Now that I’ve passed the halfway mark of service that little nagging voice, the one that asks me incessantly, “Hey, have you accomplished anything yet? What exactly are you DOING?!” has kicked into high gear and really started to become a problem. It’s annoying. And terrifying. I should have re-built crumbling infrastructure and solved the problem of malnutrition and improved the local economy through skills training and job creation and stopped domestic violence by now, right? RIGHT?!
I’m an overachiever, okay? And these are the things I say to myself. And some days it kills me that my claim to fame in town is being the “Seño de Ingles” when I pictured myself doing so much more. What exactly? I have no idea. Building things? Mobilizing the masses? Single handedly saving small children from burning fires? I don’t know really, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty because I don’t feel like I’ve done it yet. Yes, I know, I’m a crazy person.
However, this week we did something that I’m actually kind of proud of: a GLOW camp. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and was started by Peace Corps volunteers in Romania in 1995. It’s meant to be adapted to the needs of each country individually, but is overall aimed at empowering young women. It’s about broadening their horizons, goal setting, decision making, self esteem and, also, having a good time with other girls. It’s about providing a safe and open environment in which they can dream and share those dreams with their peers without embarrassment and then receive encouragement and guidance to achieve those goals.
Was our GLOW camp, which is actually called Estrellas de Hoy (Stars of Today) in Guatemala, huge and impressive? No. It was one day, 8am-5pm. Would I have liked to do a real overnight camp experience and be able to do multiple days of activities? Of course. But you work with what you have and I had one day. So we crammed in as much as possible: a motivational speaker, a goal setting workshop, a sexual health discussion, tie dying, icebreakers, games and even a campfire in which they were able to experience the joy of s’mores.
The plan is to continue for the next year with the same group through monthly meetings in order to present other themes and topics (nutrition, women’s rights, professional development, etc.) and eventually hold a second camp in which this group serves as facilitators and mentors to a new cycle of girls. And then repeat the process. Over and over again. Even after I leave.
This is the tricky part of development: sustainability. What’s the point of building something if no one knows how to use or maintain it once you leave? What’s the point of developing awesome programs or organizing groups if it’s all just going to fall apart without your influence (and constant nagging)? There are countless examples worldwide of abandoned infrastructure, failed ventures and broken programs that, despite funding and expertise and good intentions, fell apart the minute the development agency left. Development has to fit the community and the community has to understand it, want it and have the skill to manage it.
And these camps? I think they fit the bill. They fulfill an apparent need and people, particularly mothers, took notice and encouraged their daughters/nieces/neighbors to sign up. Many of topics covered/to be covered are not addressed in the schools and there aren’t extra curricular activities to pick up the slack. The kind of development that this kind of program provides just isn’t available elsewhere in the community.
As for management of the program, I did do a bulk of the planning this first time, but I did not facilitate much of the camp. In fact, my counterpart, the departmental SEPREM (a national agency aimed at supporting women) representative, a local teacher and a set of 20 something sisters (one a nurse) all helped to present the workshops and information covered (I basically did the tie dying segment and showed them what s’mores were). Plus, they all expressed serious interest in participating in the monthly meetings as well. I have high hopes for the future of Estrellas de Hoy.
So, ladies and gents, presenting the 2011 class of Estrellas: