“I think I’m going to go home a changed person.”
This is what one of our campers told her mom a few days into the week-long young women’s empowerment camp. The best part is that I know she wasn’t the only one feeling that way.
I’ve mentioned GLOW here and there leading up to camp, but for those of you just tuning in GLOW is a global Peace Corps initiative. Volunteers have been holding these camps in different variations, around the world for 20 years. In many of the countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, women, especially young women, are an underserved population. These camps give them a chance to discover their voices, share them, and learn about their potential as leaders and their value as young women. Part of the goal of English-speaking only camp is also to give girls a chance to meet people from other backgrounds, religions, and cultures and expand their understanding.
I knew I wanted to be a part of GLOW before I knew if I was going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer.
And the real thing? Even better than I imagined.
I could really go on and on about the impact that GLOW has worldwide. Our country director spoke at our opening camp ceremonies and said GLOW is one of the best programs we do as Peace Corps. She was right.
My role in GLOW is communications coordinator, which means part of leadership staff that plans and implements camp. I help recruit campers, coordinate interviews, complete selection of our final 80 girls, and also handle questions, emails, and social media, among other things. (Those 80 girls are chosen out of about 300 applicants by the way.)
For the past several years, we’ve held camp at Woodrow Wilson School, which is where I spent my very first week in Macedonia. It was pretty incredible to walk in again, nearly a year after arrival, and stop and think about my personal journey so far. I have a sense of home here, friends, connections, work, and more understanding than I thought possible in that first week, when I could barely introduce myself in Macedonian. The cafeteria staff were a fun test. Whereas last September I had to practice saying (yet still mispronounce) “vegetarian,” this time, I was able to ask about their day, ask questions about the day’s offerings, and compliment my favorite dishes. Pretty cool.
The first few days were all logistics and running around. We set up supplies, classrooms, finalized group and room assignments, went over paperwork, and all the little details that make camp work. We also got to know the counselors and counselors-in-training, setting expectations and talking about the week ahead.
And then there were the campers – the intelligent, inquisitive, inspiring campers. As a coordinator, I spent a lot of the week running around taking photos and videos, but also being a jane-of-all-trades. I moved mattresses, delivered supplies, passed messages, and even MacGuyvered two broken sinks. As a coordinator, I didn’t have one specific group of girls like the counselors. All of the girls were my group. I did my best to learn as many names as possible and speak to as many of them as I could. Every conversation was worth it. They all have big future dreams, open hearts and open minds. It was really special to watch as camp helped them to push their personal boundaries too.
I taught two classes at camp: feminism and masculinity with another male PCV who stopped by for the day, and karaoke. (That I found my way to the helm of both of these classes should surprise no one.)
I loved seeing the realization in my students that feminine and masculine are simply social constructs. I think one of my favorite moments was calling out traits for the girls to categorize as feminine or “outside the box” of femininity. (Especially after the girls classified hairy armpits as not feminine and I raised an arm to reveal that I was outside the box.) At the end of the class, we talked about how it was easy at camp to be open-minded and bold, to share our opinions, even if they weren’t popular. We talked about how to support one another and other friends after camp, whether or not they fit into the stereotyped gender norms. We talked about words of support and phrases to share to encourage one another. We talked about their future dreams and then I asked if each of those phrases and those future dreams were either feminine or masculine. The girls proudly said they were for everyone.
I could really keep talking about all the content, all the hugs, all of the connections, and what GLOW has meant for thousands of words. It was my best week in Macedonia so far and I’m already excited about what these women will do this year, and in years to come.
These are the women of the future, the brightest youth in Macedonia, and the reason we’re here. Despite a lack of sleep, and many ups and downs, camp was a huge encouragement to me. I can’t wait for next year and the next group of girls who will go home changed young women.