Today was the first full day of girls empowerment at Camp GLOW Nicaragua! Yesterday was a day of nervous excitement, and today the magic would happen. We would be asking what the girls wanted to learn about gender empowerment, and their questions were incredibly insightful.
The air was chilly in the morning, so I went running up to the Tisey mirador (Above, photo by Francis, a camper). I wanted to see the panoramic view of the mountains and volcanoes, and I wanted to warm up enough to endure my ice cold shower.
Jogging through the pine forest reminded me of the hikes I would take through Washington State’s Cascade mountains as a kid. I felt at home in the woods, but I wondered how many of the girls who have never left their communities felt. The girls used to the average high temperatures in the 90s from Chinandega, Nicaragua, have probably never seen water the vapor of their breaths puff through the crisp air.
I ran all the way to the top, but instead of an inspiring, panoramic view, a blanket of clouds covered the vista.
Hay mas tiempo que vida (There is more time than life), I thought, reminding myself that I needed to be patient. I was just anxious because I was so excited to see how much the 53 girls would learn from a week of gender empowerment at Camp GLOW.
Each day, the girls would attend three workshops. Today, the topics were:
Women in the Media
After Breakfast, we wanted to gauge how much the girls knew about the topics we’d cover at Camp GLOW. For the nine total gender empowerment workshops, we put up posters with the following questions and made a KWL Chart in Spanish.
This diagnostic activity showed us what the girls knew, and it also let me eavesdrop on their conversations and questions! Understanding people’s knowledge and needs is vital to effective development work. Too often, we assume we know what people do or don’t know, and offer help that isn’t what people want or need.
Each group of campers had 5 minutes to rotate and answer what they knew and wanted to know about each of these questions:
What is healthy communication?
What is the difference between sex and gender?
How does power affect relationships?
What is a beautiful woman?
How does a person express their sexuality?
What does it mean to be a leader?
How does someone build self esteem?
What is power in relationships?
Why is goal setting important?
I was impressed by what the girls already knew. Peace Corps volunteers nominated these girls because they were community leaders. For question 7, some girls explained that self esteem came from self love and self awareness, but that if a girl thinks she is above everyone, then her self esteem is “too high”. A girl should strive to have a middle ground. When I asked the girls “Well, I have high self esteem, but I don’t think I’m above everyone. Where does that place me?” “Then you are where you should be. Right in the middle,” they assured me.
What was even more interesting was what the girls wanted to learn about gender empowerment. They wanted to learn about how these workshops were relevant to themselves and their communities.
These were questions the girls asked about gender empowerment:
How can I be a lead other girls and excel as a girl in my community?
How can I support girls with family issues or who are pregnant?
How can we introduce new ideas into society?
How does a leader know they are leading correctly?
Why do some leaders work because they need to, not because they want to help?
How can I tell if a leader is aggressive?
How can I reduce “machismo” and “feminismo” in society?*
*This camper views feminism as as equally oppressive as “Machismo”, which refers to the patriarchal forces that oppress women. Just as in other countries, not everyone views “feminism” positively. We would address this misconception later.
Why are people taken aback when you try chatting about sex?
What is the difference between sex and sexual relations?
What’s the difference between sex and gender?
Why are some people sexually confused?
Why do people doubt that women are capable?
Is one’s self esteem related to their sexuality?
How can I be myself and ask for help without being criticized?
How can I identify if someone has low or high self esteem?
Why do some people take others’ negative comments to heart?
How can I reach my goals without caring what others think?
What do I do after reaching my goals?
Why is it that some people never fulfill their goals?
How can I overcome obstacles to reaching my goals?
Why do some people still feel empty inside after reaching their goals?
These were questions asked on the first day. I couldn’t wait to see what else they would ask, and how they would answer their own questions. Over the next three days of Camp GLOW 2016, these Nicaraguan teenage girls would have so much to share and learn.
Peace Corps volunteers and their Nicaraguan counterparts would help facilitate the learning, and these girls’ thoughtful, insightful questions would be answered during the workshops. Some of them would leave with even more questions about gender empowerment than they came with!
Written by Char J. Stoever.