Being a female has arguably been the most difficult part of my Peace Corps service. Before arriving to Nicaragua, I was aware that women filled more traditional roles and that machismo was engrained in the culture. But little could have prepared me for the realities of trying to live and work in this environment.
I joined the Gender and Development (GAD) committee as a way to channel my frustration into sustainable gender equality projects and to leverage the group’s resources to better educate and empower my female counterparts and students. Additionally, I was thrilled at the opportunity to work at Camp GLOW for girls and support other Let Girls Learn initiatives. However, thanks to Camp CHACA, GAD has reinforced for me how important it is to bring young boys into the conversation of gender equality and to challenge their ideas about what it means to be a man.
With the help of my counterpart, we identified two 10th grade boys, Brandon and Elmer, who are good students with leadership potential. Sadly, I didn’t think boys would sign up for anything called a “gender awareness camp,” so I highlighted the camp as a great opportunity to improve their leadership skills and make new friends. I watched them depart for camp excited and nervous and eagerly waited for their return.
Before I even had the chance to see him at school, Brandon came to my house and told me how wonderful the camp was. He told me had so much fun and that many of the boys cried at the end when they had to leave. I immediately asked him, “Brandon, did you cry too?” His “¡Como no, profe!” (Of course, teacher!) melted my heart. To my surprise and delight, high school boys were able to come together and talk about masculinity, sexual health, and personal development.
A great part of the camp curriculum is that the boys are prepped to share their new knowledge with their classmates and replicate a workshop modeled after one they attended at Camp CHACA. Both of the boys came up to me and stated, “We are going to present separately because we want to do different topics!” “Okay great!” I responded. “What are the topics?” Elmer flashed a smile and said, “Gender and sex!,” followed by Brandon exclaiming , “Condom use!” Needless to say I was surprised and impressed, and helped them get to work.
A few weeks later, I watched the boys tackle these difficult topics in front of their peers. I’ve rarely seen a Nicaraguan student stand confidently and speak in front of one another, and watching these boys do just that, nonetheless with condoms and drawings of bodies, demonstrated the incredible impact this camp had on them. It’s one thing for students to receive this information from adults, but these boys proudly shared their knowledge and successfully engaged their peers.
Aside from leadership qualities, Camp CHACA helped break down taboo topics and relate them to the participants’ lives. Specifically, the camp helped students realize that issues of gender equality affect their health and welfare. Later, I asked Brandon why he chose the topic of condom use for his presentation. He responded, “Because it’s a problem at our school. We should know how to protect ourselves against pregnancy and infections.”
Yet perhaps the greatest legacy of Camp CHACA is the inclusive thinking of my boys. When asking Brandon, “What is the best thing you learned at camp?,” he immediately responded, “I learned to respect people and to not discriminate against them based on who there are, whether they’re gay or straight.” This 16-year-old Nicaraguan boy, who knew nothing other than his machismo culture, now knows a way of life that embraces equality and acceptance. Hearing this response has been one of my proudest moments of my service.
Thank you to Camp CHACA and the Peace Corps for these moments that remind me that change is slow, but profound.
– Kelsey Schrenk
Peace Corps Nicaragua TEFL 66
GAD Committee Member