13 Aug

This past week most of the Cyangugu Crew (what the volunteers in my region call ourselves) packed up, and headed to a volunteer’s school for our very first GLOW camp. There are a lot of jokes about our region of Rwanda basically being the Congo (out East is referred to as Lion King land), but this site might as well have been Burundi because of its proximity to the border and hot, dry climate.

What exactly is GLOW you might be wondering. It stands for Girls Leading Our World and is a life skills curriculum used to teach girls’ empowerment in Peace Corps countries the world over. All over the world, Peace Corps volunteers spend months preparing for week long camps, typically at the regional level. Many more volunteers work in their local secondary schools with girls in GLOW clubs, teaching important topics like self-esteem, refusal skills, HIV myths and facts, decision making, goal setting, and the list goes on.

Cyangugu has a relatively small concentration of PCVs compared to other regions of Rwanda so while other regions are in the second and third iterations of GLOW camp, and also putting on the boys’ equivalent BE (Boys Excelling), this was our region’s first go at a GLOW camp. Many thanks to PCV Jeff for leading the charge and hosting the camp at his site, basically in Burundi.

Typically the camps last around a week and some have as many as 100 girls in Rwanda. With only six PCVs, six Rwandan counterparts and eight or so junior facilitators we decided to keep the first go round manageable with just 30 girls, 10 from each of the three schools where PCVs work, a half day for opening activities, two full days of instruction, and another half day for closing activities.

There are definitely a lot of things we learned and will change for future camps, but overall the camp was an absolute success. We introduced the concept of camp culture to the girls and they took to it like white on rice. Learning the cheers and songs after just a few tries. Our camp was even complete with a spirit stick that we passed on at meals, recognizing groups’ enthusiasm, spirit of friendship, and participation in activities. On the second night we even had a bonfire where we introduced the girls to the American tradition of a bonfire and s’more making. Though, the homemade marsh mellows looked a little funky, they tasted all right and got the job done. The second night we had a talent show which mostly turned into the Shangi Girls Variety Hour.

The girls were split into five groups all named after powerful/influential women, 4/5 who happened to be black. Can you say HOLLER?! The women were; Michelle Obama, Marie Curie, Oprah, Maya Angelou, and Joycelyn Elders (first African-American US Surgeon General, worked under Clinton). Each group also had themed named tags, wore strips of igitenge (the fabric used here to make traditional clothing) specific to their group around their wrists, and made up group-specific cheers.

On the second and third days of camp the girls were split into three groups and rotated between three different sessions. Each of the sessions was taught by a PCV and a Rwandan facilitor, most of whom were colleagues of PCV teachers. The six sessions we covered were: Love and Sex, Peer Pressure, HIV Myths and Facts, Self-esteem, HIV/AIDS, and Goal Setting.

I co-taught Sex and Love with Jeff and a colleague of his. If you know me, then it’s no surprise that I volunteered to teach the sex portion of the session. It went over really well and I was pleased that I got to work in concepts like pleasure and consent. Part of the lesson was about setting a personal physical boundary and I stressed the point that the girls were able to stop at any point that they began to feel uncomfortable, no matter where it was. A concept it seems like many girls don’t learn early enough.

Highlights of my sessions included the girls’ responses to pressure lines, a group of girls who actually used the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ in response to the question ‘what is sex?’ (most of the groups used euphemisms). My favorite one of all though was when one of the Shangi Superstar Girls stood up matter of factly and responded to the question, “What is the difference between love and sex?” with, “It’s my observation that love cannot cause HIV.”

In the afternoon we had craft activities, sport, and one afternoon I taught the girls the Macarena and the only line dance I remembered. They loved the line dance and each time the song was over they would clap and ask to do it again. I think we did it like four times in a row or something. I heard from other PCVs that the girls really loved learning the dances. I realized that teaching, even simple dances, is a lot harder than I thought. Also that somehow over the years I’ve forgotten how to count in to a song which made the Macarena interesting, but the girls didn’t really know any better.

We also had an affirmation wall which the girls really liked. I can’t even begin to fathom the number of trees we killed. I also received a lot of funny and sweet affirmations from the girls.

Our third year PCV leader is a camp culture guru and made up a cheer for camp that we taught the girls. The first part is a call and response and the second is a chant we did all together. I don’t spend a lot of time around groups of students but in my experience girls are mostly quiet, except occasionally when they laugh. Not the case at camp. It was so moving to hear the girls yelling proudly at the top of their voices such powerful words. We got the chants on video so I’m hoping to that I’ll be able to get them on my blog when a couple volunteers go home to visit in October. Tuzareba (we’ll see).

Here’s the chant we taught them:



Who are you?

We’re the girls!


The girls!

What do you have?


What are you going to do?

Change the world!

We (we)

We’re the girls (girls)

Of camp GLOW (GLOW)

Let’s go make change!




2 Responses to “LET’S GO MAKE CHANGE!”

  1. leslierunsbham August 15, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    Heidi this is amazing! I am so happy that you had the opportunity to do this. You seem very motivated from your experience at camp, which is great! Thanks for sharing this with us, and for teaching those girls about love and sex…I can’t think of a better person! You rock!

  2. sdish August 16, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I love the idea of camp culture! It reminds me of church camp days and being that age – it’s the belonging that is so important. What a cool week. It’s been too long since I read a post, but my heart is so proud of you!

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