Camp GLOW and BE: Special English, Sex Ed and S’mores
Up first was Camp GLOW – Girls Leading Our World. Most of the girls were initially shy, but by the end of the camp week were yelling their group cheers and being silly. We built our own low ropes course, which went over pretty well. The girls had the most fun doing “Spider Web”, an obstacle where all group members must cross from one side to another, through various shapes and sizes of rope holes. We also hosted a Scav Hunt. My favorite clue was making the girls perform (in dance form) the proper procedures to make ubugari, a staple here that’s just mixed flour and water. I’ll be trying to get a video up soon. While Rwanda has the largest proportion of women in government worldwide, gender disparity still exists. Whereas in school, girls are generally more reserved in the classroom, Camp GLOW offers them opportunities to actively participate and excel in both formal and informal learning settings. Sexual education is also a challenging topic, and while it’s mandated that secondary school students receive health-related sexual education, many students don’t. Not only did we have male condoms on hand (coupled with demonstrations), but we introduced the various methods of birth control (both natural and hormone-based), which the girls were very curious about. It’s great to provide a safe space where young women can have all of their questions answered, from the origins of HIV to the correct way to use a condom to how to communicate with assertive behavior to how to plan and set goals.
The second week was Camp BE – Boys Excelling. A fellow PCV and myself were the head administrators at both camps, but I was the top-top dog at BE. The differences between GLOW and BE can be sometimes subtle, but in general, the boys are more willing to immediately get into camp culture. It still amazes me how open Rwandan boys can be. Getting 50 teenage boys to perform “Princess Pat” or “Boom Chicka Boom” would be almost impossible back home, but here, they are all for it. The boys were great and enthusiastic – they were ready to jump in and go swimming from the first day. I was still exhausted from the previous week of GLOW. While the camps were both conducted in English, we had to speak in what PCVs have coined “special English”. It consists of a singsong intonation, speaking slowly and using phrases that Rwandans are used to. For example, “I think it may be somehow possible that we will maybe have meat at lunch” to express “We’re having meat at lunch”. Long story short, speaking like that every day for two weeks left most PCVs giggling at one another. Another PCV and myself have quite the affinity for PSY’s “Gangnam Style” and have made it a practice to perform the ridiculous dance as much as possible. “Gangnam Style” got incorporated into camp twice – the first, at the dance, where we taught the moves to all the campers and the second, at the talent show, where we demonstrated the 15 correct steps to condom usage while dancing said song. Don’t worry – there’s video.
At both camps, we also had a “Barrier Burn Bonfire”, where they wrote down personal obstacles on paper before destroying them in the fire. And what American bonfire doesn’t have s’mores? Thanks to the help of the incoming training class, I was able to get bags of marshmallows to Rwanda in time to share sugary treats with all the campers. Unfortunately, the marshmallows were stored in my trunk for several months before camp (to keep the mice at bay) and adopted a soapy taste (from the soap in my trunk) but the campers still found them delicious. We also hosted a mini-camp for the junior facilitators – returning campers who were paired with PCVs in each classroom and expected to help teach and act as role models for the rest of the campers. It was great to see how much the boys and girls developed in one year, and how they shined in leadership roles.
Yet, it wouldn’t be Peace Corps without some bumps in the road. A day before our closing ceremony for BE we were told tomorrow the school was hosting a ceremony for 400 refugees. Rwanda’s largest refugee camp from the DRC conflict is located in my district, Nyamagabe, and right next to the school we hosted camps at. After many frantic phone calls, we thought we reached a solution, only to have that fall through. You can call PCVs many things –certainly resourceful, constantly having to create and implement alternative solutions on the fly. That’s exactly what happened. We managed to rearrange lunch and move the closing ceremony to another room. The campers didn’t pick up on any of our frenetic energy – and at the end of the day, both camps were a huge success.
These were my fourth and fifth camps. Rewarding as they are, I’ll admit that I’m relived to be finished. My body is just exhausted. After camp, I headed straight to Kigali for a VAC meeting and to celebrate a PCV’s birthday. I’ll be back at site for less than a week before heading back into Kigali where I’ll stay until I fly home next week for the holidays. I love Christmas and snow, so I’m very eager to partake in American Christmas this year. I’m returning to Rwanda at the start of January, and then only have half a year left until I finish my Peace Corps service. I don’t know where the time has gone, but I’m eager to get as much accomplished as possible in the handful of months I have left. Have a great holiday season everyone!