Earlier this week I packed my bags to join 80 high school girls, camp staff and other Peace Corps volunteers at Camp GLOW (an acronym for Girls Leading Our World) as a guest instructor. I was only staying for one night – just enough time to lead classes on interpersonal violence and how to make American pancakes. The diversity of class topics reflects the nature of the camp – while there is a focus on friendship and fun, it is also about creating a safe environment for girls to discuss topics that are typically taboo – the things that they can’t or don’t want to talk to friends and family about.
The night that I arrived at camp, I was invited by a camp counselor (and fellow PCV) to join one of the groups of girls to participate in an activity called identity circles. The activity began with each girl writing five words to describe herself, and then sharing these words and the reason that they were selected with the group. It was evident that the group had established trust with one another as they were very open about their lives -stories of grief, hope, loneliness, strength, confidence, uncertainty, and loss all emerged through five words. When I went to bed that night (or at least tried to sleep while wedding music blared into the wee hours from the restaurant next door), I was a little overwhelmed and apprehensive about the class that I was to teach on interpersonal violence the next day – did I have the right material? Was I really the right person to be facilitating this class? I have experience with interpersonal violence within my extended family, but what could I offer to these girls? I just told myself to take a deep breath and to focus on the campers. This was about providing them with important information and creating a safe, confidential space for them to discuss the topic openly and without judgement.
The format of GLOW is that required classes, like the one that I was teaching, are taught to four different groups of girls. The first class began at 9 am and the last class ended at 1 pm. I was lucky to have a great co-facilitator, a former camper turned camp counselor, as well as another counselor who bravely volunteered to share her personal experiences with the class. The classes flew by, and each class was different – the dynamic varied on the group, with most of the class being dedicated to discussion. The topic is emotionally charged, and I was impressed by the ways that the campers would open up and empathize with one another. I think that the opportunities available to these girls to candidly discuss issues like interpersonal violence and other class topics, including sex education, stereotypes, etc., are too few. GLOW provides a forum for these “taboo” discussions to occur and for girls to establish really strong friendships and support networks. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to play a small part in the camp and to meet so many future young leaders from across Macedonia. It is my hope that these girls will in turn carry what they learned and experienced at GLOW to their communities, and to help to support other young women as they grow into confident and healthy adults.