Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Gem Sa Bopp- Believe in Yourself!

There have been times throughout my Peace Corps service when I’ve felt like I’m not making a difference over here. Then every once in a while, something happens that makes me feel like spending two years away from my friends and family is worth it. This past week was one of those glorious times.

About 17 volunteers from my Linguere area, and some neighboring regions, Louga and Saint Louis, (pronounced “San Louie”) all got together with around 44 middle-school aged girls for a week-long camp extravaganza. We spent the week at a university in picturesque Saint Louis. It was a week of tie-dying, campfire songs, educational lectures, sports, lots of theatre, and even a trip to the beach! I honestly don’t think I’ve been so exhausted.

I took two girls that go to school in my village, Aloucky and Comba. I’ve known these two for a long time now because they were both nominated for the scholarship program that I’ve worked on both years. Neither of them are actually from my village, but they both live away from their families to go to school there. Neither of their families have much money at all, but the girls are still in school! They are hard workers and deserved to have a bit of fun, and I think they had an AMAZING time at camp.

Hanging with my girl Aloucky

My other girl, Coumba
Getting our Education on...

As much fun as the camp was, there was a very strong educational component to it. The camp was entitled “Gem Sa Bopp,” which means “Believe in Yourself”. Each day of camp had a different theme. We started with Business Day, which included a session on banking, and a panel of university students who discussed what it was like to be in college in Senegal. Even though it seems kind of boring, the sessions were actually bit hits with the girls.

Girls getting seriously competitive in a banking game

PC Senegal employee Talla teaching about banking

Next came Environmental Day, in which the girls visited a local volunteers’ garden and learned about techniques such as compost, planting tree sacs (in which I’m a total expert now), container gardening, etc. Then, the big event of the day was that we took a trip to the BEACH!! We went around collecting garbage and explaining why it’s important not to litter (which is not a concept most Senegalese people understand). Most of the girls had never seen the ocean before, so it was adorable seeing their reaction.

Learning about compost! What fun!

Me looking like I know my stuff

Beach trip!

Holding hands to dip our feet in

Team Green getting wet!

Then was Health Day, which was eye-opening for us volunteers to see how little the girls knew about health. We played a nutrition relay game where the girls had to place certain foods in their respective food groups. Then, we had a female health worker come to answer the kids’ questions. They wrote down anonymous questions and the woman answered all of them. The girls lack of knowledge of health topics was astounding. It makes me appreciate the education that I received in school, as well as the more “open” culture in the US where children can ask health questions without being embarrassed or shamed.

Our fourth day was Gender and Development Day, which was pretty deep and focused a lot on the woman’s role in Senegal. The girls performed theatre (always a favorite over here), focusing on issues like abuse, girls leaving school, early-marriage, etc.

Our last day was Awa Day. I’ve mentioned Awa Traore on this blog before. She’s Peace Corps Senegal’s cross-culture expert and does AMAZING talks for Senegalese and American people alike. The girls absolutely loved her. She began by simply asking the girls questions about their education, life, family, etc. And then she delved deeper. She was talking about abuse and rape, why it happens here and how to protect yourself. She was even able to get the girls talking about these issues, which hardly ever happens. You could tell that some of the girls were deeply affected by the conversation (including one girl who began crying during the talk), which means that these kind of issues do occur in their lives and they have no one that they can talk to about things like this. As sad as it was, it was still great to see the girls opening up and talking.

Awa actually getting girls to open up

Such a celebrity

Getting our FUN on

Obviously camp was a fabulous educational opportunity for these young women; but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a ton of fun too! They were able to tie-dye, play in the Fitness Olympics, dip their feet in the water at the beach, perform theatre, sing songs at a huge campfire, and have a talent show. All in all, they freaking loved it.

Obviously we had to have a water balloon toss

So much fun!

Jenn and I got soaking wet afterwards

Toubabs tie-dying like pros

Our beautiful tie-dye work

Girls playing b-ball

We got to see beautiful sunsets

Dancing around the campfire

Equipe Vert!! (Team Green)

V is for VERT! (green)

Me with Aloucky and Coumba on the last night

Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!

Now that camp is over and I'm able to reflect on it as such a wonderful and inspirational experience, I need to once again send out a huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated and made this camp a possibility. Thank you all so much. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without our generous donors in the US.

THANK YOU, EVERYONE! Love and miss you all. I’ve been having major issues with my cell phone lately receiving any calls/texts from the US. But I’m alive and in peace only, so no worries. Love you!

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