As we are wrapping up from our annual girls’ camp and our boys camp is on the horizon, I decided to check in with one of my best friends from college, Madelyn, who is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Senegal and who has worked extensively with women’s’ empowerment projects during her service. Madelyn has been in Senegal since March 2014 working on projects ranging from organizing and supporting recycling initiatives that serve to empower local women to planning and facilitating Gem Sa Bopp, an annual empowerment camp for young Senegalese women. Madelyn and I recently chatted about her experience working with Gem Sa Bopp.
Can you talk a little about what the girls’ camp that you work with is like?
Our girls’ camp is for about fifty 13-17 year old girls who come from four regions in the north of Senegal to a local university for a week of empowerment and leadership activities. The girls are divided into seven teams, each led by both a Senegalese counselor and a past participant from previous camps. We include activities from all sectors, meaning we have activities that incorporate agriculture, business, and health in order to discuss female empowerment from many different lenses. We also bring in Senegalese guest speakers, one of whom has attended our camp 5 years in a row and is now attending university where the camp is held!
What are some of the challenges that girls face in Senegal?
Girls face challenges completing education because there is usually pressure to get married or to stay at home to help out with the family. Additionally, there are tests that students must pass to continue on to middle school, then high school, and then to university, and many girls don’t pass. Our camp helps to encourage girls to keep learning and also so speak up for themselves. Girls are usually quieter here and tend to participate less in class, which could be one factor explaining why they sometimes fall behind.
What is your favorite part of the camp?
My favorite part of the camp is two-fold. One is the transformation over the week. On the first day, some girls are so shy during group discussions that they are on the verge of tears and won’t participate. However, by the end of the week, these same girls are speaking up, debating, and openly sharing their thoughts and feelings. My second favorite part of the camp is during our environmental day where we talk about picking up trash and recycling and then take them to a local beach where they collect trash and then get to swim. A lot of the girls come from very dry, desert-like areas and have never seen water before. Seeing their initial reaction and watching them enjoy it is super cool!
What is the most challenging part of camp?
The most challenging part would definitely be organizing because it’s such a big undertaking and a lot of volunteers and girls to keep us with! Additionally, it can be challenging when speakers say things we don’t agree with coming from a Western perspective, and so it can be hard to know if to intervene, especially when the point of the camp is to encourage girls and women to voice their opinions freely and openly.
What is most surprising about being a female volunteer in Senegal?
I think the most surprising thing has been seeing how stark gender roles are in Senegal. Women are expected to do all the cooking and cleaning, and female professionals feel pressure to do those things even in a work environment. Experiencing firsthand the different barriers that women face has been very eye-opening for me.
Thank you, Madelyn!!! For more information about Gem Sa Bopp, check out the video from their 2015 year’s camp!
– Ania, HE 63