel. And of course we’ll be singing songs, doing silly dances, tie-dying, playing games and sports, and having  fun!

We can’t wait to meet these future leaders of Benin!

Thank You, You Are Amazing

Yes you! By “you,” I mean people I know or my parents know, who contributed to our grant for Camp GLOW. Thanks to your generosity, we raised all the money necessary for Camp GLOW in under a week! Thanks to you, over 50 girls will gain the skills and tools to become leaders in their communities. So merci! Thank you! Mi wa nu ka ka!

 

Help Make Girls Fearless!

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Help Make Girls Fearless!

See these awesome girls? They were at last year’s Camp GLOW: Girls Leading Our World. It’s a week long empowerment camp for girls in the south of Benin. These girls are going to rock the socks off of people in Benin. And you can help girls just like them! I’m helping run Camp GLOW this year and we need your help. Yes, you. Just follow the link and donate whatever you’re able. Help create strong girls for a strong future! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-680-016