Today, 53 Nicaraguan teenage girls came together for Camp GLOW. This is the fourth year that Peace Corps Nicaragua has organized this 5-day girls’ empowerment camp.
We had such an amazing event to look forward to for weeks! The girls were both nervous and excited for this week of gender empowerment. Here’s a rundown of the first day of camp.
Some girls were more nervous than others. Some of them have never left their communities until now. About 75% of our girls have never attended a camp before. Some girls, like Nicole (above, in the superman sweatshirt) came from as far as Pearl Lagoon, on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. They woke up at 5 AM, took a speed boat to Bluefields, took another speed boat to El Rama, slept overnight, then traveled another 8 hours to Esteli. Other girls took 10 minute taxi rides to the Esteli bus station, where the girls turned in their permission forms to the volunteers.
Aside from leaving their communities for the first time, some girls came to Camp GLOW without knowing anyone except for the Peace Corps volunteers who chaperoned them. They knew that would change! One of my girls, Maria Alejandra, turned to me at the bus station, beaming, saying “I’m so excited for this camp!” She was worried that she wouldn’t get along with the girls. As soon as she saw them, she realized that they were just as nervously excited as she was.
I was just happy to see the camp come to life. As part of the Gender and Development Committee, I can attest to the months of grant writing, planning, and fundraising we did to make the camp possible.
By 2 PM we headed for the Eco Posada El Tisey, our home for the week. It was a scenic, bumpy ride, with views of the mountains that would be intermittently cloaked in dust. Jessica and Emily led introductions and chants to pump up the campers. It is interesting to see chants being translated from English to Spanish, which wasn’t necessary at this month’s ACCESS Camp for Nicaraguan English students. At ACCESS Camp, we encouraged students to speak as much English with one another.
At Camp GLOW, I caught myself speaking in English to some of the campers, who would respond with confused looks. Others, such as our trilingual campers from the Caribbean Coast, encouraged me to speak in English with them. They speak English Kreole, English, and Spanish.
Que hora es? Es mi momento! (What time is it? It’s my moment!) Is one of our catchy callbacks counselors used to pump up the girls.
Slowly but surely, the girls loosened up and absorbed the counselors’ goofyness. We pulled into the eco posada. The air was shockingly crisp. I wasn’t sweating profusely on my walk from the bus! Nicaragua is mostly a hot country, so this was a nice change. It would soon get so cold that girls ended up asking for extra sweaters. I took off my dress and changed into pants and a sweatshirt. For the first time, I did the unthinkable: I wore socks under my Teva sandals. Fuction defeated form this time.
Before registration, all of the girls stood in a circle to introduce themselves. They shared where they were from, and shared a type of food they couldn’t live without. They mentioned pizza, spaghetti, chop suey, vigoron, chocolate, nachos, and to my surprise, rice and beans. Most of them eat rice and beans each day, so I could see why they wouldn’t mind continuing this trend. The most harmonious, resounding “mmm” filled the air after one girl shared her favorite: rice, beans, cream, and cheese. That ended up being our dinner for the night-with the addition of fried plantains and hot pinolillo to drink.
After getting hungry from the icebreaker, we snacked on guirillas and cuajada, a simple yet filling corn cake with cheese. I asked for another cup of coffee to warm up. While different groups waited to register, the message of gender empowerment seeped into an activity. Next door, I heard girls chant “Hey, hey, Superwoman!” “Como es ella?” (“What is she like?”). Giggles echoed around the room as girls walked like Egyptians and broke down their dance moves for others to copy. “Hey, hey, Superwoman” opened up the girls to each other and kept the girls laughing while they waited to register.
As soon as the girls registered, they willingly turned in their cell phones into a counselor. I only say “willingly” because the girls’ signed permission slips had clarified this procedure. Counselors taped the girls’ names onto pieces of tape, stuck them onto their phones, and tucked them away into a bag.
Putting phones away would help campers to be more present. Not having wifi helped counselors and campers to focus more on each other instead of worrying about refreshing their facebook newsfeeds. When having any type of camp, limited access to technology is worth it.
Today the girls’ energy turned from nervous excitement into productive excitement. Tomorrow we would begin gender empowerment workshops on topics like assertive communication, women in the media, and self esteem.
Today was a day where we were to get everyone here, get everyone some food, and rest. Tomorrow is when the magic happens.
-Emily Nilsen, Gender and Development Co-chair during a phone conversation with her husband as I wrote this entry.
– Char J. Stoever, TEFL 64